News

Cohen Proposes Bill to Collect Deadly Force Data

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, is pushing for a way to keep track of deadly encounters with police, Action News 5 reports. Cohen spoke on MSNBC last night about a bill he is proposing to “close a federal loophole in national statistics.” The legislation would require all police departments to provide the Justice Department with demographic information for both victims and police officers every time deadly force is used. It also would require agencies to report a justification for the use of deadly force. Current law requires the attorney general to keep track of excessive force incidents, but does not adequately define “excessive force” or provide an enforcement mechanism, Cohen said. Read more from the congressman’s press release.

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Rep. Johnson to Address Veterans’ Court

Montgomery County General Sessions Court Judge Kenneth R. Goble Jr. and the Veterans Treatment Court he oversees will hold a graduation ceremony for those completing the program, Business & Heritage Clarksville reports. The event will take place Jan. 27 at 1 p.m. at the Montgomery County Court Complex in Clarksville. State Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, will be the guest speaker.

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Documentary Wednesday Looks at Juvenile Justice Issues

The January installment of Lipscomb University’s HumanDocs Film Series will be "Kids for Cash," which screens Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. in the Shamblin Theater. The film centers on the story of former Pennsylvania juvenile judge Mark Ciavarella, sentenced to 28 years after receiving millions of dollars from private juvenile detention facilities where he was assigning kids. While the documentary offers a surprisingly nuanced portrait of Ciavarella, it also explores general issues with the U.S. juvenile justice system. A panel discussion will include Preston Shipp, attorney and former prosecutor, and Phyllis Hildreth, academic director of Lipscomb’s Institute for Conflict Management. The event is free and open to the public. For more information contact Ted Parks.

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Will Ability to Text Prove Rape Suspect's Intoxication Level?

Before Judge Monte Watkins today prosecutors used an unusual tack to argue that accused rapist and former Vanderbilt football player Cory Batey was not so severely intoxicated the night of a rape that he did not know what was happening. Prosecutors were asking the judge to prevent a doctor from testifying about intoxication at trial. Their contention was that if he could spell "quesadilla" in a text, then he was not "too drunk," the Tennessean reports. Batey's defense team will argue that Batey was too drunk to form the intent to commit some of the crimes for which he is accused. Defense attorney Worrick Robinson said the quesadilla argument was invalid because a drunken spelling could have been fixed by autocorrect.

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Miss. Judge Gets 5 Months for Obstruction of Justice

A former Mississippi Chancery Court judge has been sentenced to five months in prison for obstruction of justice, WMC-TV reports. Joe Dale Walker of Monticello, Miss., pleaded guilty in October to witness tampering alleged in documents filed in U.S. District Court in Jackson. Prosecutors say Walker instructed a federal grand jury witness to destroy documents and then lied to FBI agents.

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Burch Honored with Drug Court Service Award

Retired 23rd Judicial District Circuit Judge Robert E. Burch recently was honored by the Tennessee Association of Drug Court Professionals for 14 years of service to drug courts. The group presented its Outstanding Service Award to Burch at its annual conference. Burch, who retired in August, said being involved in drug court was one of the most rewarding things he has done. Among the innovations he spearheaded while on the bench was a sober living residence operated by the court and a separate women’s program. Read more about his work in the Tennessean.

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350 Issues Later, 'Journal' Looks Back Over 50 Years

The Tennessee Bar Journal celebrates the Big Five-Oh this year, publishing its 350th issue this month. Each issue of 2015 will feature a stroll down memory lane -- in January, in conjunction with the magazine's Access to Justice emphasis, it looks at how the bar's view of pro bono has changed over the years. Also, columnist Marlene Eskind Moses looks at criminal contempt in family law asking "Can criminal contempt create compliance?"

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Investiture for Holloway, Easter Set for Monday

An investiture ceremony for Judges Robert L. Holloway Jr. and Timothy L. Easter – both of whom recently joined the Court of Criminal Appeals – will take place Monday at 10 a.m. in the Old Supreme Court Chambers of the state capitol in Nashville. Gov. Bill Haslam will administer the oath of office. Judge Holloway was named to the appeals court after serving on the 22nd Judicial District Circuit Court. Judge Easter previously served on the 21st Judicial District Circuit Court. Download the invitation.

