News

Judge Waived Jail Sentence for Daughter's Boyfriend

Court records show Nashville General Sessions Judge Casey Moreland waived a 10-day jail sentence for his future son-in-law, the Tennessean reports. Chris Plattenburg spent just three hours in jail after an October 2015 DUI charge, which was later reduced to reckless endangerment. A jail commitment order with Plattenburg’s 10-day sentence was rescinded and marked “time served per Judge Moreland.”
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Mistrial Declared in Former Deputy’s Child Rape Case

A Knox County Criminal Court jury announced today that it was deadlocked in the case of Dennis Mills Jr., a former sheriff’s deputy accused of child rape, Knoxnews reports. Judge Scott Green was forced to declare a mistrial, setting an April 21 status hearing to see if Assistant District Attorney General Joanie Stewart wishes to try Mills again.
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Volunteers Needed for Jackson Expungement Clinic

West Tennessee Legal Services and the TBA YLD will be hosting a free expungement clinic in Jackson on Friday, April 7. The clinic will be held as an event for the Help4Tn project. The clinic will run from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Criminal Justice Complex, 3rd Floor Conference Room. Those who are able to volunteer should contact Amber Floyd or Kathryn Tucker.
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Officer Accused of Concealing Evidence to Protect Relationship

Prosecutors are arguing former Chattanooga police officer Karl Fields concealed potentially exonerating evidence against a man facing rape charges to preserve a relationship he was having with the alleged victim, the Times Free Press reports. Fields, as an investigator with the major crimes division, allegedly had access to cellphone videos of the woman appearing to have consensual sex with the accused, but never turned them over to the DA’s office. He faces one count of tampering with evidence and one count of official misconduct.
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SCOTUS: Jury Deliberations Not Guaranteed Secret if Bias Involved

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that courts must make an exception to jury deliberation secrecy if evidence shows that those discussions involved racial bias, the New York Times reports. The case stems from a 2010 sexual assault trial in which a juror reportedly said of the defendant, “I think he did it because he’s Mexican.” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion that jury selection and reports from jurors alone are not always effective in determining racial bias. 
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State Lacks Drugs for Lethal Injections

The Tennessee prison system doesn’t have the necessary drugs needed to carry out a lethal injection, the Tennessean reports. Currently executions are stalled as state judges weigh a challenge to protocol. Were executions to return without the drugs, Tennessee is one of only two states that could fall back on its backup plan – the electric chair.
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Federal Review of Memphis Police to Continue

Despite a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice early Friday suggesting the opposite, a federal review of the Memphis Police Department (MPD) is still underway, the Commercial Appeal reports. After announcing that it would end the collaborative reform process, the DOJ reversed its decision Friday afternoon. The reason for the first announcement, according to a second statement by DOJ officials, was that the department had not received a signed memorandum of agreement (MOA) from the city of Memphis, which was required in order to proceed. After the MOA was confirmed to have arrived into federal hands, the decision was changed.
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Tenn. Among 16 States With Anti-Protesting Bills

Tennessee is one of 16 states with bills seeking to regulate protestors and public demonstrations, the ABA Journal reports. Tennessee’s bill removes liability from drivers who hit protestors with their car if the demonstrator was blocking the road. The bills, HB0668/SB0944, are sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough. Other states have legislation that allows lawsuits against protestors to cover the cost of police response, increases penalties for rioting, and makes committing a crime while wearing a hoodie an extra misdemeanor charge.
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Bivins Sees Both Sides of Death Penalty Legislation

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeff Bivins told WCYB that there are pros and cons to the legislation that has been proposed that would take death penalty appeals directly to the Supreme Court, bypassing the court of appeals. "It would probably speed up the process by six months or so," Bivins said. "But it also is helpful to have the court of criminal appeals review it because they are able to narrow down the issues and it's another set of eyes on that." Shortening the time spent on the process is one goal, but Bivins points out that something may be overlooked in the rush. "It's an incredibly important decision. It's a critical decision," he said. "It's a life or death decision, literally."

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Former Rep. Armstrong Will Not Appeal Conviction

Former State Rep. Joe Armstrong will not appeal his felony conviction in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, according to Knoxnews. Armstrong, who represented East Knoxville for 28 years, faced three felonies for hiding a $321,000 windfall from a sin tax hike on which he voted from the IRS. At a trial last year, a jury acquitted him of the two most serious counts and convicted him of filing a false tax return. In January, Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips set him free with house arrest, probation and community service. He leaves with no jail time, but will pay the IRS its money. He retired from the legislature and kept his pension.

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Federal Appeals Court Rules in Death Penalty Case

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled in favor of Andrew Thomas in his death penalty appeal for the 1997 killing of an armored truck guard, the Commercial Appeal reports. The court agreed with Thomas’s claim that the state of Maryland violated his rights and suppressed evidence in his case. Thomas is currently incarcerated at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, where he still maintains his innocence in the crime.
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Death Penalty Off the Table in Dobson Case

Prosecutors will not seek the death penalty or life without parole for the two men accused of murdering Knoxville 15-year-old Zaevion Dobson, Knoxnews reports. A December deadline to file an intent to seek enhanced punishment passed without response from the Knox County district attorney's office, a fact the office confirmed this week. Richard Gregory Williams III and Christopher Drone face a 27-count indictment for killing the young Fulton High football star, who who died after shielding his friends from gunfire.
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Supreme Court Comes Down Against Race-Based Testimony

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled in favor of a death-row inmate whose expert witness testified he is more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black, the ABA Journal reports. The inmate had been convicted in Texas in 1995 during a time in which a death sentence couldn’t be imposed unless jurors believed the convicted presented a future danger. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 6-2 majority opinion.
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Knox County DA’s Opioid-Fighting Pilot Program to Begin

