News

Stanton: Memphis Policies in Step with Holder Plan

When U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder talked this week about “a fundamentally new approach” to the crimes federal prosecutors pursue and the sentences they seek, he outlined an approach that has been taking shape in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee for several years, the Memphis Daily News reports. According to the publication, Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiatives include the re-entry and drug court dockets already in use in the Western District of Tennessee to continue direct supervision by a judge of offenders after they serve their federal time. “Diversion was something that was somewhat nonexistent,” said Ed Stanton, U.S. Attorney for West Tennessee. “It’s been my policy that diversion should certainly be a tool to be considered when warranted.”

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Judge: NYPD Stop-and-Frisk is Unconstitutional

A federal judge ordered an independent monitor to oversee reforms to the New York City Police Department's stop-and-frisk practice after ruling the policy violated the U.S. Constitution. The ruling, released Monday, found that “the city acted with deliberate indifference toward the NYPD's practice of making unconstitutional stops and conducting unconstitutional frisks." In addition, the judge wrote, “the city adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling by targeting racially defined groups for stops based on local crime suspect data. This has resulted in the disproportionate and discriminatory stopping of blacks and Hispanics in violation of the Equal Protection Clause." The Wall Street Journal has more.

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Holder, Clinton Address ABA House of Delegates

The ABA House of Delegates, meeting today and tomorrow in San Francisco, faces a full agenda of resolutions but “the early buzz [was] over two legal superstars" who addressed the House today, the ABA Journal reports. This morning, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder outlined a new crime and prison policy focusing on what the administration believes is an over-reliance on mandatory minimum sentences. Holder said the department would be directing the nation’s prosecutors to avoid these sentences for “low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or drug organizations.” Then this afternoon, Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared before the House to receive the ABA Medal, the association's highest award. The Washington Post has more on both of those stories.

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Court Overturns ‘Antiquated’ Statutory Rape Rule

The Tennessee Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion today, overturned what it called an “antiquated rule” that classifies statutory rape victims as accomplices and requires victims’ testimony to be corroborated by other evidence. The decision came in the case of DeWayne Collier of Shelby County, who was convicted of statutory rape based primarily on the testimony of his victim. He appealed on the basis that prior rulings required that testimony to be backed up by other proof. The court disagreed finding there no longer exists a “no defensible reason” to classify minor victims of sex crimes as accomplices or to characterize their testimony as “inherently unreliable.” Read more from the AOC.

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Tenn. Case Reveals ‘All That is Wrong’ with Justice System, Columnist Says

In his Sunday column, New York Times writer Nicholas D. Kristof writes that “if you want to understand all that is wrong with America’s criminal justice system, take a look at the nightmare experienced by Edward Young.” Young had been convicted of burglary, served his time, and after being released from prison in 1996, he married, worked hard and raised four kids in Hixson. When a neighbor died, Kristof writes, Young helped the widow sort and sell her husband’s belongings. During that process he found some shotgun shells and put them away so his children would not find them. When Young became a suspect in a new spate of burglaries, the police found the shells in his home. He was tried and convicted under a federal law that bars ex-felons from possessing guns or ammunition and carries a 15-year minimum sentence – even though police later dropped the burglary charges. Kristof uses the case to raise questions about the nation’s current sentencing policy and explore alternatives he says are more effective and less costly.

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Probation Officer Calls Duncan Good Candidate for Diversion

A state probation officer is labeling former Knox County Trustee John J. Duncan III as a “low risk” candidate for unsupervised judicial diversion, according to a report obtained by Knoxnews. Duncan faces sentencing Aug. 15 after pleading guilty last month to official misconduct. Duncan admitted he approved $3,000 in bonuses for himself and other staff in the Trustee’s Office though they had not completed the required training programs.

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Racketeering Charges Not Likely in Pilot Case

Lawyers both inside and outside the Pilot Flying J fuel rebate criminal probe say that although there will be some charges, racketeering charges are not likely to be brought against upper-echelon employees, Knoxnews reports. Attorneys agree that federal authorities are not likely to pursue a criminal RICO prosecution, which gives the government tools to shut down a suspected racketeering firm long before any criminal prosecution is pursued. “RICO is broadly written,” University of Tennessee law professor Dwight Aarons said.

