News

Court Considers Blood Alcohol Warrant Requirement

The Supreme Court heard arguments today in a case testing whether police must get a warrant before forcing a drunk driving suspect to have her blood drawn, NPR reports. The court has long held that search warrants are required when government officials order intrusions into the body, such as drawing blood. However, opponents of the law state that time is of the essence since a person’s blood alcohol starts to dissipate after they stop drinking so the need for quick blood-alcohol testing is necessary.

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State Searches for New Death Penalty Drug

The federal government has confiscated Tennessee’s entire stock of sodium thiopental, a key drug for lethal injection, amid questions of whether it was legally obtained overseas during a 2010 shortage in America. Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield said the state is pursing alternative drugs in order to maintain its lethal injection protocol. Eighty-four inmates currently sit on Tennessee’s death row, 67 of whom have been there for more than 10 years. While death penalty opponents view the sodium thiopental shortage as a godsend, advocates think the state’s delay in finding an alternative drug is preventing justice from being carried out. The Tennessean has the story.

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Judge Kurtz to Retire After Christian-Newsom Case

Senior Judge Walter Kurtz says he will retire after presiding over the trials of Christian-Newsom murder defendants Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas. His retirement will be retroactive to Dec. 31, 2012,  WATE Knoxville News Channel 6 reports.

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Lawyer Seeks to Sue Connecticut Over School Shooting

A Connecticut attorney is requesting permission to sue the state over the Sandy Hook school shooting, saying his six-year-old client was left with emotional and psychological trauma because authorities failed to make the school safe. The attorney, Irving Pinsky, is seeking $100 million in damages on behalf of his client, a survivor of the shooting identified only as Jill Doe. The girl was at the elementary school during the attack and heard everything including gunfire, screaming and conversations over the intercom, Pinsky said. WCYB Channel 5 Bristol has this CNN report.

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ABA Commemorates 50th Anniversary of Gideon Decision

The ABA will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright on March 18 with events and public education programs that draw attention to the challenges facing the criminal justice system. The landmark Supreme Court ruling required state courts to provide counsel in criminal cases for defendants who cannot afford their own. For more information, contact Tori Jo Wible or Karyn Linn.

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Christian-Newsom Murder Defendant Requests New Trial in Light of 'Explosive' New Information

Attorneys for Lemaricus Davidson, who was convicted of the torture slayings of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, are asking for a new trial due to outside influences on the jury during deliberations, WATE Knoxville News Channel 6 reports. In newly released, post-trial information, a juror blogged about his experience in 2009 during Davidson’s first trial stating the jurors had a “praise service” during the deliberations. Eight jurors believed Davidson should receive death, while four were unsure. The juror blogged that out of the five-plus hours spent deliberating, four hours were spent in prayer and reading the Bible. The judge will hear Davidson’s latest amended motions for a new trial on Jan. 10.

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Court Rules Against Death Row Inmate's Disability Claim

The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld a lower court’s decision that death row inmate David Keen may not reopen his post-conviction proceeding 19 years after his original death sentence to assert he is intellectually disabled. In an opinion authored by Justice William C. Koch, the court ruled that the statute permitting inmates to reopen their post-conviction proceedings did not apply to Keen’s claims since the statute allows reopening a proceeding when there is scientific evidence that an inmate is “actually innocent of the offense,” and Keen was not claiming that he did not commit the crime for which he was convicted.

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Court to Review 2 New Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted review to two cases. The first, a civil case, looks at whether a time-share salesperson is entitled to unemployment compensation. The second, a criminal case, calls for interpretation of the statute governing fabrication of evidence when the tampering occurs before police learn a crime may have been committed. The Raybin Perky Hotlist looks at the cases and offers a prediction as to how they may be decided. 

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Obama Presses for Swift Gun Control Policy Changes

In the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., last Friday, President Barack Obama is pressing for “concrete proposals” to curb gun violence, the Chattanooga Free Press reports. Obama asked Vice-President Joe Biden, a longtime gun control advocate, to lead the group that will include members of Obama’s administration and outside groups. The president said once he receives recommendations from the group, he will push legislation “without delay.”

