News

State High Court Amends Rules Governing Executions

The Court announced earlier today amendments to Rule 12, Rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court, which establish the procedures used in capital cases. Although the amendments cover several items within Rule 12, the most significant changes affect the setting of execution dates, and, once set, the ability of an inmate to receive a temporary stay of execution. Of note, both of these items are additions to the Rule rather than amending prior language.

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Justices to Review Old Sentences for Young Convicts

The Supreme Court is adding a new case to decide whether its 3-year-old ruling throwing out mandatory life in prison without parole for juveniles should apply to older cases. The justices yesterday said they would consider a new Louisiana case involving a man who has been held since 1963 for killing a sheriff's deputy in Baton Rouge. WRCB has more from the Associated Press.

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Attorney Blasts Court Levy Proposal

Legislation proposing a $5 fee for criminal court cases in Knox County is under fire from defense attorney Mike Whalen, who said it hurts the poor. Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond said the fee would generate at least $100,000 a years and cover the cost of court services for which his office can't bill, particularly in the 4th Circuit Court. Knoxnews has more.

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Rutherford Circuit Court Returns to Previous Software System

The Rutherford County Circuit Court has returned to a previous software system after a series of glitches occurred when a new system from New Dawn Technology went live, the Daily News Journal reports. The county extended its agreement for the old court-management system weeks before its 25-year-old agreement was set to expire, though officials say it is not a long-term solution for the court.

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Bradley County Broadens Misdemeanor Services

Bradley County has agreed to provide misdemeanor probation services to Polk County and has approved a plan to build a 128-bed workhouse facility for misdemeanor offenders. Bradley County probation officers will take on an estimated 200 to 250 Polk County misdemeanor cases. Polk County Attorney James Logan praised the agreement and expressed hope that it would evolve into similar agreements across the 10th Judicial District -- which encompasses Bradley, Polk, Monroe and McMinn counties -- along with Meigs County in the 9th Judicial District. The Chattanooga Times Free Press has more.

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Supreme Court Uholds Death Sentence After Delayed Appeal

The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld a death sentence for a man who was convicted of first degree felony murder in 1991. In 2009, the Supreme Court denied post-conviction relief for Derrick Quintero but granted relief for William Eugene Hall, finding that his attorneys had simply copied the original appellate brief filed by Quintero’s attorneys. After reviewing claims filed by Hall’s new attorneys, the Supreme Court affirmed Hall’s convictions and sentence of death. Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee filed a separate concurring opinion, in which she agreed that Hall’s death sentence is proportionate to the sentences imposed in similar cases, but reiterated her disagreement with the manner in which this Court reviews the proportionality of death sentences. The AOC has more

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Rape Victims Reluctant to Cooperate Years Later

The wheels of justice have rolled slowly for rape victims who submitted to examinations only to have their rape kits sit untested for years. Now that prosecutors are going after suspects years later, victims may find it difficult to cooperate, WREG reports. “Many of them may have tried to put this incident out of their mind and forget it and when they are notified that more information has been gathered, then it brings it back to the surface,” Anna Whalley of the Shelby County Rape Crisis Center says.

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Pay Raise for Court Appointed Work Set for Committee

The TBA bill calling for an increase in pay for court appointed attorney will go before the House Civil Justice Subcommittee next week. Sponsored by Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, HB1025 would raise compensation to a minimum of $100 per hour. The companion bill in the Senate, SB1009, is sponsored by Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis. It has been referred to the Judiciary Committee and is expected to be considered in the coming weeks. Court appointed attorneys have been working at the same rate since 1994 and have the lowest compensation rate in the nation. Use TBAImpact or contact subcommittee members directly to express your views.

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House Panel Kills Guns-on-Campus Bill

A House subcommittee on Wednesday killed a bill that would have allowed students to keep guns in their cars on public college campuses in Tennessee, the Commercial Appeal reports. The subcommittee killed the bill on voice vote after members spoke against an amendment that was added by sponsor Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. The addition would have allowed an employee or student to transport and store a firearm or ammunition “in compliance with” handgun-carry permit law while using a parking area owned, used or operated by a school of higher education. The original bill limited the protection to “non-student adults” and only if the weapon was not being handled.

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Funk to Return Salary, Adjust Retirement Plan

Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk will return state money and adjust his retirement plan in an effort to curtail the controversy surrounding a job he accepted before taking office in August. In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, Funk said he would enroll in the current retirement system, which requires an employee contribution, and return any money he was paid in insurance claims or for doing work at the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference between the time he won the primary and took office as district attorney, the Tennessean reports.

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Bill Targets Repeat DUI Offenders

A person convicted of three or more DUI offenses would be prohibited from buying alcohol under a new bill introduced by Sen. Frank Nicely, R-Strawberry Plains. If passed, the Department of Safety would print “NO ALCOHOL SALES” on the license or photo ID issued to a person who has been convicted of three or more DUI’s. WATE has more.

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Initiative Provides $41 Million for Rape Kit Testing

Vice President Joe Biden announced a new "Sexual Assault Kit Initiative," aimed at lowering the number of untested rape kits in the U.S. The initiative will invest $41 million in cities across the U.S. that face a backlog of untested kits. An estimated 400,000 rape kits remain untested, the Vice President said. In Memphis, investigators say 6,988 remain untested. Local Memphis has the story.

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Days of Deals: Life as a Public Defender

With funding for public defenders coming under fire in the General Assembly, the Memphis Commercial Appeal shadows an assistant public defender on a typical day in the Shelby County courts. Providing defense attorneys isn’t just fair, a spokesman says, it makes the criminal justice system move faster. “Without that, you would have a jail that is fuller, takes longer to move through.”

