News

Court to Review Statutory Rape Precedent

In the single criminal case it granted review this week, the Tennessee Supreme Court will be considering whether it should modify the existing rule classifying the victim of statutory rape as an accomplice and requiring corroboration of the victim’s testimony. Read more about the case and a forecast in the Raybin and Perky Tennessee Supreme Court Hot List.

read more »

Court Will Hear 6 New Cases in April

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear six cases during its April sitting, which begins April 15. The cases include questions of whether an individual who has not been arrested but is interviewed by police has the right to remain silent; whether federal funds can be withheld from anti-AIDS groups that do not actively oppose prostitution; whether federal law preempts port regulations that limit the operations of federally licensed truckers; whether state or federal law controls the right to receive death benefits from a federal employee’s life insurance policy; whether the federal anti-extortion act applies to a private individual fighting a government recommendation about a pension fund; and whether Congress has authority to make failure to register for a sex crime a federal offense long after the sentence imposed for the crime is completed. Learn more on SCOTUSBlog.

read more »

Court Weighs Whether Judge or Jury Can Impose Sentence Enhancement

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether a jury or a judge should have the final say on facts that can trigger mandatory minimum sentences in criminal trials, reports the Associated Press. The justices heard arguments yesterday in the case of Allen Alleyne, who was convicted of robbery and firearm possession. The jury found that Alleyne's accomplice did not brandish a weapon, but the judge said he did, raising Alleyne's minimum sentence from five to seven years on that charge. Alleyne's lawyers say the brandishing decision should have been the jury's, and it should have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, not the lower standard used by the judge.

read more »

New Trial Granted for 1 in Torture-Slaying Case

Senior Judge Walter Kurtz today denied new trials for two brothers convicted in the 2007 slayings of a Knox County couple, but granted a retrial for a third defendant, Knoxnews.com reports. Lemaricus Davidson, who is facing the death penalty, and his brother, Letalvis Cobbins, who is serving life without parole, will not get new trials because, according to Kurtz, there was DNA evidence linking them to the killings. Their friend George Thomas, however, will get a second chance because former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, who presided over the original trial, did not rule on whether he could serve as a "13th juror" in the case. The issue of new trials for several defendants arose in the wake of a pill scandal that implicated Baumgartner and raised questions about the legitimacy of verdicts handed down in his court.

read more »

Tennessee Still Lacks Key Lethal Injection Drugs

It's been three years since Tennessee put an inmate to death, and problems with obtaining lethal injection drugs make it unlikely executions will resume anytime soon, Knoxnews.com says. The state's supply of sodium thiopental, one of three drugs used in lethal injections, was turned over to the federal government in 2011 over questions about how it was imported. The short supply of the drug has led many states to seek out alternatives. Tennessee officials, however, are staying tight-lipped about their plans. According to the Department of Correction, the agency is looking at options while monitoring steps being taken by other states. Records obtained by the Associated Press also show that the state has no supply of pancuronium bromide, a strong muscle relaxant given before the final injection of potassium chloride.

read more »

U.S. Attorney Names New Civil Rights Chief

Ed Stanton, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, has appointed veteran federal prosecutor Larry Laurenzi as the new chief of the office’s Civil Rights Unit, The Memphis Daily News reports. Laurenzi replaces Steve Parker who left the office to join a U.S. Justice Department detail in New Orleans. Stanton created the Civil Rights Unit in 2011 to investigate traditional civil rights violations as well as government corruption, human trafficking and hate crimes cases.

read more »

Stites Lawyer Elected Chair of Anti-Death Penalty Group

Stites & Harbison attorney Robert Goodrich has been elected chair of the board of directors for Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (TADP) – a non-profit organization that seeks repeal of the state’s death penalty. TADP will hold its 7th annual Student Conference on the Death Penalty at Lipscomb University in Nashville on Feb. 23. The free conference is open to high school, college and graduate students interested in learning about the death penalty issue and hearing from those directly impacted by the system. The conference keynote speaker is Ray Krone, the nation’s 100th death row exoneree, who spent 10 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Learn more about the conference

read more »

