News

Tennessee DAs Release Legislative Agenda

The legislative agenda for Tennessee’s district attorneys includes increasing the punishment for child porn videos, Kingsport Times-News reports. "We can enhance punishment depending on how many images you have," Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said. "Currently, one photo and one video (of child porn) are the same. We want to propose that one video, which is made up of multiple images, be counted as 51 photos." The agenda also includes toughening laws for school bus drivers who use electronic devices while operating a bus and establishing aggravated sexual battery as a lesser offense.

read more »

Shelby County Mental Health Court to Open in January

The Shelby County Mental Health Court, a voluntary program that will attempt to help nonviolent, mentally ill criminals get help instead of jail time, is set to open next month. WREG reports county departments and state agencies met Thursday to discuss plans for the court. "It'll allow us to divert people with mental illnesses from the prison environment, which is very costly," Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said. Judge Gerald Skahan will preside over the court.

read more »

New FBI System Will Count People Killed by Police

The FBI will overhaul its system for counting the number of deaths caused by police officers in the United States, The Guardian reports. The new system, which will remain voluntary, will publish a wider range of data including information about deadly encounters involving the use of Tasers and fatal shootings.

read more »

Decades of Unprocessed Evidence Discovered in Hamilton County

Eleventh Judicial District Attorney Neal Pinkston is creating a committee to review recently discovered unanalyzed evidence from murders that occurred between 1986 and 2002, The Times Free Press reports. "An initial review of the 1986-1988 autopsy files revealed 35 cases with unanalyzed evidence," according to Pinkston's office. "Of those, 13 are suicides or accidental deaths, two are cold-case murders and the remaining 20 are homicides that have presumably been prosecuted." The unprocessed evidence includes bullets removed from bodies, hair and DNA swabs.

read more »

Prosecutorial Mistakes Result in Mistrial in Blount County

A mistrial was declared today on day five of a Blount County homicide and arson trial, The Daily Times reports. Circuit Court Judge Tammy Harrington, citing multiple prosecutorial mistakes, said she had no choice but to stop the trial. "This was not a decision that was made lightly, and it is with extreme frustration that we did not get this case concluded properly," Harrington said. 

read more »

Judge Orders Release of TBI File in Teenager's Death

Shelby County Chancellor James R. Newsom III ruled Tuesday that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's (TBI) report about the death of Darrius Stewart can be released to the public, The Memphis Flyer reports. Newsom stayed the order until Dec. 15 to give Memphis police officer Connor Schilling, who shot and killed Stewart in July, time to appeal. Attorneys for Stewart requested in November a special attorney to review the TBI's report. 

read more »

Unlikely Alliances Emerge for Prison Reform

Bloomberg View highlights unlikely political pairings committed to a sweeping overhaul the U.S. criminal justice system. The effort is led by the U.S. Justice Action Network, which contains groups of opposite political ideology like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Faith and Freedom Coalition. “This is a once in a generation chance to bring together this coalition,” says Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The network is pushing to reform some of the mandatory sentencing laws enacted in the 1970s.

read more »

TDLA Announces New Board Members, Executive Director

The Tennessee Defense Lawyers Association (TDLA) announced its 2015-16 Board at its Annual Fall Meeting held in Chattanooga. Catherine “Cate” C. Dugan, with AIG in Nashville, will serve as president and Barret S. Albritton with Spears, Moore, Rebman and Williams in Chattanooga, will serve as president-elect. In addition, Mary W. Gadd has been named TDLA’s new executive director; she is located in Lookout Mountain. View the complete list of 2015-2016 Board Members.

read more »

State Investigating Rutherford County Probation Company

The Tennessee Department of Commence and Insurance opened a formal investigation of a complaint against Providence Community Corrections (PCC). The company handles misdemeanor and traffic probation in Rutherford County. The Tennessean reports PCC and Rutherford County are named in a federal racketeering lawsuit that alleges “the probation system punishes people living in poverty by charging fees and creating a never-ending cycle of probation.” PCC, which changed its name in November to Pathways Community Corrections, denies any wrongdoing.

