News

Seminar on Human Trafficking Comes to Brentwood

The Brentwood Library will host a program on human trafficking, how to identify it and steps to prevent it on Oct. 29. Co-sponsored by the Brentwood Woman’s Club and You Have the Power, the “No Girl’s Dream” program will be from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Brentwood Library, 8109 Concord Rd. Brentwood Homepage has more.

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Governor Names Members to Law-Related Bodies

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has announced a series of appointments to state boards and commissions, including several law-related bodies, WRCBTV.com reports. Among the appointments are Chris Hodges of Nashville and Ward Phillips of Knoxville to the Board of Judicial Conduct; Niesha Wolfe of Clarksville and Mary Wagner of Memphis to the Post-Conviction Defender Oversight Commission; and Jason Denton of Lebanon, Lynn Lawyer of Nashville and Jerry Mayo of Brentwood to the Advisory Council on Workers' Compensation.

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Testimony: Longer Sentences 'Not the Panacea' for Crime

Longer sentences do not dissuade individuals from committing crimes, according to testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. "They do not reduce crime, they do not increase public safety, and they cost the state a whole lot of money,” Professor Christopher Slobogin told the committee. The director of the Criminal Justice Program at Vanderbilt University Law School was among those commenting on recent findings from a sentencing task force. The Tennessean has more on the hearing.

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Trial for Former Football Players Pushed to 2016

The second trial of two former Vanderbilt University football players accused of rape will not happen until next year, Nashville Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins ruled today. Watkins heard several motions in the case and “largely ruled in favor of the prosecution” except on the question of the new trial date, the Tennessean reports. On that issue, Watkins granted defense attorneys’ motion that they were hired only four months ago and have not had time to adequately prepare for the case. Watkins said the trial would likely occur in March or April.

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Judge Protects 2 in Rutherford Probation Case

Federal judge Kevin H. Sharp has issued an injunction stopping a private probation company in Rutherford County from jailing two men because they cannot pay court fines and fees, the Tennessean reports. Sharp also ordered the company and county officials not to arrest the pair for any other reason and then hold them on bond. Fred Robinson and Steven Gibbs are two of seven individuals on probation that filed a class action lawsuit against Providence Community Corrections and Rutherford County officials. The suit argues the parties conspired to overcharge people on probation and withhold payments that should have covered court fines and fees.

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Oklahoma Halts Executions Until 2016

No executions will be scheduled in Oklahoma until at least next year while the attorney general’s office investigates why the state used the wrong drug during a lethal injection in January and nearly did so again last month, the Associated Press reports. The latest investigation comes after prison officials discovered they had potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride just hours before Richard Glossip was scheduled to die at the end of September.

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Prisons Chief Vows Changes Amid Review

Appearing before the state Senate Corrections Subcommittee yesterday, Tennessee Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield told lawmakers that he will revise controversial staff schedules and change the legal definitions of inmate-on-guard assaults – two issues that recently have led to concerns among correctional officers. “This is not just a Band-Aid. This is a complete review,” Schofield told the panel. A recent independent review by the American Correctional Association found unrest over guard turnover, violence and understaffing. The Times Free Press has the story.

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Former Vandy Football Players Ask to Separate Cases

Two former Vanderbilt University football players charged with raping a student in 2013 have renewed their request to go to trial separately, according to the Tennessean. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey are set for trial Nov. 30. But their attorneys asked the court yesterday to separate the cases and delay the trials. The pair was found guilty on charges of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery in January but a mistrial was declared after a juror failed to disclose he was a past victim of statutory rape.

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Justice Department Creates New Post to Fight Domestic Terrorism

The U.S. Justice Department has created a new position to coordinate domestic terrorism cases and identify ways to battle homegrown terrorists, the ABA Journal reports. John Carlin, the assistant attorney general for national security, announced yesterday that the position has been filled. The new person, who is a lawyer, will serve as a main point of contact for U.S. attorneys working on domestic terrorism matters, identify trends to help shape strategy and analyze legal gaps and enhancements to increase effectiveness.

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Judge Williams Honored with UTM Award

Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Judge John Everett Williams recently received the Distinguished Criminal Justice Alumni Award from the Department of Behavioral Sciences at the University of Tennessee at Martin. He is the first recipient of the award, which is sponsored by the campus chapter of the national criminal justice honor society Alpha Phi Sigma. The award recognizes alumni who demonstrate leadership in the criminal justice field, professional excellence in their careers and support for the school’s criminal justice program. Williams earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the school. After graduating from the Cumberland School of Law, he worked in private practice in Huntingdon until he was elected to serve on the court in 1998. Read more from the AOC.

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Court Holds Oral Arguments in 2 Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court issued orders from its Oct. 9 conference yesterday, but did not add any new cases to its docket for this term. The court also heard oral arguments yesterday in the cases of Montgomery v. Louisiana and Hurst v. Florida. In the first case, the court is considering whether states should be forced to retroactively apply a ban on mandatory sentences to juveniles convicted decades ago. The Tennessean reports that the justices appeared skeptical of their standing to decide the matter as well as the merits of the case. SCOTUSblog has more details.

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Assistant DA Closes Hospital Rape Case in Bradley County

Bradley County Assistant District Attorney Cynthia LeCroy-Schemel closed a Cleveland hospital rape case, citing insignificant evidence from a rape kit results, the Times Free Press reports. Stacey Cordell claimed that she was raped while she was unconscious at SkyRidge Medical Center on Jan. 25. "Based on (the results), we don't believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it happened in Bradley County," LeCroy-Schemel said.