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Transcripts in Vandy Rape Case to be Ready This Month

Defense attorneys seeking transcripts they say could lead to a new trial for two former Vanderbilt University football players convicted of rape should have the documents in less than two weeks, Judge Monte Watkins said today. Attorneys reviewing the case for appeal say they have concerns that one juror did not disclose that he was a victim of a sex crime and could have been biased. The Tennessean has more.

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Torture Slaying Ringleader Loses Death Penalty Appeal

The first death sentence appeal was denied for Lemaricus Davidson, who was convicted in the 2007 torture slaying of Knoxville couple Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. Although Davidson has many appeals left, this first appellate loss shows the odds of a reversal are pretty slim, Knoxnews court reporter Jamie Satterfield writes in her blog "Lady Justice Unmasked". Satterfield goes on to praise the efforts of attorneys originally appointed to defend Davidson. "(David) Eldridge and (Doug) Trant weren’t just competent," Satterfield writes, "they were fearless advocates for the most reviled defendant in modern Tennessee court history, and that kind of advocacy leaves no room for a legal mistake that would force an appellate court to give Davidson a second bite of the judicial apple."

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Child Advocacy Group Blasts DA Over Handling of Rape Case

National child advocacy group Child Justice has released a letter criticizing Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk over a child rape case that hasn't gone to trial after three years. The letter accuses the DA’s office of rejecting a substantial body of evidence and firing a member of the office who investigated the case and was therefore in the best position to successfully prosecute it. A representative from Funk's office said some of the accusations in the letter are not true and the process is consistent with other cases. WSMV has more

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Juvenile Court Seeks Beds to Keep Kids Out of Detention

The Shelby County Juvenile Court is seeking money for more beds at Porter-Leath, a nonprofit organization that accommodates kids who can't go home but shouldn’t be detained. The bed shortage often finds kids locked in detention with some of the county’s worst juvenile offenders. In its fiscal 2015 budget request to the County Commission, court CAO and chief counsel Larry Scroggs said the court needs an additional $140,000 for alternative beds. The Commercial Appeal has more.

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Utah to Bring Back Execution by Firing Squad

Utah lawmakers voted to bring back executions by firing squad if there is a shortage of lethal injection execution drugs. The vote is the most dramatic illustration yet of the nationwide frustration over botched executions and shortages of the drugs used in lethal injections. The Citizen Tribune has more from the Associated Press.

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Appeals Judge Takes Over Ferguson Court

A Missouri appeals court judge was appointed Monday to take over Ferguson’s municipal court and make “needed reforms” after a highly critical report was released by the U.S. Department of Justice. The Missouri Supreme Court said it assigned state appeals Judge Roy L. Richter to hear all of Ferguson’s pending and future municipal court cases, the Greeneville Sun reports. Richter also will have the authority to overhaul court policies to ensure defendants’ rights are respected and “restore the integrity of the system.” The move came after Municipal Judge Ronald J. Brockmeyer resigned yesterday.

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Senate Directs Local Law Enforcement to Ban Racial Profiling

The Tennessee Senate approved a bill Monday that requires local law enforcement agencies to enact policies prohibiting racial profiling, Knoxnews reports. Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, sponsored the bill and said it would require local agencies to adopt policies by Jan. 1, 2016. A bill passed several years ago encouraged adoption of such policies but only 37 agencies have taken action thus far. The new bill is awaiting committee review in the House.

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Court Blocks Release of Execution Team Identities

The Tennessee Supreme Court today reversed two lower court rulings that had ordered the state to disclose the names of those involved in the execution process. The question of disclosure came out of a lawsuit from death row inmates challenging Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol. While that suit is ongoing, the court decided to weigh in on the specific issue of confidentiality for those participating in the lethal injection process. The court found that the information being sought by the inmates was not relevant to determining the merits of their case. In remanding the issue back to the trial court, the Supreme Court also directed that the case be expedited. Get the opinion and a concurring opinion from Justice Gary Wade.

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Court Requires Strict Interpretation of Civil Forfeiture Laws

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the state must present evidence that it has complied with procedural and substantive requirements in civil forfeiture laws before it can seize property. In the case in question, the court found that that the state failed to present affirmative proof it complied with procedural requirements outlined in the law. It thus reversed the trial court’s decision and vacated the forfeiture in question. The court also used the case as an opportunity to emphasize that forfeiture is disfavored under Tennessee’s constitution, meaning that forfeiture statutes must be strictly interpreted. Read more about the decision or download the opinion.

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State Investigating Drug Task Force

State officials are investigating the Eighth Judicial Drug Task Force after District Attorney General Jared Effler asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the state Comptroller’s Office to review procedures and protocols governing the storage and disposition of evidence and cash. The district covers Campbell, Claiborne, Union, Scott and Fentress counties, Knoxnews reports.

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Former UT Football Players Plead Not Guilty to Rape Charges

Former Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson and suspended Tennessee defensive back Michael Williams have pleaded not guilty to aggravated rape charges, WKRN reports. The pair was arraigned today after being indicted last month by a grand jury. Lawyers for both players say their clients are innocent of the charges. Trial is set for Aug. 24.

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District Launches Veterans Treatment Court

The 13th Judicial District Recovery Court (formerly known as the drug court) will expand its services to assist former military service members who find themselves involved in the criminal justice system. The new Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) will address the underlying causes of criminality among veterans by focusing on treatment and rehabilitation. The expansion will offer both outpatient and residential treatment. The 13th Judicial District covers Clay, Cumberland, DeKalb, Overton, Pickett, Putnam and White counties. The Crossville Chronicle has more.

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