News

Detective Facing Perjury Sues Prosecutor for Defamation

With more than a month remaining before Gatlinburg police Detective Rodney Burns is scheduled to appear in Hamilton County Criminal Court on charges of perjury, he is asking that Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston be removed from prosecuting his case. Burns says Pinkston cannot be impartial now that he has filed a $300,000 defamation suit against the prosecutor. Burns claims that since Pinkston asked the TBI to investigate him, he has suffered damage to his reputation, had his active cases postponed, and been ridiculed by the public and media. The Times Free Press reports.

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ACLU Vows to Challenge Numerous Trump Policies

The ACLU is vowing to file constitutional challenges to several of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s policies if he is elected and tries to implement them. These include Trump’s call for a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the United States, creation of a “deportation force” to round up the undocumented, surveillance or registration of mosques and American Muslims, use of waterboarding, changes to libel laws so media outlets can be sued, bulk collection of metadata, and punishment for doctors who perform abortions. The ABA Journal looks at the ACLU's positions.

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Court Approves ‘Predictive Algorithms’ in Sentencing

Sentencing judges may take into account algorithms that score offenders based on their risk of committing future crimes, Wisconsin’s high court ruled yesterday. The unanimous decision came in the case of a defendant who was deemed to be high risk for re-offending by COMPAS, a 137-question test that covers criminal and parole history, age, employment status, social life, education level, community ties, drug use and beliefs. The court said that if used properly, the tool “does not violate a defendant’s right to due process.” The Wall Street Journal law blog has the story.

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Lawyers Sought for Women’s Empowerment Conference

Volunteer lawyers are needed for an upcoming Women’s Empowerment Conference organized by Women Overcoming Many Battles Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit that seeks to help women overcome life’s challenges. The conference will take place July 30 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Mt. Lebanon Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville. Attorneys are needed to lead 15-minute presentations on child support enforcement and wrongful eviction and participate in a general question and answer session. Lawyers also are needed to provide brief legal advice in one-on-one meetings with the women. Those interested in helping should contact AOC Pro Bono Coordinator Patricia Mills, 615-741-2687.

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Loniel Greene Shooter Gets Probation in Plea Deal

A man charged in the shooting of former Metro Councilman Loniel Greene will plead guilty and face probation in the case, the Tennessean reports. Brandon Hunt-Clark, 20, was set to plead guilty to aggravated assault and face three years of probation. Called an "information plea agreement," the deal means the case will not go to a grand jury but will go directly before a criminal court judge.

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Studies Yield Different Findings on Police Shootings

A new study by Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr. finds that blacks are not any more likely than whites to be shot at by police, but those findings differ from a Washington Post review that shows blacks are 2.5 times as likely as whites to be shot and killed by police. The Fryer study did find that blacks are more likely to be subjected to rough treatment by police than whites, with blacks 170 percent more likely to be grabbed, 217 percent more likely to be handcuffed, 305 percent more likely to have a gun pointed at them, and 87 percent more likely to be kicked or subjected to a stun gun or pepper spray. The ABA Journal has links to the Fryer and Post studies.

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Overbey to Chair Regional Policy Committee

State Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, has been elected chair of the Southern Legislative Conference’s (SLC) Human Services and Public Safety Committee. The election was held during the group’s annual meeting, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said Overbey’s “tremendous knowledge and experience in mental health and human services … will be of great benefit to his fellow legislators and this organization." Overbey has served on both the House and Senate Health committees. He currently is chair of the Senate Ethics Committee and a vice chair of the Judiciary and Finance committees.

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Gwyn Reappointed as TBI Director

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam yesterday announced the reappointment of Mark Gwyn as director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Gwyn, 53, has led the state’s lead investigative law enforcement agency for 12 years. Under his leadership, the TBI has embraced technology to improve investigation techniques, increased information sharing between local, state and federal law enforcement partners, and spearheaded the state’s efforts to combat human trafficking with creation of a special unit to investigate cases and train officers.

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New Suit Filed Over Mississippi Lethal Injection

Two Mississippi death row inmates are filing fresh challenges to the state’s use of midazolam as a sedative during the administration of a lethal injection, the Oxford Eagle reports. The move comes after the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a state court should determine whether Mississippi is breaking the law by using the drug. Mississippi law requires a three-drug process, with an “ultra-short-acting barbiturate” followed by a paralyzing agent and a drug that stops the heart.

