News

Group Hopes Rally, Meeting Will Improve Police Accountability

People who claim they have been harassed by Memphis police hope to revive the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board to hold officers accountable to the community, WMC-TV reports. They held a rally on Wednesday to bring attention to their concerns. Mid-South Peace and Justice Center's Paul Garner said police need to restore public confidence. "I think a lot of times the community is afraid to come forward when they do have legitimate complaints," Garner said. The organizers say they will hold a town hall style meeting on June 24 at Lewis Davis CME Church at 6 p.m. to talk about ways to make the board more effective.

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Oklahoma to Consider Execution Alternatives

An Oklahoma Republican lawmaker said Tuesday he wants to explore giving condemned prisoners the option of death by firing squad, hanging or the electric chair. State Rep. Mike Christian said he's formally requesting a legislative hearing on the state's death penalty procedures, WATE reports from the Associated Press. Five execution methods are currently legal in various places in the United States: injection, electrocution, gas, firing squad and hanging. Tennessee last month became the first state to allow use of the electric chair in some circumstances regardless of the inmate's wishes, if injection drugs are not available.

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Youth Experience Jail, Courts During 'Justice Week'

The YMCA's YCAP Program recently held its justice week for middle-school aged-kids from Hamilton, Bradley and Rhea Counties. The program gives kids a chance to tour jails, sit through court trials, and see what it's like to be an offender. The program also toured the Walker State Prison, and on Thursday, deputies from the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office will speak to the kids about the importance of not joining gangs. NewsChannel 9 has the story.

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Reduced Time Urged for Non-Violent Drug Offenders

The Justice Department is urging the U.S. Sentencing Commission to approve a measure that would make potentially thousands of non-violent drug offenders now serving time in federal prison eligible for reduced sentences. Attorney General Eric Holder, who supported the commission's April action to cut prison time for certain future drug offenses, is supporting a proposal set for a vote next month that would apply the changes retroactively for current inmates. WBIR reports.

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Commission Recommends 5 for Criminal Appeals Court

The Governor’s Commission on Judicial Appointments met today in Nashville to interview and vote on candidates seeking to fill a vacancy on the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals following the appointment of Judge Jeffrey Bivins to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The panel recommended Circuit Court Judge Robert Lee Holloway Jr., Circuit Judge and Chancellor Larry B. Stanley Jr. and Circuit Court Judge Larry J. Wallace. In a rare move, the commission also sent two additional names to the governor “by acclamation.” The pair – Circuit Court Judge Timothy Lee Easter and District Public Defender Roger Eric Nell – previously were nominated for the Court of Criminal Appeals seat being vacated by Judge Jerry Smith. The governor has not yet named a replacement for Smith.

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Vanderbilt Rape Case Back in Court

A packed courtroom listened to arguments Monday in the legal dispute over access to records in the Vanderbilt University rape case that led to charges against four former football players. At issue is how the state's laws on open records, fair trials and victims' privacy rights intersect as cases move through the courts, the Tennessean reports. Key players in the suit also argued over which court should hear the case. Both issues will be decided by the Tennessee Court of Appeals in the coming weeks.

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DA Bebb Leaving Office 2 Months Early

Steve Bebb, district attorney for Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties, will leave office at the end of this month, taking retirement two months short of the end of his term, the Times Free Press reports. In a letter to state lawmakers in January, Bebb, 73, said he has heart trouble and has had bypass surgery. He declined to comment on the latest revelation. Bebb served three terms as criminal court judge before being elected district attorney. Over the last two years, he has been the subject of numerous investigations by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the state legislature and others. Gov. Bill Haslam will appoint an interim district attorney to oversee the final two months of the term. Steve Crump is set to take office Sept. 1.

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New Grant Will Help Memphis Process Rape Kits

In addition to new funding approved recently by the U.S. House of Representatives, Memphis will get $750,000 to reduce the city’s untested rape kit backlog, the Memphis Daily News reports. The funds will come from the Plough Foundation. Mike Carpenter, executive director of the foundation, says it is a “last dollar” grant. “The city has to come up with the gap in funding, and then we will give the last $750,000 regardless of what the total cost is,” he said. The group also wanted assurances that the city would process every rape kit before it committed to the money.

