News

Vanderbilt Survey Suggests More Sexual Assaults Than Reported

A new Vanderbilt University survey reveals sexual assaults are happening more frequently than previously reported by school officials. The Tennessean reports that one survey, taken by 1,651 students, found that 156 respondents said they had been victims of sexual assault during the 2014-15 school year. The school’s annual campus security report said 23 sexual assaults were reported at Vanderbilt in 2014. "I was really impressed that Vanderbilt wants to look at these results and figure out what the next step is," said Kathy Walsh, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.

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Police Misconduct Databases Valuable for Attorneys

The ABA Journal highlights the growing popularity of databases containing public information about police misconduct allegations and shootings by officers. The databases, both national and local, have provided criminal defense attorneys with potentially valuable information.

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Davidson County Launches Sex Trafficking Intervention Court

The Davidson County District Attorney’s Office announced it will launch a sex trafficking intervention court in an effort to combat sex slavery. WKRN reports victims will be offered long-term services instead of automatic jail time. The program – Cherished H.E.A.R.T.S. of Nashville – is scheduled to begin next month.

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Obama Bans Solitary Confinement for Juveniles in Federal Prisons

President Barack Obama announced yesterday a ban on solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons. “It has been linked to depression, alienation, withdrawal, a reduced ability to interact with others and the potential for violent behavior,” the president wrote in an op-ed posted Monday evening on The Washington Post’s website. The new rules also prohibit the use of solitary confinement for prisoners who commit “low-level infractions.”

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Court Will Hear Appeal Tomorrow in Christian-Newson Case

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Knoxville in the direct appeal of Lemaricus Davidson, the man sentenced to death for his role in the 2007 murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. Davidson was sentenced to death by a Knox County jury after he was convicted of of multiple charges in 2009, including two counts of first degree murder and three counts of aggravated rape. The Court will also hear an appeal from Thomas William Whited, who contends he should have not have received a 22-year sentence after he was charged for secretly recording videos of his 12-year-old daughter and her minor friends as they got undressed. The oral arguments are open to the public and will begin at 10 a.m. EST at the Supreme Court building, 505 W Main St.

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DC Judge Calls for Ban on Expert Gun-Match Claims

A Washington, D.C., appellate judge says a court rule is needed to ban statements from experts on “unique ballistics matches,” The Washington Post reports (reg. req.). The request from Judge Catherine Easterly comes after an expert incorrectly testified that a match between bullet slugs found in a murder victim’s vehicle and a gun found in the convicted killer’s bedroom was a match. Claims that forensic experts can match a bullet or shell casing found at a crime scene to a specific weapon lack a scientific basis and should be barred, Easterly writes.

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Memphis Police Dept. Under Investigation, Attorney Says

WMCActionNews5 reports the Department of Justice is investigating the entire Memphis Police Department following the death of Darrius Stewart. The announcement was made by Stewart's family lawyer. Attorneys from the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division announced at the end of last year that it would conduct a review of the shooting.

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Committee to Review Unprocessed Evidence in Hamilton County

District Attorney Neal Pinkston named an "external citizen committee" to oversee the inventory and review the decades of unprocessed evidence discovered in November in Hamilton County. Nooga reports the unanalyzed evidence relates to homicides, suicides and accidental deaths that occurred between 1986-2002. "I guess it could potentially exonerate someone or make them more guilty, or it may have no effect at all," Pinkston said. 

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Court's Ruling on Autopsy Report Sets Legal Precedent

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports an opinion issued last week by the Tennessee Supreme Court set legal precedent in the state when the court ruled that an autopsy report can serve as evidence in a murder trial – even when the medical examiner who wrote it is no longer available to testify. Dr. Sandra Elkins, formerly Knox County’s chief medical examiner, was forced to step down after authorities say she suffered a drug relapse. Bob Jolley, defense attorney for Thomas Lee Hutchison in the case, argued that Hutchison had the right to confront Elkins if the autopsy were to be admitted. Justice Holly Kirby said that the justices agreed an autopsy report does not itself accuse a particular defendant of murder but only documents that a killing took place. Read the full opinion authored by Justice Kirby.