read more »

ADA Barnard Receives President's Award

The Elk Valley Times reports Weakley E. “Eddie” Barnard, assistant district attorney general for the 17th District, received the President’s Award by the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference. The 17th District includes Bedford, Lincoln, Marshall and Moore counties. The President’s Award is presented annually to assistant district attorneys who improve the quality of justice in the state. “I am motivated by the pursuit of justice,” Barnard said. “We have strived to go above and beyond what’s required to serve our community.”

read more »

Criminal Procedure Rule Concerning Illegal Sentences Clarification

The Tennessee Supreme Court today clarified the meaning and purpose of Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedures 36.1, which was adopted in 2011 and outlines a procedure for challenging illegal sentences. The Court said Rule 36.1 does not expand the scope of relief for illegal sentence claims and to obtain relief under the rule, a moving party must show that the challenged sentence is “illegal,” and that the challenged sentence has not expired. Based upon this clarification, the Supreme Court unanimously concluded the defendant in State v. Wooden failed to show that his challenged sentence was an illegal sentence and that the defendant’s sentence in State v. Brown expired several years before he sought relief under Rule 36.1. Read the opinions in State v. Wooden and State v. Brown, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark.

read more »

Criminal Justice Issues on the Forefront of Presidential Race

The Associated Press highlights how criminal justice issues are “intruding” on the 2016 presidential race. Policing, drug crimes, sentencing changes and prison costs are among topics on which candidates are seeking to differentiate themselves. "You don't have everyone saying they're tough on crime," Inimai Chettiar of the Brennan Center for Justice in New York said. "Instead, you have people offering different policy solutions."

read more »

Knox County a Finalist for Pre-Trial Risk Assessment Program

Knox County is a finalist for Pre-Trial Risk Assessment, a pilot program aimed at helping the county assess when to release people who have been arrested and are facing trial. The program considers factors like criminal history and how stable a defendant’s home situation is. Ten states and the federal court system already use the program, WATE reports.

read more »

Nashville DA Will Not Face Criminal Charges

Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk will not face criminal prosecution related to his employment at the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference (TDAGC) while he was waiting to be sworn in as district attorney. The Attorney General’s office released a copy of its investigation today, the Tennessean reports. While the review found that Funk did benefit from the job -- receiving pension, salary and health insurance benefits for "virtually no work" -- and that he violated the law by continuing to defend criminal cases through his private practice while working for the conference, it also found that Funk had "... justifiably relied on the advice of Conference personnel with respect to the position requirements, his ongoing criminal defense practice and the submission of all necessary and proper employment paperwork relative to his position there."

read more »

Parents Sue Brentwood Church Following Sexual Assault

A Nashville-area family has filed a lawsuit against Fellowship Bible Church of Brentwood after alleging that a teenage volunteer sexually assaulted their three-year old child in a church bathroom. The teen has pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual battery, according to Nashville News 5. The civil suit alleges that the church did not perform adequate background checks or provide sufficient training to protect children, and sought to hide the incident from other families.

read more »

Report: Recovery Courts Yield Better Results

An evaluation of Tennessee’s recovery courts – including drug courts, mental health courts and veterans courts – shows that these settings succeed in putting defendants on the path to a more successful and rewarding future. According to the Chattanoogan, the study found that 81 percent of graduates became employed or saw improvement in their job status, 28 percent of homeless participants found their own place to live, and 14 percent completed a GED or secured an advance degree. 

read more »

Juvenile Court Reforms Slowly Helping, Leaders Say

Two years into reform of the Shelby County juvenile justice system, leaders warn that there needs to be more contact with teenagers before and after they enter juvenile court, not just while they are in custody. “The real effort long term has to be geared toward prevention, toward stopping the school-to-jail pipeline,” says Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush. Others argue more resources are needed for job creation or long term contacts that move teenagers away from gangs, the Memphis Daily News reports.