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Drug Court Gets State Grant

The 15th Judicial District Drug Court has been awarded a $70,000 grant by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the Tennessean reports. The drug court program provides community-based treatment and supervision for non-violent felony offenders whose contact with the court system is due to drug or alcohol abuse. The program focuses on treatment, employment, education and supervision and covers Macon, Trousdale, Smith and Jackson counties.

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Deadline Extended for Workers' Comp Board Vacancies

The Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments has extended the deadline for applications for three vacancies on the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board to 4 p.m. CDT, June 4. Candidates ultimately chosen by the governor will fill one of three terms: two, four or six years. After the initial terms, each term will be six years and judges are limited to serving two terms. Learn more from the Administrative Office of the Courts. The commission will interview all qualified Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board applicants on June 10 in Nashville. The same day, the commission will also consider applicants for the Court of Criminal Appeals vacancy.

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7 Apply for Court of Criminal Appeals Vacancy

The Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments will consider seven applicants when it meets June 10 at Legislative Plaza in Nashville to select nominees for the Court of Criminal Appeals vacancy. The vacancy was created by the appointment of Judge Jeffrey Bivins to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The candidates are: Leslie Anne Collum, assistant district attorney general, Rutherford County; Timothy Lee Easter, Circuit Court judge, Williamson County; Robert Lee Holloway Jr., Circuit Court judge, Maury County; Roger Eric Nell, district public defender, Montgomery County; Larry B. Stanley Jr., Circuit Court judge and chancellor, Warren County; Russell Fletcher Thomas, attorney, Davidson County; and Larry J. Wallace, Circuit Court judge, Stewart County. The meeting will include a public hearing at 8 a.m.

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House Approves Grant Funding Rape Kit Testing

The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday approved an amendment from Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, that would transfer $5 million in federal money to a grant program to help local governments reduce their backlog in testing of rape kits. The amended bill, which funds the Department of Justice, awaits final approval in the House, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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Lawyers Unite for Public Defense Reform Tonight

Gideon’s Promise is hosting an event from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on the Square Gastropub in Memphis tonight (Thursday) to advocate for public defense reform. The organization states it is “setting out to ensure the 12 million citizens who move through America’s criminal justice system each year receive a fair and zealous defense.” Tennessee public defender Keeda Haynes is slated to provide remarks, as well as photography and B-roll of Gideon’s Promise Founder and President Jonathan Rapping delivering remarks to an assembled crowd.

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States Must Consider More Than IQ Scores in Close Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today that states may not rely only on intelligence test scores to determine whether a death row inmate is eligible to be executed if the inmate scores between 70 and 75, the AP reports. A score of 70 is widely accepted as a marker of mental disability, but medical professionals say those who score as high as 75 can be considered intellectually disabled because of the test’s margin of error. The mental health community had argued that an accurate diagnosis must include evaluation of an individual's ability to function in society. Until today’s ruling, the court had left it up to the states to determine the definition of mentally disabled. The decision impacts only those states with a fixed statistical cut-off for execution.

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Knox Criminal Court Revises Local Rules

The judges of the Knox County Criminal Court have completed the first revision of local rules in 24 years. The new rules will go into effect June 1. View them here.

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Georgia Court Protects Execution Drug Makers

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled today that the state’s law protecting the source of execution drugs is constitutional, the Associated Press reports. In a 5-to-2 decision, the justices reversed a lower court ruling that granted a stay of execution to convicted killer Warren Lee Hill. His lawyers had argued they needed to know the source of the drug so they would know whether they had grounds to challenge its use as cruel and unusual punishment. They now say they will take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if efforts to get the court to reconsider are unsuccessful. WRCB TV has the story.

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Media Group Files Suit to Get Details on Execution Drugs

The Associated Press and four other news organizations filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging the way the state of Missouri obtains the drugs it uses in lethal injections, Knoxnews reports. The suit argues that the state’s actions prohibit public oversight of the death penalty and asks a state judge to disclose where the drugs are purchased and details about their composition and quality. The sourcing of execution drugs has become an issue nationwide since major drug makers, many based in Europe, began refusing to sell their products for use in executions.