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Cohen: Independent Prosecutors Should Investigate Shootings

In light of the recent violence both against and by the police, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, is calling for legislation that would require states to appoint independent prosecutors to examine law enforcement shootings. Cohen argues that because state prosecutors have to work closely with law enforcement to do their jobs, they should not be responsible for investigating and prosecuting instances of deadly force. WPLN has the story.

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Wilson County Man Fights for Exoneration

A man who served 31 years for a crime he did not commit has hired attorneys to help continue his fight for exoneration. The Tennessean reports Lawrence McKinney, 60, was found guilty of rape in 1978, but was released in 2009 after DNA evidence cleared him of the crime. McKinney’s record has been since expunged, but he has not been exonerated, though he applied once shortly after his release. The Tennessee Board of Parole recently informed McKinney and his attorneys, David Raybin and Jack Lowery, that it was considering a hearing.
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Journal Columns This Month: ADR, Crime, Mohammad Ali

Columns in the July Tennessee Bar Journal cover subjects from alternative dispute resolution all the way to boxing. Russell Fowler delves into the history of ADR in his column, "History's Verdict" and Wade Davies explains defining and limiting the community caretaking exception in his column, "Crime & Punishment." In "But Seriously, Folks!" Bill Haltom looks at the long, unlikely and complicated relationship between Mohammad Ali and the lawyer, Howard Cosell. Marlene Eskind Moses and Benjamin Manuel Russ update their "Family Matters" column that was published in May with new information after the General Assembly took action that significantly changed the advice rendered in that piece. Read "Legislative Actions Alter QDRO Advice."

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ABA: Safety of Society Relies on Rule of Law

Following police-involved shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana., and St. Paul, Minnesota., as well as the killing of five police officers in Dallas, ABA President Paulette Brown issued a statement, saying that "Our civil society and the safety of all in it – citizens and law enforcement – rely on the rule of law. It is imperative that the law be fairly applied and enforced. All citizens must perceive our justice system as fair. It also is essential that laws and authority are respected and followed." Brown writes that the ABA is "urgently exploring opportunities to develop creative solutions to this problem that affects us all… The ABA calls on all lawyers to work quickly and collaboratively toward viable and just answers to these issues.” Related, police officers in Nashville and Memphis were disciplined this week for what were deemed inappropriate social media posts about the shootings, the Tennessean reports.
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Retirement Reception for Thurman July 27

A retirement ceremony for Tom Thurman, deputy district attorney general for the 20th District of Tennessee, will be July 27 at 4 p.m. at the Washington Square Building, located at 222 2nd Ave N., in Nashville. NewsChannel 5 has a profile on Thurman, who most recently served as prosecutor in the Brandon Vandenburg trial, and whose 39-year career also included the prosecution of accused murderer Perry March.

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Suspect to Claim Self-Defense in Greene Shooting

The man accused of shooting former Metro Nashville Councilman and lawyer Loniel Greene will claim self-defense in the case. Brandon Hunt-Clark, 20, was charged in the Nov. 4 shooting of Greene outside a Nashville gas station. After being named as a suspect in the case, Hunt-Clark was arrested in Mississippi on an unrelated robbery charge, and was finally brought back to Nashville on Tuesday. Greene resigned from the council after the shooting after he was accused of lying in court. The Tennessean has more.
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Seeking Shorter Sentences, Public Defenders Inundate Courts

Tennessee courts have seen hundreds of lawsuits recently from federal public defenders looking to shorten the sentences of current inmates, according to the Tennessean. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling from June of last year that limited which prior convictions qualified a person as a “career offender” and its one-year deadline is the cause of the recent flurry of lawsuits. Henry Martin, the federal public defender for the Middle District of Tennessee, said lawyers in his office filed motions to set aside the sentences in more than 140 cases. In East Tennessee, more than 220 similar motions were filed, according to Federal Community Defender Beth Ford. In West Tennessee, public records show more than 140 filings since May 1. David Rivera, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, said that prosecutors in his office would go through each appeal on a case by case basis.
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Hamilton County Weighs ‘Safety Zone’ Measures Against Gangs

