News

TBJ: Microscopic Hair, Queen Caroline and TBA Awards

The erroneous use of microscopic hair comparison is examined by Journal columnist Wade Davies, in the July issue. Columnist Russell Fowler tells the story of the incorrigible Queen Caroline and her equally despicable husband, King George IV. He describes their divorce as a "lawyer's dream case ... the grounds and defense were salacious allegations of adultery." And in this installment of celebrating the Journal's 50 years, take a look at the many awards the Tennessee Bar Association gives every year, notably the Justice Joe Henry Award for Outstanding Legal Writing.

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Dickson Judge Given Cease and Desist Order

Dickson County Judge Reese Holley has been publicly reprimanded and issued a cease and desist order by the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct, WKRN reports. The board investigated Holley and found he forced defendants to do public service work and give to his charities before he allowed them to be represented by a public defender. While Holley remains on the bench hearing cases, the cease and desist order means he will have to stop these practices, according to public defender Jake Lockert.

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Oklahoma Sets New Execution Dates

Oklahoma's highest criminal court on Wednesday set execution dates for three death row inmates who challenged the use of a drug that will be used in their lethal injections. The move comes after the Supreme Court approved the use of the sedative midazolam. Execution dates were set for Sept. 16 for 52-year-old Richard Eugene Glossip, Oct. 7 for 50-year-old Benjamin Robert Cole and Oct. 28 for 54-year-old John Marion Grant. WRCB has the story.

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DA Conference Elects New Leadership

The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference has elected new leadership for the year. Kim Helper, 21st Judicial District Attorney General, will serve as conference president; Fourth Judicial District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn will serve as vice president; and 25th Judicial District Attorney General Mike Dunavant will serve as secretary of the group. The Bulletin Times has more.

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Day 2 of Lethal Injection Case Focuses on Drugs

On the second day of a trial that seeks to have Tennessee's lethal injection protocols declared unconstitutional, testimony has centered on the role of compounding pharmacists in producing lethal injection drugs, Memphis Daily News reports. Tennessee's protocol calls for the use of compounded pentobarbital. The only commercial producer of the drug has placed restrictions on its distribution to prevent it from being used in executions.

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Judge Sets Retrial Date for Vanderbilt Rape Case

A second trial for former Vanderbilt University football players accused of rape has been set for Nov. 30, the Tennessean reports. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey were found guilty of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery but because of an issue of juror bias, Judge Monte Watkins declared a mistrial in the case last month. That date could change as defense attorneys have already voiced concerns about having enough time to prepare.

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DA Reflects on First Year in Office

After a decisive win in the 2014 primary, Steve Crump planned to take office as District Attorney General for the 10th Judicial District on Sept.1, serving the residents of Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties. But when the holder of the office at the time, Steve Bebb, decided to take early retirement, Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Crump to take the office two months early. Crump reflects back on his first year in the first of a four part series in the Cleveland Daily Banner

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Lethal Injection Challenge Gets Day in Court

After more than a year of delays, a trial challenging Tennessee’s method of executing prisoners via lethal injection got underway in Nashville today, the Associated Press reports. During opening statements, lawyers for 33 death row inmates argued that the state’s use of prison guards to inject the drugs creates a substantial risk they will be administered incorrectly and cause extreme pain. The state countered that the U.S. Supreme Court has already said inmates are not guaranteed a painless death. Memphis Daily News has the story.

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Former Vandy Football Players Due in Court Tomorrow

Two former Vanderbilt football players previously convicted of rape are due back in court tomorrow at 9 a.m., News Channel 5 reports. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey were released from jail on June 24 after a mistrial was declared in the case. Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk said he fully anticipates the case will be re-tried.

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New Tool Helps Judges Determine Appropriate Bail

Setting bail is a difficult task for judges, according to Shaila Dewan, who writes about a new tool to aid in that process in the New York Times. After two years of testing, an algorithm developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, is being rolled out to 21 jurisidictions. The algorithm gives defendants two scores — one for the likelihood of committing a crime and one for their risk of failing to appear in court. It also flags those with an elevated risk of violence. Many law enforcement groups and defense lawyers support the use of scientifically validated risk assessments, but fewer than 10 percent of jurisdictions use them, partly because of cost. The Arnold Foundation eventually plans to make the tool available to any jurisdiction.

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Forum on New Mental Health Court Set for Tuesday

The Hamilton County courts will hold a forum on its new Mental Health Court tomorrow from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Parkridge Diagnostic Center, 2205 McCallie Ave., Chattanooga, TN 37404. The mental health court will launch later this month with the goal of providing services and breaking down barriers for defendants with serious mental illness, Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

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In 2nd Round, 11 Apply for Hamilton County Judicial Seat

After Gov. Bill Haslam asked for a second round of applications, 11 attorneys have indicated interest in filling a vacancy on the Hamilton County Criminal Court. They are: Christian J. Coder, Amanda B. Dunn, Ardena Juanita Garth, Robert Dee Hobbs and Stevie Nicole Phillips of Chattanooga; Thomas Clifton Greenholtz and Yolanda Echols Mitchell of Ooltewah; Tracy Cox, Andrea DeFay Hayduk and Samuel F. Robinson III of Signal Mountain; and John Gary McDougal of Soddy Daisy. The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments will interview applicants July 23 at 9 a.m. EDT at the Chattanoogan Hotel. According to the council, the governor will be able to choose from among six options: three from the first slate sent to him or three from this second list.