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Luncheon with Nebraska Senator to Discuss Death Penalty

The Tennessee Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty will host a luncheon with Nebraska state Sen. Colby Coash on Jan. 27 at noon at the Nashville City Center office of Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis located at 511 Union Street. Sen. Coash, R-Lincoln, was a key figure in the repeal last year of Nebraska’s death penalty and will discuss why many state are questioning the alignment of their capital punishment systems with conservative values. The event is free and lunch is $11. Register by Jan. 25 to Amy Lawrence.

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Prosecutors Seek Life Without Parole for Man Charged in Killing

In a rare move for Knox County prosecutors, the group announced it will seek life without parole for Timothy Dwayne Ison, who is accused of killing a woman on a city greenway. The prosecutors cited “the randomness of the attack” and Ison’s violent past as cause in the legal notice, according to The Knoxville New Sentinel reports. Life without parole requires a separate mini-trial before a jury and may only be imposed by a jury.

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Court Upholds Conviction in Knox County Murder Case

The Tennessee Supreme Court today upheld the conviction of a man for facilitation of aggravated robbery and facilitation of the first degree murder of a Knox County man. Thomas Hutchinson appealed his convictions, arguing that his constitutional rights were violated in two ways: (1) The medical examiner who testified at Hutchinson’s trial was not the examiner who performed the autopsy report on the victim; (2) Police officers who entered Hutchison’s home seized evidence without first obtaining a warrant. The Court of Criminal Appeals found no violations of Hutchinson’s constitutional rights. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld that ruling. Read the opinion in State of Tennessee v. Thomas Lee Hutchison, authored by Justice Holly Kirby.

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Felon Sentenced for Posting Selfie with Gun

Chief U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan today sentenced Malik First Born Allah Farrad, a longtime felon, to more than 15 years in prison for a selfie in which he posed with a gun. Jurors were tasked with determining if the gun in the photo, which was taken in Farrad’s Knoxville apartment, was real. Read more from The Knoxville News Sentinel.

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3 High School Staff Members Face Charges in Rape Case

Two Ooltewah High School coaches and the athletic director will be charged in connection with the OHS basketball rape case, The Chattanoogan reports. District Attorney Neal Pinkston, who filed the complaint earlier today, said that none of the men notified the Department of Children's Services or law enforcement after the incident happened, which is required under state law. "Additionally, we are investigating allegations of an ingrained culture of violence among the football and basketball teams at OHS reaching back several years,” the district attorney’s office said.

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High Court Strikes Down Florida's Death Penalty Law

The U.S. Supreme Court today declared Florida’s death penalty law unconstitutional because it requires the trial judge, not the jury, to decide whether convicted criminals deserve the death penalty. "The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death. A jury's mere recommendation is not enough," wrote Sonia Sotomayor. The 8-1 majority ruling sends the case of a man convicted of fatally stabbing his co-worker back to the lower courts. NBC News reports it is unclear how many other cases the ruling will affect.

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Attorneys for Ex-Vols Appeal Social Media Ruling

Attorneys for A.J. Johnson and Michael Wiliams, ex-Vol football players accused of rape, are asking the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals to rule on a legal issue over access to social media accounts of witnesses. Knox County Criminal Court Judge Bob McGee in November denied a request for a social media subpoena, but later authorized the appeal, known as an interlocutory appeal because it is filed pretrial, in hopes of getting legal guidance on both the defense's right to such information and the method in which it should be obtained. McGee has repeatedly said the case is plowing new legal ground at a time when communication via social media, Internet messaging services and text messages is now the norm. Read more from the Knoxville News Sentinel.