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Court Upholds 'John Doe' Warrant

The  Tennessee Supreme Court  upheld the conviction of a man known as the “Wooded Rapist” in a unanimous opinion authored by Chief Justice Gary R. Wade. The opinion maintains that the state can prosecute an unknown suspect by issuing a John Doe warrant that identifies them by gender and/or unique DNA profile if that criminal prosecution is properly and timely commenced within the statute of limitations.

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Applications Available for 1st Judicial District Criminal Court

The Judicial Nominating Commission is now accepting applications for a vacancy in the 1st Judicial District Criminal Court, which serves Carter, Johnson, Unicoi and Washington counties. The position is open because of the retirement of Judge Lynn W. Brown, who will leave office on March 31. Interested applicants must be licensed attorneys at least 30 years of age, residents of the state for five years, and residents of the judicial district for at least one year. Applicants must complete an application and submit it to the Administrative Office of the Courts by noon Central time Jan. 11. Learn more and get application information

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Parole Board Losing Rogersville Office

The state Board of Probation and Parole has 90 days to vacate a Hawkins County-owned office building in Rogersville, reports the Kingsport Times News. The office serves Hawkins County residents on probation and parole through the Third Judicial District Criminal Court. If the office closes, those on probation and parole might have to travel to the board’s Greeneville office to meet their parole officer. In making the decision to evict the office, some members of the county commission expressed concern that probation and parole violations may increase if those who do not have the means or the initiative to go to Greeneville don't make the trip.

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Judge Kurtz: Decision on Retrials Coming Mid-January

Knox County Criminal Court Judge Walter Kurtz said he would decide quickly whether to grant new trials to three defendants previously convicted for killing Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. At a hearing Thursday, Kurtz said the motions for new trials “don’t need to fester any longer” and that he would decide on them by mid-January. Read this AP story in the Jackson Sun.

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East Tenn. Judge Announces Retirement

Criminal Court Judge Lynn Brown of the First Judicial District announced Wednesday that he will retire at the end of March 2013, the Johnson City Press reports. Brown has served as Criminal Court judge since 1988, after 11 years as a prosecutor with the First District Attorney General’s Office. Assistant District Attorneys Dennis Brooks and Ken Baldwin have already stated their desire to succeed Brown.

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Judge to Decide on Christian Newsom Retrials

Judge Walter Kurtz heard motions today on whether Christian Newsom murder defendants LaMaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas will get new trials as granted by recused Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, WATE Knoxville News Channel 6 reports. Vanessa Coleman, the fourth defendant in the case, was granted a new trial late last moth and was found guilty of 13 of 17 counts. Judge Kurtz said the motions for re-trial would be decided by mid-January by written order.

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Jury Set for Former Unicoi County Sheriff's Retrial

The jury in former Unicoi County sheriff Kent Harris’ retrial was set Monday in Unucoi Criminal Court, the Johnson City Press reports. The jury consists of 12 members with two alternates. Harris’s first trial in August on charges of theft over $4,500 and criminal simulation was declared a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

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Williamson DUI Court Earns Praise in Review

The Williamson County DUI Court received a glowing report from a recent review by the Justice Programs Office at American University. The review team consisted of Judge John Parnham, a retired Circuit Court judge, and Dr. Richard Grimm, a DUI court evaluator, who spent two days in Franklin meeting with DUI Court Judge Denise Andre, Mayor Rogers Anderson, DUI Court team members, participants and graduates. The Williamson County General Sessions DUI Court was founded in 2010 by Judge Andre.

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Tennessee Jails Struggle with Number of Inmates

Tennessee jails have more inmates than beds, and there's no solution in sight, reports The Tennessean. According to the paper, nearly half of the state’s 109 jails have more inmates than beds, with some housing two or three times as many inmates as they are certified to hold. Detainees in these counties find themselves sleeping on floors in common areas, using portable showers and toilets, or being moved around to other facilities. Counties with jail overcrowding also have troubles since they are more vulnerable to lawsuits, higher insurance policies and increased costs to house inmates elsewhere.