Opioid addicts facing criminal charges in Knox County will begin receiving injections to help them stay clean thanks to a new pilot program, Knoxnews reports. The program is called “Shot at Life” and is being overseen by Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen’s office in cooperation with local law enforcement. The injections will be of the drug Vivitrol, which blocks the brain’s ability to feel pleasure from opioids.
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Family of Man Who Died in Custody Sues for $30 Million

The family of a man who died while in the custody of the Bradley County Jail is suing for $30 million, the Times Free Press reports. Hershel Dover died after being arrested for a probation violation and falling ill. The lawsuit is against Bradley County government and Gabe Thomas, the captain of the jail at the time. The suit claims Dover required insulin three times a day, but doctors at the hospital where he was treated found elevated amounts of glucose in his blood and no food or medications in his stomach.
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Nashville DA: TBI to Investigate All Officer-Involved Shootings

Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk said today that all future officer involved fatal shootings in Nashville will be investigated by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Tennessean reports. The new policy comes after the shooting death of Jocques Clemmons by a Metro police officer last week. Funk said that Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson was aware of this plan, though he was not in attendance at the press conference announcing the change.
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Convicted Killer Perry March Sues Over Prison Food

Perry March, the Nashville man serving a 56-year prison term for multiple crimes including the murder of his wife and the plot to kill her parents, filed a more than 200-page lawsuit this month over the quality of his prison food, the Tennessean reports. March claims that the quality of the kosher diet he receives is poor and is a veiled attempt to force him to break from his Jewish faith. He is currently incarcerated at Morgan County Correctional Complex in Oak Ridge.
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Jurors Struggle with Doggart Deliberation

Jurors deciding the case of Robert Doggart, a Tennessee man accused of planning to attack a Muslim community in New York, sent a note to U.S. District Court Judge Curtis Collier yesterday asking for clarification on the defendant's two charges of "threat in interstate commerce," the Times Free Press reports. Federal prosecutors have argued Doggart made two threats over the telephone, and a telephone counts and as instrument of interstate commerce. The defense countered that Doggart was goaded by the government informant he spoke with when he made the threats, and only wanted to conduct “recon” on the town of Islamberg after begin convinced by Fox News broadcasts that its residents wanted to attack New York City.
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Man Gets 25 Years for Killing Memphis Student

A man charged with the 2015 murder of a Memphis University School student was sentenced to 25 years today, the Commercial Appeal reports. Andrae Tewari previously pleaded guilty of second degree murder for the shooting death of Frank Whitington just two weeks after the victim’s graduation. Tewari also pleaded guilty to two unrelated charges, which increased the time he will serve.
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Killer Ordered to Pay $2M for Murdering Former Lover

A former Knoxville insurance agent who was convicted of the slaying of Brooke Nicole Morris in 2011 was ordered today to pay $2 million to Morris’s family for her wrongful death, Knoxnews reports. Shawn Smoot still maintains that he is innocent of murdering Morris, with whom he’d had an affair that turned violent when she broke it off. He is currently serving a life sentence without parole.
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FBI to Monitor Investigation of Nashville Police Shooting

The FBI will monitor the Metro Nashville Police Department’s investigation into the fatal police shooting of Jocques Clemmons, the Nashville Scene reports. Clemmons was killed following a traffic stop at a public housing complex on Friday. Police Chief Steve Anderson said that he welcomes the federal agents’ involvement and promises a “full, complete and accountable investigation.”
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TBA Mashup and Mini Legal Hackathon this Friday

In conjunction with the Law Tech UnConference CLE this Friday, the TBA is also offering a variety of free events and programs for lawyers we’re calling a Mashup. One program will teach you about Legal Hackathons and see one in action. A Legal Hackathon is a collaborative effort of experts in the legal profession collaborating with a computer programmer to find a technology assisted solution to a problem in the legal industry. Join the TBA Special Committee on the Evolving Legal Market for a mini legal hackathon that will demonstrate the power of collaborative minds at work. We will have tasty beverages and snacks to help you get your collaborative juices flowing.  
 
Other programs that will be a part of the Mashup include Pro Bono In Action which will show you various pro bono programs you can participate in to help your fellow Tennesseans and Member Benefit Programs that will provide you information on  Fastcase 7, health insurance options for small firms, ABA retirement funds and professional liability insurance.
 
Please sign up now to let us know you are coming.

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Crime Victims’ Private Records, Elder and Labor Law in This Issue

The Tennessee Supreme Court’s majority opinion in The Tennessean v. Metro last year was a victory for law enforcement and a significant setback for the state’s news media, writes Daniel Horwitz in this month's Tennessee Bar Journal. How the ruling will affect crime victims’ ability to protect their private records from public disclosure after criminal proceedings have concluded is uncertain. Also in the February Journal, Monica Franklin writes about The Special Needs Trust Fairness Act of 2016, Edward G. Phillips and Brandon L. Morrow’s column discusses times when protected activities provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for termination, while Bill Haltom enumerates the reasons why your valentine should be a lawyer. Read the entire issue.

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Death Penalty Bill Heads to Committee This Week

A bill that would remove appellate review from death penalty cases, sending them straight to the Tennessee Supreme Court, will head to committee tomorrow, according to the Tennessean. The legislation is scheduled to be taken up in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee at 1:30 p.m. and the Senate Judiciary Committee at 3:30 p.m.

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Judge Has Personal Connection in Fight Against Opioid Crisis

A Tennessean profile of Dandridge judge Duane Sloane highlights how the circuit judge came to fight for recovery over harsh sentences for addicts. His methods have been deemed controversial by some, especially ones aimed at pregnant mothers with addiction, but he cites his family’s adoption of a baby born with withdrawal symptoms as his motivation to fight for solutions to the crisis.
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