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Accomplice in Christian-Newson Case Seeks U.S. Supreme Court Review

A man who was an accomplice in the 2007 killings of Knoxville couple Channon Christian and Chris Newsom is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. George Thomas and his defense attorney Stephen Ross Johnson say that Thomas’ convictions “present the perfect test case of criminal responsibility laws across the nation.” Thomas was one of three men convicted for for the crimes; he admitted to knowing the plan for the carjacking that led to the murders. He also admitted in doing nothing to rescue one of the victims. "Accordingly, this case involves an important issue in which there is a split of authority in the lower courts over the constitutional limits to accomplice liability in criminal cases involving the common law doctrine of natural and probable consequences," Johnson wrote in the petition.

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Lawyer, Author Bryan Stevenson to Speak at Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt University will host lawyer and author Bryan Stevenson Jan. 15 as part of its Chancellor's Lecture Series and to kick off the school's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration weekend. Stevenson is founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice & Redemption, a book about "the potential of mercy to redeem our society and fix our justice system." A reception and book signing is 5:30 - 6:30 p.m.; the lecture is 6:30 - 7:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

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New Assault Definitions Announced for Tennessee Prisons

The Tennessee Department of Correction today released new definitions for assault following recommendations in October from the American Correctional Association, The Tennessean reports. The changes include the elimination of the "staff/inmate provocation" category and create new definitions for specific types of assault. Although Gov. Bill Haslam boasted a decrease in prison violence, the new definitions are likely to impact those statistics. "Of course, their numbers look better than what they should, because they're recording wrong." Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, said.

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Inmates File Death with Dignity Requests

Three inmates at Turney Center Industrial Prison, none of whom are terminally ill, have filed death with dignity requests. The prisoners said they want to be euthanized and donate their organs. WSMV reports two of the letters refer to the case of John Jay Hooker, a terminally-ill attorney who is fighting for death with dignity legislation in Tennessee. “The Tennessee Department of Correction sees me as an animal, so I want to be afforded the same compassion that one’s pet would be afforded if they were suffering,” Michael Adams, an inmate currently serving a 32-year sentence, wrote in the request.

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State Prison to Split into 2 Facilities

The Tennessean reports the state plans to split West Tennessee State Penitentiary into a female facility and a maximum-security male facility. A memo by Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield said the changes are expected this spring at the penitentiary, located roughly 50 miles east of Memphis. "This mission change will assist in managing the growing female population and provide instant relief to our partners operating county jails," Schofield said in the memo.

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Cash Bail System Brings Harm, Magazine Asserts

The Economist asserts the cash-bail system in American highlights racial inequalities and brings harm to thousands of Americans every year. “(The system) undermines the very purpose of a criminal justice system: identifying criminals, and punishing them appropriately,” the author writes. The article details a case in San Francisco, filed in October by Equal Justice Under Law, that challenges the city’s bail system.

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New Policy for Agencies Responding to Reports of Sexual Assault

The Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission approved a new model policy for officers responding to reports of sexual assault, Bartlett Express reports. The policy requires all state law enforcement agencies to use a specific protocol when conducting preliminary and continued investigations of rape or other sexually oriented crime. “(The policy) will also encourage more survivors to come forward and report the crime in the renewed hope that the perpetrator will be caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said. Agencies have until July 1, 2016, to adopt the model as written or create their own policy to meet the minimum standards outlined in the model.

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Court Adopts Proposed Rule Amendments; Packages Await Legislative OK

The Tennessee Supreme Court has adopted proposed amendments to the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure, Rules of Civil Procedure, Rules of Criminal Procedure and Rules of Juvenile Practice. The amendments are set to become effective July 1, 2016, but must first win approval by resolutions of the General Assembly.

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ABA Releases 10 Most Important Legal Stories of 2015

The American Bar Association Journal has compiled the 10 most important legal stories of 2015. Dropping bar exam passage rates, the decline of capital punishment and the landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges are included in the list.

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