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Court Grants Review in 2 Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted review in two cases. The first case is one of first impression and addresses whether criminal contempt in a civil domestic relations case is subject to collateral attack in a post-conviction proceeding. The second concerns jury instructions where two offenses are committed during a common criminal episode. Read more about the issues and predictions as to how the new cases may be decided in the Raybin Perky Hotlist

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Haslam to Focus on Reducing Domestic Violence Rate

Gov. Bill Haslam says that while the crime rate is showing an overall decline in Tennessee, instances of aggravated assault, prescription drug abuse and domestic violence remain a major concern for his administration. He stated yesterday that domestic violence accounts for about half of all crimes committed in the state each year. This year, Haslam introduced and signed into law a measure to require mandatory jail time for repeat convictions for domestic violence, but it is too soon to tell if it has made a significant difference. Gov. Haslam said his Cabinet will continue to work with law enforcement to seek ways to reduce violent crimes and drug abuse.

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DUI Court Helps Change Lives

DUI Court is an effort by the Williamson County General Sessions Court and law enforcement officials to decrease the number of alcohol related crashes and fatalities, DUI arrests and repeat offenses. The two-year old court, modeled after the highly effective drug court, is open to offenders with between two and four DUI offenses. Read more in the Williamson Herald. 

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Judge Denies Accused Christian Newsom Murder Ringleader Delay in Retrial

Senior Judge Walter Kurtz denied accused Christian Newsom torture-slaying ringleader Lemaricus Davidson’s bid to put a hold on a hearing next week on whether Davidson should have been granted a new trial, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Davidson’s attorneys sought a Tennessee Supreme Court review of a midlevel appellate court’s decision to recuse Senior Judge Job Kerry Blackwood who ordered a new trial. "The issue is no longer one of recusal," Kurtz wrote. "In (appointing Kurtz), the chief justice exercised his statutory and inherent authority. This trial court is not in a position to overturn or modify the chief justice's order."

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Accused Christian Newsom Murder Ringleader Requests Delay in Retrial

Attorneys for Lemaricus Davidson, the accused ringleader in the Christian Newsom torture slayings, have filed on his behalf a motion seeking a stay of any retrial hearing or decision by newly appointed Senior Judge Walter Kurtz, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Davidson’s defenders requested time to seek a Tennessee Supreme Court review of an order by a lower appellate court ousting from the case Senior Judge Job Kerry Blackwood, who ordered the new trial after it was discovered that disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner was abusing prescription drugs during the original trial.

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Plea Deal Avoids Fight Over Prosecutor, Judge Testifying

Jesse Mathews pleaded guilty on Friday afternoon to killing a Chattanooga police officer and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He also gave up all appeal rights. Mathews’s trial was to have begun on Jan. 23 with a Nashville jury. The plea deal also ends a defense lawsuit seeking to force the prosecutor to testify at the sentencing, as well as a possible fight over whether U.S. District Court Judge Sandy Mattice would be forced to testify. Mattice recently had denied the defense request under the federal Guide to Judiciary Policy, which prohibits federal judges from testifying in legal proceedings except in special situations. In addition, Mattice said that whatever testimony he could give was already in the public record; that sealed information could inadvertently come out; and that his testimony could reflect poorly upon his impartiality in future cases.

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Judge Requests Feb.1 Sentencing Date in Christian Newsom Conviction

Knox County Criminal Court Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood sent a letter to state and defense attorneys asking to schedule Vanessa Coleman’s sentencing date for Feb.1. Judge Blackwood also stated he would hear defense attorney Theodore Lavit's motion for a new trial at that time. Coleman, who was convinced of 13 of 17 counts related to facilitation of the Christian Newsom murders, could receive up to 45 years in prison.

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