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New Bail Bond Law Triggers Concern

Confusion and concern surrounds a new state law that rewrites a portion of the law on bail bonds by allowing bondsmen to avoid liability once a defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty. Bondsmen will no longer remain liable until a defendant is actually sentenced. Defense lawyers and prosecutors are calling it a nightmare, while bondsmen say the judges of Davidson County are extorting them and usurping the legislature’s power. The new law prompted judges of Davidson County’s criminal court to issue a rare emergency order, which remains in effect indefinitely, requiring that bondsmen at least notify their clients of plans to revoke the bonds. It sets different requirements for bonds in effect before the May 6 effective date of the new law. The Tennessean has the story.

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Prosecutors Praise Task Force

At a gathering last week two district attorney generals thanked officers of the Multi-Jurisdictional Violent Crime and Gang Task Force for their hard work over the last year. Garry Brown, district attorney general for the 28th Judicial District, and Jerry Woodall, district attorney general for the 26th Judicial District, spoke at the event at the University of Memphis to honor the force, the Jackson Sun reports.  Woodall and Brown formed the task force with the goal of combining the efforts and manpower of multiple agencies to catch criminals faster than one jurisdiction acting alone.

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New Court for Drug-Dependent Moms to Open in Knoxville

Knox County Juvenile Court Judge Tim Irwin announced this week that a new drug court for drug-dependent moms will open Sept. 1, Knoxnews reports. Under the program, Knox First Family Recovery will work with the mothers, and judges gradually will give them more time with their kids as they progress. Irwin unveiled the court at the 30th annual Joint Conference on Juvenile Justice, which drew nearly 500 juvenile judges and court workers from across the state. Funding for the effort will come from a federal grant administered by the state. Dirk Weddington, a Juvenile Court magistrate, will help supervise the program and work with local treatment providers.

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Judges: SCOTUS Should Decide Cell Phone Warrant Issue

Two federal appeals judges voted to deny an en banc rehearing of a decision requiring police to get a warrant before searching cell phones, the ABA Journal reports. The First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled earlier that Boston police violated the Fourth Amendment rights of Brima Wurie when they searched his cell phone after observing what appeared to be a drug sale. Chief Judge Sandra Lynch and Judge Jeffrey Howard denied the rehearing in an order released this week. Both also issued statements saying the matter needs to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Deadline Extended for NLADA Nominations

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) has extended the nomination period for positions on its board of directors and civil and defender policy groups until Aug. 16. A description of positions that are open for nomination as well as criteria for each is available for download from the group's website. Nominations should be sent to Leadership Development Committee, 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 900, Washington, D.C. 20036. NLADA is a national membership organization devoted to equal justice for all. It represents legal aid and public defender programs as well as individual advocates in public policy and legislative debates.

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FBI Trafficking Sting Hits 11 in Tennessee

In 76 cities across the country, FBI agents arrested more than 150 people — including at least three in Memphis and eight in Chattanooga — who were involved in sex trafficking. The operation, conducted over the weekend, also freed more than 100 sexually exploited minors, officials said. In Memphis, three were arrested for forcing a 14-year-old girl into prostitution according to The Commercial Appeal. In Chattanooga, eight people were arrested on pimping charges while 11 women were arrested for prostitution, Knoxnews reports.

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Administrative Error Could Offer Offenders a Break

An unknown number of misdemeanor offenders in Williamson County may get a break on court-mandated penalties due to a mistake with their paperwork. Officials told Nashville's News 2 that the problem stems from someone other than a general sessions judge signing the warrants in question. Franklin defense attorney David Veile first noticed the discrepancy in one of his client's cases. Because the warrant was signed by a judge’s administrative assistant, it will not be enforced. District Attorney General Kim Helper said the impact of the error should not be too severe since, for the majority of defendants, new warrants will be signed by a judge and cases will continue as normal.

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Tenn. Black Caucus Calls for Review of 'Stand Your Ground' Law

In response to the not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the state legislature’s Black Caucus last week called for a review of the so-called “stand your ground” statute Tennessee has on the books. "Over the next few months, we will work with our fellow Representatives to review Tennessee’s ‘stand-your-ground’ law to determine whether portions of the law need to be repealed or replaced in order to ensure the safety of all Tennessee residents,” Rep. Larry Miller, a Democrat from Memphis and chairman of the Black Caucus, said in a July 17 statement. The Murfreesboro Post has the story.

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Statewide Drug Court to Open in Morgan County

What the state is calling the first statewide drug recovery court in the nation will open next month in Wartburg, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. In Tennessee, drug courts operate largely within judicial districts and offer alternatives to jail time for nonviolent drug offenders through recovery centers. The centers are designed to rehabilitate drug abusers and help reincorporate them into society.

