News

Sentencing Panel May Recommend Longer Terms

A task force appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to look at prison sentencing is considering recommendations for longer prison terms, the Associated Press reports. The enhanced penalties being considered would boost the state’s prison population by four percent over a five-year period, according to a report by Vera Institute of Justice. The task force has been at work for a year and could reveal its recommendations as early as next month. The Memphis Daily News has more on the story.

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Biggers Named Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney

U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton has named prosecutor David Biggers Jr. as executive assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, the Memphis Daily News reports. In the new position, Biggers will coordinate programs that guide the reentry of those convicted of federal crimes once they have completed their sentences. Biggers has been with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Memphis since 2011.

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Rape Kit Funding Investigated

The number of untested rape kits could still number into the hundreds of thousands despite a decade of Congressional spending that should have been enough to reduce the nation's backlog of sexual assault DNA evidence kits, WRIR reports. A USA Today investigation says the U.S. Department of Justice has failed to comply with laws that would have paid for testing and reducing the backlog of untested rape kits. The report comes at a time when Tennessee is pushing ahead with more consistent policies, including a new law that requires law enforcement agencies to submit sexual assault evidence kits for testing when the victims are willing. The Jackson Sun has more.

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Cohen Praises Obama’s Push for Criminal Justice Reform

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen is applauding President Barack Obama for his push to reform the criminal justice system, calling the president’s recent visit to a federal prison in Oklahoma “very significant, ” Knoxnews reports. The Memphis Democrat has been urging Obama for years to make a forceful case for criminal justice reform, something he has been preaching his entire career— as an attorney, as a state senator and as a member of Congress. 

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Governor's Task Force Considers Longer Prison Sentences

A task force appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to look at prison sentencing is considering recommendations for longer jail terms. The enhanced penalties under consideration by the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism would boost the prison population in Tennessee by four percent over a five-year period, according to a report by Vera Institute of Justice. The discussion occurs as the state already has prisons at capacity, struggles to control incarceration costs and deals with a shortage of correctional officers.“Not only will it not likely improve public safety, but it will increase our prison population when other states elsewhere are really looking at how they can try to reduce their prison populations,” said Dawn Deaner, the Metropolitan Public Defender for Nashville-Davidson County. The Tennessean has more

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Judge Blasts Fellow Jurists Over Decision in Cavity Search Case

Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote a scathing dissent filed Monday in the case of Felix Booker, who was subjected to forced paralyzation and an anal probe in the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office’s quest for crack cocaine. Moore is taking to task fellow Sixth Circuit Judges Ralph B. Guy Jr. and David McKeague for their decision Monday to send Booker’s civil-rights lawsuit back to U.S. District Court in Knoxville for a bit more investigating of why Anderson County Deputy Jerry Shelton should not be granted immunity. U.S. District Judge Pamela Reeves had ruled that Shelton, Oak Ridge Police Officer Daniel Steakley, their respective bosses and Dr. Michael Lapaglia could not cloak themselves in immunity in the July 2010 cavity search at the Oak Ridge Methodist Medical Center. Knoxnews has more.

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Court Affirms Kidnapping Convictions in Two Cases, Hold Specific Jury Instruction Not Required

The Tennessee Supreme Court has affirmed convictions in two separate cases in which the defendants were charged with the kidnapping and robbery of different victims. In an opinion authored by Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Criminal Appeals, holding that a State v. White jury instruction is not required when a defendant is charged with the offenses of kidnapping and robbery of different victims. Justice Gary R. Wade filed dissenting opinions in both cases, maintaining that the White jury instruction was required by long-standing principles of due process. The AOC has more.

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Feds Launch Sexual Violence Investigation at UT

The federal government has launched an investigation into sexual violence at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, the Tennessean reports. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights confirmed it launched an investigation on June 29. In an emailed communication to faculty, staff and students, UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said the university had been notified that an individual had filed a complaint with the federal government regarding the university’s response to a report of sexual violence.

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Obama: Shorten Sentences for Nonviolent Convicts

President Barack Obama laid out an expansive vision Tuesday for fixing the criminal justice system by focusing on communities, courtrooms and cellblocks, calling it an issue America can't afford to ignore. He announced a federal review of the use of solitary confinement and urged Congress to pass a sentencing reform bill by year's end. In a speech to the NAACP's annual convention, Obama also called for voting rights to be restored to felons who have served their sentences, and said employers should "ban the box" asking job candidates about their past convictions. News Channel 5 has more from the AP.

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Lethal Injection Trial Enters 2nd Week

A trial over the constitutionality of Tennessee’s preferred method of executing prisoners entered its second week yesterday with plaintiffs continuing to present their case, WATE reports. Attorneys for 33 death row inmates challenging lethal injection have presented expert witnesses to discuss technical aspects of the procedure, including how the drug is compounded. Attorneys for the state have argued much of the testimony is irrelevant since inmates are not guaranteed a painless death.

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Former Public Defender Remembered

David “Duck” Duckworth of Whitwell died July 10 at the age of 68. He was a retired public defender and previously worked for the district attorney’s office in Hamilton County. Funeral services were held this past Sunday and Monday in Chattanooga. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to the American Cancer Society or a favorite charity. Chattanoogan.com has more on his life.

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Obama Commutes 46 Prison Sentences

President Barack Obama today cut the prison sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders, including 14 who were sentenced to life in prison. In taking the action, Obama said “their punishments didn’t fit the crime.” Obama has issued 89 commutations during his presidency, most of them to non-violent offenders sentenced for drug crimes, Reuters reports.

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New Trial for Man Who Threatened to Kill Lawyer

The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has thrown out the conviction of Leon Houston, who allegedly threatened to kill his former lawyer. A jury found Houston guilty of making threats against the lawyer during a phone conversation with his girlfriend, and a judge sentenced him to five years in prison. The Sixth Circuit said the lower court did not properly instruct the jury on how to decide whether the statements in question constituted a threat, and ordered a new trial. Knoxnews reports.

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Lawyer in Court on Murder Solicitation Charges

Collierville lawyer Fred Auston Wortman III made a brief appearance in Fayette County court last week to waive his right to a preliminary hearing on charges he attempted to hire a hit man to kill his wife. The case will go to a grand jury on July 27. Meanwhile, charges pending in Shelby County allege that he poisoned his wife’s toothpaste in an attempt to kill her. The cases will go through the court system concurrently, according to Wortman's lawyer. The Commercial Appeal has more.

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DCS Child Abuse Registry Raises Concerns

The Tennessee Department of Children's Services (DCS) is now publicly posting accused child abusers’ names, personal information and type of abuse, even if the case was never prosecuted or the individual was not convicted, Local Memphis reports. "Even if it were technically constitutional, it does raise some policy concerns with significant consequences to people for being accused and never actually proven guilty," says Steve Mulroy, associate dean at the University of Memphis School of Law.

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Tennessee Man Charged with Planning Mosque Attack

An East Tennessee man who ran for Congress last year has been indicted on a charge of soliciting another person to burn down a mosque in a small Muslim enclave in New York, federal prosecutors said this week. Robert Doggart had agreed to plead guilty in April to plotting an attack, but the agreement was thrown out in June by a federal judge who ruled it did not contain enough facts to constitute a true threat. The new indictment by a grand jury in Knoxville says Doggart tried to "solicit, command, induce and endeavor" to persuade someone to burn down the mosque. The Times Union has more from the AP.

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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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