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Former DA Re-hired After Primary Loss

Former Davidson County district attorney general candidate Rob McGuire has been rehired as a prosecutor, The Tennessean reports. On Wednesday, outgoing District Attorney General Torry Johnson announced that McGuire had been rehired though his role was still to be determined. McGuire came in second to Glenn Funk in the race to become district attorney general. In order to run, he had to resign his position. Also to be determined, according to the paper, is whether McGuire will have a position in the office when Funk takes over Sept. 1. McGuire reportedly met with Funk this week to discuss his future.

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Process Set to Fill Criminal Appeals Court Seat

The Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments is now accepting applications for an upcoming vacancy on the Court of Criminal Appeals following the appointment of Judge Jeffrey S. Bivins to the Tennessee Supreme Court. Interested candidates should reside in the Middle Grand Division and apply by June 2. The commission will meet on June 10 to conduct a public hearing on the applicants.

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New Knox Criminal Court Clerk Outlines Plans

Incoming Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond announced a number of initiatives this week geared toward "moving the department into the 21st century," WBIR 10 News reports. Hammond also appointed long-time chief of magistrates Richard Major to serve as his top aide. Hammond, who won last Tuesday's Republican primary, does not face opposition in August. He will take over the office on Sept. 2. Among the changes Hammond plans to implement are creating a usable website, cross-training employees and creating written procedures for the department. Current clerk Joy McCroskey, in office since 2008, opted not to seek re-election after revelations that lack of training and oversight in the office led to wrongful arrests and dismissal of cases.

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NAACP Criminal Justice Seminar Saturday

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County NAACP will host the 7th Annual Criminal Justice Seminar Saturday at the Chattanooga-Choo-Choo. According to officials, the seminar will focus on balancing the scales of justice through rehabilitation, reentry and redemption especially for non-violent offenders who compose the mass majority of individuals currently incarcerated or that are on parole and probation. The Chattanoogan has more.

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3 Advance to Governor for Criminal Appeals Court Post

Timothy Lee Easter of Williamson County, James Winn Milam of Robertson County and Roger Eric Neil of Montgomery County have been selected as the top candidates to fill the upcoming vacancy on the Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals. The Governors Commission on Judicial Appointments interviewed all nine of the candiates for the post today in Nashville before deciding on the three who will go to Gov. Haslam for consideration. The Administrative Office of the Courts has more.

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Former Court Clerk Arrested on Theft Charges

Former Franklin County Circuit Court deputy clerk Jennifer K. Hopkins is free on $5,000 bond, following her arrest last week on theft charges stemming from a State Comptroller investigation. The Comptroller’s Division of Investigations released findings on Dec. 19 that showed a Franklin County deputy court clerk had failed to deposit $3,046.25 in a local bank and allegedly diverted cash collections. The Herald Chronicle has more.

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Gideon's Promise Tour Stops in Memphis May 29-30

Gideon’s Promise, a program that trains young public defenders working in the South, will stop in Memphis later this month as part a four-city tour. On May 29, the founder of Gideon’s Promise, Jon Rapping, will host a social event at Local Gastropub from 6 to 8:30 pm. The event, “Burgers & Brews,” is free and open to the public but reservations are required. On May 30 from 2:30 to 6 p.m., the group’s award-winning documentary, "Gideon’s Army" will be shown in the Wade Auditorium at the University of Memphis School of Law. The screening will be preceded by a panel discussion including Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush and representatives from Gideon’s Promise. Learn more here.

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TBJ Columns Cover Electronic Surveillance, 'McCutcheon' and More

Columns in the May Tennessee Bar Journal include electronic surveillance in family law by Marlene Moses and Benjamin Russ; Tenn. Code Ann. §20-1-119 and its relationship with the federal courts by John Day; and the late Don Paine wrote about convicted murderer Paul Dennis Reid Jr. Bill Haltom explains how the "McCutcheon" case makes the phrase "free speech" into an oxymoron.

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