News

Error on Jury Form Results in New Trial

An error on a jury form prompted the the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals to grant a new trial to a Hendersonville man serving 10 years in prison for the death of a nine-month-old girl. The verdict form only listed aggravated assault without specifying whether jurors believe the assault was reckless or intentional; Randall Beaty is serving a longer sentence for intentional aggravated assault, Hendersonville Star News reports. “It is certainly likely that the result is going to be a lesser sentence because of the nature of the Court of Criminal Appeals decision,” Sumner County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Dean said.

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Most Date Rapes Not Committed by Serial Predators, Study Finds

A new study reveals the majority of college rapes are committed by men who are not serial predators, challenging that accepted perception. “Exclusive emphasis on serial predation to guide risk identification, judicial response and rape-prevention programs is misguided,” Kevin Swartout, a lead researcher on the Georgia State University study, said. “To deter college rape, prevention should be initiated before, and continue during college.” Read more from WSMV.

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Extra Court Fine Will Fund Washington County Family Justice Center

The Washington County Commission unanimously voted to assess an additional $45 in court fines for people convicted of certain criminal charges in the county, WCYB reports. Money collected from the Victim Assistance Fee, set to go into effect in early 2016, will go toward funding the new Family Justice Center. "That's part of paying for your crime, so I don't have a problem with it at all," Washington County District Attorney General Tony Clark said.

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Major Violent Crimes Drop in Memphis, Shelby County

Major violent crimes – including murder, rape, aggravated assault and robbery – dropped in Shelby County and in Memphis from January through October compared to the same time period a year ago, according to statistics released by the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission. The Memphis Daily News reports major violent crimes in Memphis are down 33 percent since 2006.

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$5M Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Knox County, Jailers

Attorney Lance Baker on Monday filed a $5 million federal lawsuit on behalf of former Knox County inmate Louis Flack against the county and six county sheriff’s office jailers, who were involved in an alleged beating of the mentally-ill Flack. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that the lawsuit also claims Flack was strapped into a restraint chair that is the subject of another civil-rights lawsuit filed earlier this year.

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Report: Campbell County Judge Charging for Unused Defense Services

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that Campbell County General Sessions Court Judge Amanda Sammons is charging people a fee for court-appointed counsel even if they do not use the service. Sammons said that in each incident, the families initially asked for court-appointed counsel before choosing to hire private lawyers. “The AOC fusses at us if we do not collect that fee. In order for the indigent defense [system] to work statewide, that fee must be paid,” Sammons said. But others say that the law establishing the fee as well as court rules provide a mechanism to waive the fee.

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Hamilton County Drug Court Marks 10-year Anniversary

The Times Free Press shares the successes – and difficult failures – of the Hamilton County Drug Court, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. Judge Tom Greenholtz spent time Monday thanking the coordinators, medical partners, former graduates and former judge Rebecca Stern.

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Consumers More Vulnerable to Cybercrime, Norton Says

A new report released by Norton, a cybersecurity company, reveals in the 12 months to September, more than 348 million identities were exposed as a result of data breaches. Norton says consumers globally spent $150 billion in the past year dealing with the issues related to cybercrime. Read more from the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog.

Training Conference for Parents of At-Risk Males

The Conference for Single Parents Rearing At-Risk Males, a new three-day program implemented by Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway, will offer training for 250 parents of at-risk males referred to Building Families and Communities Missions. The program is planned for Dec. 11-13 in Nashville. For more information, including a program schedule, contact BFC Missions at 615-498-4669.

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6th Circuit: Ex-Deputy Not Entitled to Summary Judgment

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling by Judge Harry S. Mattice that said former Bradley County deputy Dustin Patrick was not entitled to summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity, The Times Free Press reports. Friday's ruling means the case will go to trial, but no trial date has been set. Patrick shot Armetta Foster in 2011 after she allegedly slashed him with a knife and drove off in his patrol car; Foster later died from the gunshot wounds. Foster’s father filed a federal civil lawsuit claiming that Patrick used aggressive force.

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Wrongfully Imprisoned Lebanon Man Awaits State Payment

Lawrence McKinney has yet to receive a penny of the $1 million the Innocence Project says he is owed for spending 31 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The Lebanon Democrat reports that the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole has not exonerated McKinney and without the exoneration, he cannot receive his compensation. “I’m working with an attorney from Memphis. We’re just waiting to see what the next step is," McKinney said.

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Opinion: 'Tough on Crime' Ads Impact Perception of Judges

An article in the Atlantic reports on a common thread in recent state supreme court campaigns: whether judges are sufficiently "tough on crime." Alicia Bannon with the Brennan Center for Justice writes that more than half of TV ad spots that aired in recent state supreme court elections either criticized or praised the records of judges and candidates on criminal justice issues. “Behind these ads are special interest groups—many with clear financial interests in cases that come before state courts—who appear to be coalescing around a strategy to exploit public-safety issues." That leaves judges less likely to side with criminal defendants and the public less confident in a fair judiciary, she argues.

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Investigation Shows Ex-offenders Continue Paying for Crimes

An investigative report from WREG finds that ex-offenders continue paying for their punishment through complex fines and fees associated with the criminal justice system long after they have completed serving their time. A basic fee schedule does not exist in Memphis, according to WREG, and the amount of fines and fees vary by crime. "I don't disagree that people shouldn't foot the bill if they commit a crime, [but] we've gone well beyond that," says Josh Spickler, executive director of Just City -- a local group committed to reform. Spickler says the group plans to conduct research on the issue, including how the fines impact taxpayers.