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Program Allows Indigent Defendants to Pick Own Lawyer

A pilot program in Texas is evaluating what happens when indigent defendants are given the ability to choose their own attorneys at government expense. The issue of trust has long been part of a larger discussion about the quality of indigent defense in the United States, the Associated Press writes. Without enough money to hire their own lawyer, defendants may be suspicious that court-appointed attorneys provide a poor defense or try to coerce a quick guilty plea. The experimental program will test whether defendants have a better experience, whether lawyers are more engaged with clients, whether any constitutional issues arise and whether the concept can be adapted to other jurisdictions. The Greeneville Sun has the AP story.

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Legislator, DA ‘Outraged’ Over Probation, Parole Rules

Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, and Sullivan County District Attorney Barry Staubus say they are outraged over the Department of Correction’s new standards of supervision, which went into effect in August, WJHL reports. The pair says the changes have resulted in less direct supervision for the most serious criminals, including those convicted of murder, arson, burglary and child abuse. Lundberg, who is a member of the governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism, said he plans to raise the issue with the group. “I think [this] would outrage everyone,” he said.

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Judge Tosses Stun Gun Suit Against Alcoa PD

The facts in the case are not in dispute: Ryan Darres Craig suffered a skull fracture and is permanently blind in his right eye after an Alcoa Police Department officer used a stun gun on him. But a civil rights lawsuit against the department has been tossed out because the law on use of stunning devices is lacking, Knoxnews reports. In dismissing the suit, U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan ruled there have been too few cases involving the use of stun guns on suspects who are not resisting arrest to provide legal guidance.

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Sheriff Urges Reform of Citation System

Hamilton County officials are looking at ways to streamline the criminal justice process for those who are not immediately arrested but issued citations to report to jail at a later date. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said that process is often used for minor charges such as issuing bad checks or shoplifting but is “time-consuming and costly.” He hopes to work with state legislators to change the system, the Times Free Press reports. “We’d like to have them go straight to court and if the judge finds them guilty, then they are taken to the jail and booked,” Hammond explained.

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AOC Announces Boards and Commissions Updates

The Administrative Office of the Courts recently released updated membership lists for its various board and commissions, including the Tennessee Code Commission, Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission, Board of Professional Responsibility and Integrated Criminal Justice Steering Committee.

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Chattanooga’s Violence Prevention Point Man Reassigned

Lt. Todd Royval asked to be removed from his leadership role as head of the police department's crime suppression unit and point man for Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke’s Violence Reduction Initiative within the police department. Royval — who has 20 years of police experience — was among a group of leaders sent to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice last year to train on how to implement the city's violence reduction initiative, modeled after a program in High Point, North Carolina. Chattanooga Police Department Chief Fred Fletcher confirmed that Royval made the request to be reassigned, citing personal reasons that the chief could not talk about. The Times Free Press has more.

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Former Mo’ Money Managers Banned from Tax Prep

U.S. District Judge Thomas Anderson has banned three tax preparers with ties to the Mo’ Money tax refund scandal from working as tax preparers or having anything to do with the preparation or filing of federal tax returns, the Memphis Daily News reports. Anderson approved a civil injunction against Shandon Allen, Shewanda Hamilton and Tabitha Tunstall based on a request by U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton. Each of the three had managed locations for the company before the government brought charges of widespread fraud in the preparation of tax forms and handling of refunds. They have 15 days to provide the court with a list of anyone they or their companies prepared tax returns for, and anyone who worked for them from 2008 to the present.

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Former DA Takes Job with Knox County Sheriff

Former District Attorney General Randy Nichols has taken a position with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, WBIR reports. Nichols, who retired after 22 years as the county’s top prosecutor, will serve as a special counsel for mental illness, drug abuse and domestic violence awareness. Among his duties will be overseeing the Family Justice Center, creating a safety center for mentally ill individuals who commit crimes and addressing prescription pill abuse. He will start his new role Jan. 5, 2015.

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Feds Drop Case Against Doctor Selling Canadian Drugs

In an unexplained move, the U.S. Department of Justice has asked the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the conviction of a Greeneville oncologist and his wife, Knoxnews reports. The department filed the motion in the case of Dr. Anindya Sen and his office manager Patricia Posey Sen, who were convicted of buying mislabeled cancer drugs from Canada. The couple claims that the supplier had assured them that the drugs were approved by the FDA, and that they did not know until several years later that the drugs came from foreign sources. In what some argued was an overreach by the government, the couple also was charged with health care fraud, with prosecutors arguing that they purchased the cheaper drugs so they could defraud Medicare. A jury rejected that and other felony charges brought against them. The latest move by the DOJ would vacate the misdemeanor conviction and prohibit the case from being resurrected.