read more »

Haslam to Hear From 26 Agencies Before Crafting Budget

Gov. Bill Haslam is kicking off a week of budget hearings today, the Associated Press reports. Among the 26 agencies that will testify are the Departments of Safety and Children’s Services on Tuesday, two education agencies on Wednesday, the Department of Correction on Thursday and the Department of Transportation on Friday. The Memphis Daily News has the story.

read more »

Appeals Court Vacates Ruling on Bail Bond Rules

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has found that Shelby County Chancery Court has no jurisdiction over rules that criminal court judges make for bail bond companies, the Memphis Daily News reports. The appellate court reversed a decision by Chancellor Jim Kyle that barred criminal court judges from enforcing a drug-testing requirement in recently updated rules. The Tennessee Attorney General’s office represented 10 criminal court judges in the action and argued Kyle’s ruling was trying to “hinder a sister court in the conduct of its business…”

read more »

Study Shows Women of Color Bear Much of Burden for Incarceration

CNNMoney looks at the "steep cost of incarceration on women of color," using data from a CNN/Kaiser Family Foundation poll on race in America, which takes a look at women who are shouldering the financial burden of incarceration of a loved one, particularly in black communities. Fifty-five percent of black Americans said they either had been incarcerated themselves or had a close friend or family member who had been incarcerated compared to 36 percent of whites and 39 percent of Hispanics. "It's all on us, the mothers, the wives, the sisters, the girlfriends," said Gale Muhammad, the founder and president of the prison advocacy group Women Who Never Give Up.

read more »

Judge Questions 66 Potential Jurors for Gray Trial

Jury selection for the first police officer to go to trial in Freddie Gray's death began today in Baltimore with a judge questioning potential jurors about their knowledge of the case, which led to widespread protests and rioting and added fuel to the Black Lives Matter movement. Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams conducted initial questioning in his courtroom but planned to interview 66 prospective jurors in a private conference room, an indication of how difficult the selection process could be for the high-profile trial, the Associated Press reports.

read more »

Madison County Jail Expansion Considered

The city of Jackson could help finance a portion of a Madison County Criminal Justice Complex expansion in order for the building to house the Jackson City Court, according to the city and county mayors. Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist said talks are in the early phases because the county has not yet decided what it will do with the jail. The jail has undergone numerous studies from outside organizations to find a workable solution to its overcrowding problem, the Jackson Sun reports.

read more »

AOC Names Harmon New General Counsel

Tennessee Attorney General senior counsel Rachel Harmon will join the Administrative Office of the Courts next month as general counsel for the judiciary. Harmon comes to the AOC after nine years with the AG's office, where she served in the criminal appellate division and the civil litigation and state services division. As general counsel of the AOC, she will head the legal division, oversee administrative functions and support trial and appellate judges across the state.

read more »

Bill Would Increase Jail Time for Carjackers

Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, plans to file a bill to increase prison time for carjackers in Tennessee, The Commercial Appeal reports. The proposal will require those convicted of carjacking to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence behind bars before being released on parole. District Attorney Gen. Amy Weirich supports the legislation. “This office would support any effort to enhance carjacking punishment by making it a no-parole offense," she said. "Those who would commit such a dangerous crime should be required to serve every day of their sentence upon conviction."

read more »

Error on Jury Form Results in New Trial

An error on a jury form prompted the the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals to grant a new trial to a Hendersonville man serving 10 years in prison for the death of a nine-month-old girl. The verdict form only listed aggravated assault without specifying whether jurors believe the assault was reckless or intentional; Randall Beaty is serving a longer sentence for intentional aggravated assault, Hendersonville Star News reports. “It is certainly likely that the result is going to be a lesser sentence because of the nature of the Court of Criminal Appeals decision,” Sumner County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Dean said.

read more »