Court Considers Blood Alcohol Warrant Requirement

The Supreme Court heard arguments today in a case testing whether police must get a warrant before forcing a drunk driving suspect to have her blood drawn, NPR reports. The court has long held that search warrants are required when government officials order intrusions into the body, such as drawing blood. However, opponents of the law state that time is of the essence since a person’s blood alcohol starts to dissipate after they stop drinking so the need for quick blood-alcohol testing is necessary.

read more »

State Searches for New Death Penalty Drug

The federal government has confiscated Tennessee’s entire stock of sodium thiopental, a key drug for lethal injection, amid questions of whether it was legally obtained overseas during a 2010 shortage in America. Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield said the state is pursing alternative drugs in order to maintain its lethal injection protocol. Eighty-four inmates currently sit on Tennessee’s death row, 67 of whom have been there for more than 10 years. While death penalty opponents view the sodium thiopental shortage as a godsend, advocates think the state’s delay in finding an alternative drug is preventing justice from being carried out. The Tennessean has the story.

read more »

Judge Kurtz to Retire After Christian-Newsom Case

Senior Judge Walter Kurtz says he will retire after presiding over the trials of Christian-Newsom murder defendants Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas. His retirement will be retroactive to Dec. 31, 2012,  WATE Knoxville News Channel 6 reports.

read more »

Lawyer Seeks to Sue Connecticut Over School Shooting

A Connecticut attorney is requesting permission to sue the state over the Sandy Hook school shooting, saying his six-year-old client was left with emotional and psychological trauma because authorities failed to make the school safe. The attorney, Irving Pinsky, is seeking $100 million in damages on behalf of his client, a survivor of the shooting identified only as Jill Doe. The girl was at the elementary school during the attack and heard everything including gunfire, screaming and conversations over the intercom, Pinsky said. WCYB Channel 5 Bristol has this CNN report.

read more »

ABA Commemorates 50th Anniversary of Gideon Decision

The ABA will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright on March 18 with events and public education programs that draw attention to the challenges facing the criminal justice system. The landmark Supreme Court ruling required state courts to provide counsel in criminal cases for defendants who cannot afford their own. For more information, contact Tori Jo Wible or Karyn Linn.

read more »

Christian-Newsom Murder Defendant Requests New Trial in Light of 'Explosive' New Information

Attorneys for Lemaricus Davidson, who was convicted of the torture slayings of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, are asking for a new trial due to outside influences on the jury during deliberations, WATE Knoxville News Channel 6 reports. In newly released, post-trial information, a juror blogged about his experience in 2009 during Davidson’s first trial stating the jurors had a “praise service” during the deliberations. Eight jurors believed Davidson should receive death, while four were unsure. The juror blogged that out of the five-plus hours spent deliberating, four hours were spent in prayer and reading the Bible. The judge will hear Davidson’s latest amended motions for a new trial on Jan. 10.

read more »

Court Rules Against Death Row Inmate's Disability Claim

The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld a lower court’s decision that death row inmate David Keen may not reopen his post-conviction proceeding 19 years after his original death sentence to assert he is intellectually disabled. In an opinion authored by Justice William C. Koch, the court ruled that the statute permitting inmates to reopen their post-conviction proceedings did not apply to Keen’s claims since the statute allows reopening a proceeding when there is scientific evidence that an inmate is “actually innocent of the offense,” and Keen was not claiming that he did not commit the crime for which he was convicted.

read more »

Court to Review 2 New Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted review to two cases. The first, a civil case, looks at whether a time-share salesperson is entitled to unemployment compensation. The second, a criminal case, calls for interpretation of the statute governing fabrication of evidence when the tampering occurs before police learn a crime may have been committed. The Raybin Perky Hotlist looks at the cases and offers a prediction as to how they may be decided. 

read more »

Obama Presses for Swift Gun Control Policy Changes

In the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., last Friday, President Barack Obama is pressing for “concrete proposals” to curb gun violence, the Chattanooga Free Press reports. Obama asked Vice-President Joe Biden, a longtime gun control advocate, to lead the group that will include members of Obama’s administration and outside groups. The president said once he receives recommendations from the group, he will push legislation “without delay.”