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Knox County Medical Examiner Gets New Facility

Knox County officials cut the ribbon on a new regional forensic center near the University of Tennessee campus last week that will give the medical examiner much greater room to conduct his work, Knoxnews reports. Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett was the driving force behind the move, the newspaper says in an editorial commending the teamwork that helped get the project done. The move coincides with the transition of the medical examiner’s office from a contract service to a department within county government. The new center also was supported by Gov. Bill Haslam, who put $4.25 million in his budget to renovate a former surgical center to house the facility. In the new space, staff will be able to store up to 80 bodies and conduct up to 800 autopsies a year.

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Lawyers to Lead State Drug Court Association

The Tennessee Association of Drug Court Professionals has elected attorney Kevin Batts as president and Richard Taylor as vice president of the statewide group. Batts is director of the 23rd Judicial District Drug Court in Middle Tennessee. He also is an adjunct professor at Lipscomb University. Taylor has been affiliated with the Tennessee Public Defenders Conference since 1997. He has been involved with drug courts since 1999 and served as the program manager for the Davidson County Drug Court. Read more about the pair and their plans in the Chattanoogan.com.

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Court Unlikely to Release Executioners’ Names, Lawyers Say

Two Tennessee lawyers with experience in criminal law predict that the state Supreme Court will not release the names of those who serve on execution teams – information that is being sought by 11 death row inmates challenging the state’s death penalty. Johnson City attorney Mark Fulks predicts the court will rule that the names of the individuals are not relevant and should not be disclosed. However, if the court were to release the names, he says, it also would have to decide whether a 2013 law exempting information from public disclosure also exempts it from release in court proceedings. Nashville attorney David Raybin also predicts the court will not order the disclosure of executioners’ names. “I think the potential for harm is significant and could potentially go on for years. It’s not only a privacy interest that I think is a concern here. I think it is a safety issue.” Read more in the Tennessean.

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Atlanta Prosecutor Nominated for Deputy AG

President Barack Obama announced today that he intends to nominate Sally Yates, a federal prosecutor for the Northern District of Georgia, to fill the second-highest ranking position at the Justice Department. Yates, 54, has a record of fighting public corruption and has handled several high-profile cases, including the prosecution of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bomber. Though she faces confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Yates will assume the job on an acting basis on Jan. 10, according to Reuters.

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State Fights to Block Access to Vanderbilt Rape Records

Attorney General Herbert Slatery has asked the Tennessee Supreme Court not to hear an appeal from a coalition of media agencies seeking the release of certain records in the Vanderbilt rape case. The Tennessean-led coalition in November requested the Supreme Court reverse lower-court decisions barring access to records such as third-party text messages and videos. The state's 14-page filing cites at least three other cases in which courts prevented review of third-party documents or entire court files while investigations were ongoing. The attorney general refutes claims from the media group that withholding the records would create a blanket exception to public records law.

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Obama Commutes Prison Sentences of 8 Federal Drug Offenders

President Barack Obama on Wednesday cut short the prison sentences of eight federal drug offenders, part of an administration initiative to foster equity in criminal sentencing, the Crossville Chronicle reports from the Washington Post. Four of the offenders had been sentenced to life in prison. All will be released next year. The commutations are part of an administration push to increase the number of clemency requests it reviews from low-level, nonviolent inmates - many of whom are serving long sentences based on tough federal sentencing guidelines that have since changed.

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Executions, Death Sentences Down in 2014

Executions and death sentences have fallen to levels not seen in decades, an anti-death penalty group says in a new report. The Death Penalty Information Center says 35 inmates were executed in 2014 and 71 have so far been given death sentences. That’s the fewest executions since 1994, and the fewest new death sentences in the 40 years that the center calls the modern death penalty era. WRCB has more.

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24th Judicial District DA Cuts Ties with TBI

District Attorney Matt Stowe of the 24th Judicial District has cut off all ties with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), News Channel 5 reports. Under state law, the TBI is only allowed to work on local cases at the request of the district attorney for the area where the crime occurred. Stowe’s action would mean that TBI agents will no longer be assigned to work that district, which includes Benton, Carroll, Decatur, Hardin and Henry Counties. The TBI crime lab would also no longer be available to help local law enforcement, and TBI experts likely would not be able to testify in cases in that district.

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