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Tennesseean Receives Nearly $17M for Wrongful Conviction

The Associated Press reports that the District of Columbia has agreed to pay $16.65 million to Donald Eugene Gates, a current Tennessee resident who was freed in 2009 after spending 27 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit. The amount to be paid to Gates is about $617,000 for each year he spent in prison. A federal jury on Wednesday found that two city police officers fabricated and withheld evidence in the case. “Today, justice was served. Long-awaited justice was served,” Gates said.

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A Glimpse into Nashville's Youth Courts Program

The Tennessean reports on the process and success of Nashville's youth courts, a system that allows students who are facing misdemeanor accusations to go before a jury of their peers. Teens who participate as lawyers and jurors are trained by Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway. According to advocates for the program, fewer than four percent of students who go through youth courts reoffend -- a much better success rate than those processed in juvenile court.

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State Lawmakers to Propose New DUI Legislation

Tennessee Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, plans to submit a bill in January that would require each Tennessee municipality to report its DUI arrests and convictions to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), WMCActionNews5 reports. According to Norris, 18 of Tennessee’s 95 counties do not report their DUI arrests or cases to NCIC. Under a second bill to be proposed by Rep. Mark White, R-East Memphis, Tennessee judges would have the authority to order ignition locks and ankle bracelets for first-time DUI offenders as conditions of their bonds.

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Former Gang Members Mentor Teens on Probation

Former gang members are mentoring Nashville teens on probation through a volunteer program known as GANG (Gentleman and not Gangsters), WZTV reports. “They can actually see somebody that has been where they've been and can come out of it and do better,” said Bishop Marcus Campbell of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church. The program is run out of Campbell's church in North Nashville. For more information, contact Campbell at (615) 636-0012.

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No Trial Date Yet for Allison Beaver Burchett

A trial date has yet to be set for Allison Beaver Burchett – the ex-wife of Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett – two months after she was indicted for six counts of identity theft in an effort to influence a divorce battle. Knox County Criminal Court Judge Steve Sword said this recent delay is because defense attorneys have been waiting on Assistant District Attorney General Bill Bright to turn over to them copies of computer evidence. According to The Knoxville News Sentinel, a trial date would have normally been set when Burchett was arraigned in September.

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DA's Attempt to Open TBI Files Revals 'Complex Issues'

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich’s attempt to open Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) files on the shooting of Darrius Stewart involves both issues of public access to records and who can intervene in the case, the Daily News reports. "If the Memphis Police Department had investigated this, the public could have access,” Weirich argues. “The public has the right to know.”

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Victims' Rights Advocate Concerned with Judge's Comments

“Did a judge cross the line with an alleged domestic abuse victim in court?” is the opening line in a WATE news story questioning recent comments from Knox County Judge Chuck Cerny. After an alleged assault victim spent the night with the man accused of attacking her, Cerny threatened the victim with contempt and accused her of using her hormones, not her brain, to think. “No one seems to understand the level of danger that abusers pose," victim's rights advocate Amy Dilworth said after listening to the judge’s comments. "The level of brainwashing that they put in place and that victims can’t just leave."

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Inmate Escape Prompts Scrutiny of Coffee County Courthouse Security

The Coffee County Courthouse Security Committee is looking to improve courthouse safety following an inmate’s escape from his holding cell during a recent appearance in General Sessions Court, Tullahoma News reports. “Our communication is not necessarily the best in this building,” Heather Hinds Duncan, a committee member, said. “For example, when the person escaped on the first floor, we didn’t know it for 15 minutes. Had we known it immediately, the whole building could have gone on lockdown.”

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New Trial Dates Set for Ex-Vols Football Players

The Associated Press reports new trial dates have been set for ex-Vols football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams, who are facing aggravated rape charges. Williams’ trial has been moved to June 27; Johnson’s trial was moved to July 18. Knox County Criminal Court Judge Bob McGee said defense lawyers can still try to obtain social media communications from witnesses and the victim through the service providers. 

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Hack of Inmate Call Records Raises Questions

A security breach at Securus Technologies – which provides phone services at more than 40 correctional facilities across Tennessee and hundreds more across the country – has put the records of millions of phone calls placed by inmates in the public domain, The Intercept reports. The records were leaked via an anonymous hacker, The Intercept reports, who believes the Securus is violating the rights of inmates by recording their conversations. The attack is spurring discussion of the practice, such as the Simple Justice blog posting from New York defense attorney Scott Greenfield.

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Tennessee a Top State for Murder-Suicides, Report Finds

Tennessee is among the top eight states in the nation for the frequency of murder-suicides, according to a new study by the Violence Policy Center. The report, featured in the Times Free Press, also found 72 percent of murder-suicides involved an intimate partner.

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Davidson County Court Not Recording Preliminary Hearings

WSMV reports Davidson County General Sessions Court may not be recording preliminary hearings as required by law. After the news station contacted the court asking for recordings of a preliminary hearing, a court employee revealed they do not record all hearings and only record by request. “This is the Supreme Court rule,” defense attorney David Raybin said. “It said the recordings shall be preserved by electronic recording. This is not discretionary.”

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