Hamilton County is considering using injunctions from judges to create “safety zones” that would prevent gang members from gathering, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. District Attorney General Neal Pinkston said Wednesday that the measures would ban certain activities in neighborhoods around Chattanooga. The DA’s office has not yet decided exactly which activities would be prohibited or which geographic areas would be included. Thomas Castelli, legal director for the ACLU of Tennessee, said he believes that the orders could constitute a civil rights violation. Castelli said the courts should be “careful to use language that can’t be interpreted so broadly as to affect a current gang member’s ability to live an ordinary life.” Other Tennessee cities, including Memphis and Nashville, have used gang injunctions, which were made possible under a 2009 state law and strengthened in 2014.
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Justice Dept. Begins Investigation into Sterling Shooting

The U.S. Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation into the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge, Louisiana., police, reports The New York Times. The incident was captured on video and shared widely on social media, prompting protests over the police killing of an African-American man. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards promised a thorough investigation. “I have very serious concerns,” Edwards said. “The video is disturbing, to say the least.”
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Court Upholds Death Sentence for 2002 Murders

The Tennessee Supreme Court has affirmed the conviction and death sentence for Howard Hawk Willis for killing two East Tennessee teenagers and dismembering one of them. Willis was convicted in 2010 by a Washington County jury on two counts of premeditated murder and one count of felony murder in the perpetration of a kidnapping. The court held that there was no violation of right to counsel despite arguments that the trial court should have excluded certain incriminating statements Willis made to his ex-wife because she was acting as an agent of the government at the time the statements were made. Justice Holly Kirby authored the court's opinion. Chief Justice Sharon Lee filed a concurring opinion.

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Precedent Set for Dogs in Courtrooms

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has rejected a claim that the presence of a comfort dog was "overly prejudicial" to a defendant in a rape trial. The case comes from the appeal of a man convicted of raping a 10-year-old in DeKalb County. Prosecutors wrote detailed guidelines for the dog’s courtroom presence during the trial, including instructions that the dog be invisible to everyone but the victim. The appeals court upheld the local court’s decision, citing case evidence from other states that allow service dogs in courtrooms. “This was the first case in Tennessee for a dog to be allowed in the courtroom to provide comfort to the victim,” said Jennifer Wilkerson, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center. With this win under their belts, prosecutors and child advocacy center directors across the state are planning to introduce service dogs into their own courtrooms, the Herald Citizen reports.

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DOJ Seeking Prosecutors to Work Without Pay

The Associated Press reports that U.S. attorneys’ offices around the country have been offering unpaid jobs for entry level prosecutors with promises of training and invaluable work experience. But critics say the unpaid jobs threaten racial diversity in federal prosecutors’ offices and set a bad precedent for labor standards. The association representing associate U.S. attorneys goes a step further, saying the unpaid positions violate the law. MSNBC has the story.

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FBI: No Charges Recommended in Clinton Email Probe

FBI Director James Comey announced today that the FBI will be recommending that no charges be brought against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server while secretary of state. Comey stated that the bureau “did not find clear evidence” that anyone being investigated intended to violate laws, but said there was evidence that the parties "were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” And despite “evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information,” Comey concluded that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. The findings now go to the U.S. Justice Department. The ABA Journal has more on the story while ABC News has the full transcript of Comey's remarks.

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Vandenburg Sentencing Set for Sept. 30

A Sept. 30 sentencing date has been set for Brandon Vandenburg, a former Vanderbilt University football player convicted of participating in the rape of an unconscious woman in 2013, the Tennessean reports. Vandenburg, 23, was found guilty of eight felony sex-related assault charges on June 20, exposing him to a prison sentence of 15 to 25 years. The sentencing hearing is set for 9 a.m. central time.

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5th Circuit: Machine Guns Not Protected by Constitution

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a federal law that generally bars the possession of machine guns, the ABA Journal reports. The court based its decision on a reading of District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that found the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own a gun. But the case also distinguished between guns used in the military and those possessed at home for self-defense, the appeals court said. The plaintiff in the case wanted to build an M-16 machine gun from components of the AR-15.

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UT Asks for Extension in Title IX Lawsuit

Lawyers for the University of Tennessee asked a judge last week for more time to file a response to the federal Title IX lawsuit against the university, Knoxnews reports. The extension request for a new deadline of July 7 follows a previous extension from the original deadline of June 16, which was set to expire Thursday. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Nashville in February, alleges UT has a “hostile sexual environment” and violated Title IX in the handling of sexual assault cases, especially accusations against student athletes.

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