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Supreme Court: Challenge to Electrocution is Premature

The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that a challenge by death row inmates to electrocution as an alternative execution method is premature and therefore unripe for resolution by the courts at this time, the AOC reports. In a unanimous opinion, the Court determined that the issue is not “ripe” because none of the inmates is currently subject to death by electrocution and will not ever be subject to death by electrocution unless lethal injection is declared unconstitutional or the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Correction certifies to the Governor that an ingredient essential to lethal injection is unavailable.

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Tennessee Execution Trial Comes Week After Lethal Injection Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the lethal injection protocol in Oklahoma could indirectly affect Tennessee, where execution procedures will be questioned during a trial next week, the Tennessean reports. Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman on Tuesday is scheduled to begin a trial that will determine whether Tennessee's lethal injection protocol, as it is written now, is constitutional. 

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Mental Health Court to Open in Late July

A new Mental Health Court is due to debut in Chattanooga in late July. The court will target defendants with serious mental illness and connect them to treatment services in the community while ensuring public safety. The court will operate in the General Sessions Court, Criminal Division and Criminal Court of Hamilton County. The Chattanoogan has more.

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Stay or Pay: When Criminal Offenders Can't Pay Fines

In the July issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal, out today, the Hon. Walter Kurtz writes about the incarceration of minor criminal offenders when the offense is the inability to pay fines and fees. Also, when can you compensate a fact witness? Craig P. Sanders and Brandon J. Stout explain. In Bill Harbison's first column as Tennessee Bar Association president, he writes about the many ways lawyers give their time to champion justice for others.

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Expungement Seminar Tomorrow in Cleveland

Richard Hughes, public defender for the 10th Judicial District, will host a three-hour seminar tomorrow to explain the process by which certain felony offenders may have the opportunity to expunge their criminal records. The session will run from 4 to 7 p.m. at Hughes’ office, 85 Central Ave. in downtown Cleveland. An editorial in the Cleveland Banner encourages area residents to take advantage of the opportunity.

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Court Upholds Use of Execution Drug, Suit Against EPA

Before departing Washington, D.C., for its summer recess, Supreme Court justices gathered for one final conference today, which yielded three opinions, all decided by 5-4 votes. In the first opinion, the majority found that use of the execution drug midazolam does not violate the Eighth Amendment, while two dissenting justices said for the first time they think it is "highly likely" the death penalty itself is unconstitutional, the Associated Press reports. In the other cases, the majority found that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should have considered costs in the regulation of toxic air pollution from coal- and oil-fired power and that the state of Arizona may use a independent commission to draw congressional districts. The ABA Journal has more on those decisions.

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Court Strikes ‘Physical Injury’ Test for Enhanced Sentencing

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the definition of “violent felony” in the Armed Career Criminals Act is unconstitutionally vague, the ABA Journal reports. The law increases sentencing for a gun-related conviction if the defendant has at least three prior violent felony convictions. “Violent felony convictions” are defined to include “conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” The court found that this vague definition denies due process, but left intact other definitions in the act.

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DOJ Expands Program to Combat Human Trafficking

The Justice Department is announcing a new phase in efforts to combat human trafficking, the Daily News reports. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch says federal officials are looking for more cities to participate in a program aimed at streamlining trafficking investigations and prosecutions. The idea is to build on an initiative from 2011 that officials say has resulted in more trafficking cases and convictions. Cities participating in the first phase were Atlanta, El Paso, Kansas City (Missouri), Memphis, Miami and Los Angeles. 

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Court Affirms Dual Convictions

The Tennessee Supreme Court has affirmed multiple convictions stemming from a domestic incident in which Terrence Feaster inflicted serious injuries upon his then-girlfriend, Molly Kate McWhirter, at her Knox County residence. On appeal, Feaster argued that his dual convictions for attempted voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault arising out of the same incident constituted double jeopardy, or being sentenced twice for substantially the same offense. The Supreme Court rejected Feaster’s claim, concluding that the dual convictions could stand because the offenses are composed of different elements. The AOC has more.

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AG Investigating Federal Crimes in South Carolina Shooting

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch says the government is reviewing the deadly church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, to determine whether any federal crimes were committed. Lynch said an investigation is continuing, and she can't discuss specifics, but said hate crimes are what she calls "the original domestic terrorism." WMC News 5 has more from the AP.

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Court Decides Patent, Excessive Force, Other Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday issued four decisions in argued cases, including major decisions on the Fourth Amendment, patent law, the Takings Clause and excessive force claims by pretrial detainees. SCOTUSblog provides a wrap up of the day’s events.

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DA Conference Names New Director

The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference has named Athens attorney Jerry Estes as its new executive director, the Cleveland Banner reports. Estes, a former district attorney general in the 10th Judicial District, succeeds Wally Kirby, who retired in February. Since Estes stepped down as district attorney, he has been in private practice.

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Judge Grants Mistrial In Vanderbilt Rape Case

Nashville Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins has granted a mistrial for Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey, two former Vanderbilt University football players convicted of rape. “The defendants have a right to a fair and impartial trial, a right that was violated by juror #9’s conduct," Watkins’ order reads. Following the trial, defense attorneys discovered a juror had been a rape victim 15 years ago. They argued the juror could not be impartial based on his experience, the Tennessean reports. The decision did not address how the case will go forward or whether a new trial date will be set.

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