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D.C. Circuit Blocks Import of Drug Used in Executions

A federal appeals court has upheld a court order that blocks importation of sodium thiopental, a sedative used to anesthetize inmates before they receive drugs that cause death. The decision upheld a trial judge’s order in a suit by a group of death row inmates in California, Arizona and Tennessee. The appeals court said a judge doesn’t have power to require the FDA to order states to return the drug, however, because the states weren’t parties to the suit. The ABA Journal has the story.

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Holder in Nashville to Address Police Group

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was in Nashville today to speak to the annual convention of the National Association of Police Organizations, The Tennessean reports. Afterward he met privately with six black ministers, reportedly discussing the Trayvon Martin case, voting rights and incarceration rates. Though he did not get into specifics of the Justice Department’s investigation of the incident or discuss the state’s "stand your ground law," Holder said Florida was "full of targets of injustice," giving his agency plenty to do there, according to Rev. Enoch Fuzz, pastor of Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church. Holder also talked about the need to educate citizens about their voting rights and the problem of too many young people going to prison.

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AOC Seeks Compliance Auditor

The Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts is seeking a qualified person for the position of Supreme Court Rule 13 Compliance Auditor. A successful candidate must be able to interpret Supreme Court rules and orders and possess strong communication skills. Job duties include reviewing and auditing Indigent Defense Fund claims, identifying potential billing irregularities and resolving billing issues with attorneys, judges and other judicial personnel. The position is available immediately. Learn more on the AOC’s website.

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Judge Denies Access to Baumgartner File

The still-secret portion of former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner’s Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) file is not relevant to public understanding of his, or any other, case and should stay sealed, Senior Judge Walter Kurtz ruled Friday. By law, TBI files are exempt from the Tennessee Open Records Act, but a judge can order they be released. In December 2011, the Knoxville News Sentinel petitioned to have the entire investigative file on Baumgartner unsealed. The file also was made part of the court record in Baumgartner’s federal trial, Knoxnews reports. The judge in that case, Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley has not ruled if or when the file would be made public as a result of that proceeding.

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State Report: Trafficking Victims Need More Help

Tennessee ramped up criminal penalties for human traffickers this year, but rehabilitative services for survivors remain disjointed and reliable data remain elusive according to a new state study. The 97-page report, which has been in development for a year, found that communities do not have sufficient services, such as housing, relocation assistance, transportation and legal aid, to help trafficking victims. The report also calls for counseling victims within four hours of their discovery, relying on nonprofits to provide follow-up contact with survivors, creating a central data collection point for reporting trafficking incidents, creating four new staff positions in the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Department of Children’s Services (DCS), and designating DHS and DCS as the point agencies for coordinating victim services. The Tennessean has more on the story.

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Panel OKs Cuts to Police Hiring Program

A GOP controlled House panel moved yesterday to eliminate funding for Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) — a Clinton-era program that helps local governments hire police officers. Driven by deepening automatic spending cuts, the program, slated to get $440 million in President Barack Obama's budget, would instead get "zeroed out" in a spending bill to fund the Justice Department for the upcoming 2014 budget year, WRCB reports.

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Opinion: Sequestration Hits PDs Especially Hard

An article from Gavel Grab today suggests that automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts known as sequestration have substantially impacted the judicial branch, but have hit public defenders’ offices especially hard. The article cites a new report by Federal News Radio that defenders are facing a nine percent decrease in their budget this year, which translates into a loss of $51 million and up to 20 furlough days for employees. According to the federal public defender for the Eastern District of Virginia, the program “faces complete destruction unless both the Judiciary and Congress act very soon.”

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Bone McAllester Launches New Practice, Adds Former U.S. Attorney

The Nashville law firm of Bone McAllester Norton has launched a criminal defense and government investigations practice, and has hired former U.S. Attorney Ed Yarbrough and current Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Little in the Middle District of Tennessee for the group. They both will start Aug. 1. Current Bone McAllester employee James Mackler, a former senior trial counsel in the Judge Advocate General Corps., also will join the practice group. Yarborough left the Middle Tennessee prosecutor’s office in 2010 and has been working at the Nashville law firm of Walker Tipps & Malone. Read more on the firm’s website and on Nashville Post.com.

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Memphis Homeless Clinic Moved to Sept. 19

The Project Homeless Connect legal clinic originally scheduled for August in Memphis has been moved to Sept. 19. The event, which brings together a variety of resources and services in one place for the day, will include a “street clinic” offered by the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office to help those with unpaid court costs and fines, and a civil legal clinic to help those with child support, collections and landlord/tenant issues. For more information or to volunteer contact the Memphis Bar Association at (901) 527-3575 or afritz@memphisbar.org.

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