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Drugs, Pro Bono and Other Legal Topics Covered in This Issue

Jason R. Smith writes in this issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal about controlled drug purchases and the probable cause necessary to issue a search warrant. TBA President Bill Harbison tells about some of his pro bono heroes and -- thanks everyone who gives of their time to ensure access to justice for all. Columnist Monica Franklin covers changes in the CHOICES Group 3 Program, and Ward Phillips and Brandon Morrow write about a recent win for the Employment-at-Will doctrine. Humor columnist Bill Haltom warns about the “para-lawyers” who might be coming to a courtroom near you. Read the October issue.

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Execution Drug Issues Result in Delays

The New York Times highlights several states that are having a difficult time carrying out executions due to problems obtaining and using the limited supplies of suitable drugs. “Over time lethal injection has become only more problematic and chaotic,” said Deborah W. Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School and an expert on lethal injections.

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6,000 Federal Prisoners Set for Early Release

The Justice Department will hold the largest one-time release of federal prisoners – about 6,000 inmates – between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2 in an effort to reduce overcrowding and free drug offenders who now qualify for early release, The Washington Post reports. The announcement follows a U.S. Sentencing Commission ruling that reduced the potential punishment for future drug offenders last year and made the change retroactive. The commission estimates the change could eventually result in 46,000 of the country’s drug offenders qualifying for early release.

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Franklin Fundraiser Benefits DUI Court

The second annual “Take the Cake” fundraiser for the Williamson County DUI Court will take place Oct. 29 at 5:30 p.m. at the historic Williamson County Courthouse in downtown Franklin. The Franklin Home Page reports that Mike Wolfe, creator and co-star of “American Pickers” on the History Channel, will serve as master of ceremonies. For more information contact Judy Oxford, (615) 791-8511 or visit the court’s website.

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Virginia Execution Proceeds after Judge Approves Drug

A Virginia inmate was executed yesterday after a judge rejected his claims about the efficacy of one of his execution drugs, the ABA Journal reports. Alfredo Prieto, who was convicted of three murders and linked to six others, had raised questions about the use of pentobarbital, which was provided by Texas officials after Virginia’s supply of midazolam expired. Lawyers had also argued that he should not be executed because he was intellectually disabled.

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ABA Group Releases Report on ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws

The ABA National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws officially released its final report and recommendations today, urging federal, state and local legislative agencies to significantly modify or refrain from enacting laws that eliminate the duty to retreat before using force in self-defense in public places. The task force was convened in 2013 to review and analyze state Stand Your Ground laws and their impact on public safety and the criminal justice system.

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14 Graduate from Nashville Drug Treatment Program

Fourteen men and women were recognized on Wednesday for successfully completing a Davidson County drug treatment program, WKRN reports. The room at the downtown Justice A.A. Birch Building was standing room only as friends and family gathered to congratulate the graduates. District Attorney Glenn Funk gave the keynote address.

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Oklahoma Governor Halts Execution Over Drug Issue

For the second time this month, the scheduled execution of Richard Glossip has been canceled. This time it was Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin who unexpectedly issued the reprieve, the ABA Journal reports. Fallin said she did so because there was a question about the legality of one of the drugs that was to be used. Her decision came after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a last-minute appeal from Glossip’s lawyers. The 37-day stay of execution will allow the state to ensure it is “complying fully with the protocols approved by federal courts,” Fallin said.

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Senators Unveil Criminal Justice Reform Bill

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators unveiled a major criminal justice reform bill today that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain non-violent drug offenses; make crack-cocaine sentencing reductions retroactive; give judges more discretion in sentencing for gun-related crimes; eliminate the so-called "three strikes" law; enhance prisoner rehabilitation and anti-recidivism programs; and largely ban solitary confinement of juveniles. The measure would also create two new mandatory minimums for crimes involving interstate domestic violence and providing weapons to terrorists. The Washington Post reports on the outlook for the bill.

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Knox Sheriff: Jail Overcrowding at ‘All-time’ High

As the Knox County jail population reaches “an all-time high,” jailers are left double-bunking inmates, and top officials are again pushing for a public safety center designed to house and treat the mentally ill who are arrested for nonviolent crimes. Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones says that could ease overcrowding and stave off potential lawsuits. He also suggested another option: a new multi-million dollar jail pod. WBIR has more on the situation.

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Georgia Executes Only Woman on Death Row

The only woman on Georgia’s death row was executed early today, making her the first woman put to death by the state in seven decades, the Johnson City Press reports. Kelly Renee Gissendaner was pronounced dead by injection of pentobarbital at 12:21 a.m. at the state prison in Jackson. She was convicted of murder in the February 1997 slaying of her husband after she conspired with her lover, who stabbed Douglas Gissendaner to death. 

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Former Drug Task Force Director Sentenced

Melvin Bayless, former director of the Eighth Judicial District Drug Task Force, was sentenced to five years of probation after being convicted of two counts of official misconduct and one count of theft over $10,000, Claiborne Progress reports. District Attorney General Jared Effler terminated the employment of Bayless on April 23. Bayless was ordered to pay $21,872.91 in restitution to the drug task force, which consists of law enforcement agencies from Campbell, Claiborne, Fentress, Scott and Union counties.

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Knox County DA Challenges Probation for Rapists

WATE reports that the Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen is calling for changes to a law that allows convicted rapists to be approved for probation while she also appeals the ruling in a case involving a man convicted of rape and incest of a 13-year-old relative. The defendant, William Cole, was sentenced to eight years of probation with no jail time. Allen says imprisonment is the “only way to make sure that that particular child and any other child in our community is safe from that individual...”

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