read more »

Court Upholds 'John Doe' Warrant

The  Tennessee Supreme Court  upheld the conviction of a man known as the “Wooded Rapist” in a unanimous opinion authored by Chief Justice Gary R. Wade. The opinion maintains that the state can prosecute an unknown suspect by issuing a John Doe warrant that identifies them by gender and/or unique DNA profile if that criminal prosecution is properly and timely commenced within the statute of limitations.

read more »

Applications Available for 1st Judicial District Criminal Court

The Judicial Nominating Commission is now accepting applications for a vacancy in the 1st Judicial District Criminal Court, which serves Carter, Johnson, Unicoi and Washington counties. The position is open because of the retirement of Judge Lynn W. Brown, who will leave office on March 31. Interested applicants must be licensed attorneys at least 30 years of age, residents of the state for five years, and residents of the judicial district for at least one year. Applicants must complete an application and submit it to the Administrative Office of the Courts by noon Central time Jan. 11. Learn more and get application information

read more »

Parole Board Losing Rogersville Office

The state Board of Probation and Parole has 90 days to vacate a Hawkins County-owned office building in Rogersville, reports the Kingsport Times News. The office serves Hawkins County residents on probation and parole through the Third Judicial District Criminal Court. If the office closes, those on probation and parole might have to travel to the board’s Greeneville office to meet their parole officer. In making the decision to evict the office, some members of the county commission expressed concern that probation and parole violations may increase if those who do not have the means or the initiative to go to Greeneville don't make the trip.

read more »

Judge Kurtz: Decision on Retrials Coming Mid-January

Knox County Criminal Court Judge Walter Kurtz said he would decide quickly whether to grant new trials to three defendants previously convicted for killing Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. At a hearing Thursday, Kurtz said the motions for new trials “don’t need to fester any longer” and that he would decide on them by mid-January. Read this AP story in the Jackson Sun.

read more »

East Tenn. Judge Announces Retirement

Criminal Court Judge Lynn Brown of the First Judicial District announced Wednesday that he will retire at the end of March 2013, the Johnson City Press reports. Brown has served as Criminal Court judge since 1988, after 11 years as a prosecutor with the First District Attorney General’s Office. Assistant District Attorneys Dennis Brooks and Ken Baldwin have already stated their desire to succeed Brown.

read more »

Judge to Decide on Christian Newsom Retrials

Judge Walter Kurtz heard motions today on whether Christian Newsom murder defendants LaMaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas will get new trials as granted by recused Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, WATE Knoxville News Channel 6 reports. Vanessa Coleman, the fourth defendant in the case, was granted a new trial late last moth and was found guilty of 13 of 17 counts. Judge Kurtz said the motions for re-trial would be decided by mid-January by written order.

read more »

Jury Set for Former Unicoi County Sheriff's Retrial

The jury in former Unicoi County sheriff Kent Harris’ retrial was set Monday in Unucoi Criminal Court, the Johnson City Press reports. The jury consists of 12 members with two alternates. Harris’s first trial in August on charges of theft over $4,500 and criminal simulation was declared a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

read more »

Williamson DUI Court Earns Praise in Review

The Williamson County DUI Court received a glowing report from a recent review by the Justice Programs Office at American University. The review team consisted of Judge John Parnham, a retired Circuit Court judge, and Dr. Richard Grimm, a DUI court evaluator, who spent two days in Franklin meeting with DUI Court Judge Denise Andre, Mayor Rogers Anderson, DUI Court team members, participants and graduates. The Williamson County General Sessions DUI Court was founded in 2010 by Judge Andre.

read more »

Tennessee Jails Struggle with Number of Inmates

Tennessee jails have more inmates than beds, and there's no solution in sight, reports The Tennessean. According to the paper, nearly half of the state’s 109 jails have more inmates than beds, with some housing two or three times as many inmates as they are certified to hold. Detainees in these counties find themselves sleeping on floors in common areas, using portable showers and toilets, or being moved around to other facilities. Counties with jail overcrowding also have troubles since they are more vulnerable to lawsuits, higher insurance policies and increased costs to house inmates elsewhere.

read more »