News

5th Circuit: Machine Guns Not Protected by Constitution

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a federal law that generally bars the possession of machine guns, the ABA Journal reports. The court based its decision on a reading of District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that found the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own a gun. But the case also distinguished between guns used in the military and those possessed at home for self-defense, the appeals court said. The plaintiff in the case wanted to build an M-16 machine gun from components of the AR-15.

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UT Asks for Extension in Title IX Lawsuit

Lawyers for the University of Tennessee asked a judge last week for more time to file a response to the federal Title IX lawsuit against the university, Knoxnews reports. The extension request for a new deadline of July 7 follows a previous extension from the original deadline of June 16, which was set to expire Thursday. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Nashville in February, alleges UT has a “hostile sexual environment” and violated Title IX in the handling of sexual assault cases, especially accusations against student athletes.

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Prosecutor Wants Foul-Mouthed Parrot to Give Evidence

A Michigan county prosecutor is arguing that the speech from a parrot, which may have witnessed a brutal killing, should be considered admissible evidence in a court of law. The prosecutor admits the request is novel but says authorities are studying the parrot’s words to determine whether the speech can be considered reliable. Since the shooting, the bird has been shouting at the top of his lungs in a tone mimicking his owner’s voice “Don’t f—ing shoot!” The Washington Post has the story.

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Fetal Assault Law Expires

A controversial law that charged new mothers with assault if they took opiates during pregnancy and their babies were born addicted has expired. Critics of the measure, including the ACLU and Addiction Campuses, argued that the law made women afraid to reach out for help. News Channel 5 has more.

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Nashville DA Wants to Put Former Opponent on Under Oath

Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk wants the man he defeated in the 2014 election, Rob McGuire, to answer under oath if he is the source of information behind media reports involving a deal Funk made with developer David Chase. Funk claims the stories are libelous and defaming. He is seeking testimony from McGuire, another lawyer, Brian Manookian, and both of their law firms about what information they had. Separately, Funk has sued WTVF-NewsChannel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams and the station’s parent company, Scripps Media Inc., for news stories about the deal, the Tennessean reports.

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Libel-Proof Plaintiff Doctrine Featured in July TBJ

What if a person has no good reputation to protect – does defamation law still apply to her? David L. Hudson Jr. looks at the Libel-Proof Plaintiff Doctrine in the July Tennessee Bar Journal while Charles L. Baum examines the details of calculating loss from wrongful incarceration. TBA’s new president, Jason Long, writes about the TBA Special Committee on Evolving Legal Markets (ELM) and its explorations into the changing legal landscape and new ways legal services are being delivered. Read these and other stories in the new issue of the journal.

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Public Defenders Conference Elects New Director

Patrick Frogge has been elected executive director of the Tennessee District Public Defenders Conference and took office today following the retirement of former director Jeff Henry. Frogge earned his law degree from Fordham University School of Law. After graduation, he clerked for Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Jerry Smith and then joined the Nashville Public Defender's Office. In 2005, he co-founded Bell, Tennent & Frogge, a boutique firm focused on criminal defense. Read more in this release from the conference.

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Special Prosecutor to Lead Bradley Sheriff Probe

Jimmy Dunn, a veteran district attorney in East Tennessee, has been named special prosecutor for the investigation of Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson, the Times Free Press reports. His job will be to review evidence gathered by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the FBI related to allegations that Watson got a woman, with whom he reportedly had a personal relationship, released from jail twice. He also will be asked to review the sheriff’s credit card and travel records and whether Watson’s wife got favorable treatment as a bail bondsman.

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Judge: Community Action Key for Juvenile Justice Reform

As the Shelby County Juvenile Court is working to stay in compliance with federal directives, Judge Dan Michael says community involvement is critical for the next steps on juvenile reform and diversion. Through the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI), Michael is encouraging community members to learn more and be active advocates, News 5 reports. “I need your involvement,” he said. “If we don’t get involved as a community, we won’t solve this problem as a community.”

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State Willing to Move Prisoners to Other Facilities

State officials confirm that 99 inmates currently held in the Blount County Adult Detention Center can be moved to other facilities, the Daily Times reports. The announcement comes after a recent state attorney general’s opinion found that the state cannot require local governments to hold prisoners who have been sentenced to more than a year unless they contract to do so. However, the law also provides an exception if the governor designates an overcrowding emergency. According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections, the state has been under an overcrowding emergency declaration for more than 30 years. 

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Implicit Bias Training Mandated for Federal Law Enforcement

The U.S. Department of Justice will require its prosecutors and all law enforcement agents to receive training designed to prevent implicit bias from affecting their decisions. Implicit bias is defined as “unconscious or subtle associations that individuals make between groups of people and stereotypes about those groups.” The decision will impact some 23,000 federal agents (including those from the FBI, DEA and ATF) as well as 5,800 federal prosecutors. The ABA Journal reported the news and noted that the ABA has developed implicit bias training materials for state and local judges, prosecutors and public defenders.

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Veterans Court Uses PT to Address PTSD

“PT for PTSD” was the motto of the day at All Rise for Exercise, an event created by the Montgomery County Veterans Treatment Court to engage veterans in physical activity. The event featured presentations on the importance of exercise and healthy eating as well as a group warm up session and individual circuit training. The court, led by Judge Kenneth R. Goble Jr., is designed to address the needs of active duty soldiers and veterans involved in the criminal justice system. The Clarksville Leaf Herald has the story.

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Black Caucus to Hold Criminal Justice Forum

The Tennessee legislature’s Black Caucus will hold a public forum in Memphis on July 10 to discuss criminal justice reform issues. The event will run from 3 to 6 p.m. at First Baptist Church-Broad. According to the Commercial Appeal, the caucus won legislative approval this year for several bills aimed at reforming criminal justice laws, including one making it easier to have a criminal record expunged in cases of mistaken identity and another preventing the state from asking a job applicant about a criminal history early in the interview process. 

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Court Abortion Decision Could Affect Tennessee Law

The U.S. Supreme Court issued its three final opinions for this term this morning. Among the rulings, the court found that Texas laws requiring abortion centers to meet surgical center standards and abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges constitute an undue burden on abortion access and therefore violate the constitution. The court also ruled that a domestic-violence conviction is a misdemeanor crime of violence for purposes of limiting access to firearms. The final decision vacated the corruption conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. SCOTUSblog has more on the decisions, while the Tennessean looks at the abortion ruling’s impact on similar laws in Tennessee, which are currently being challenged. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee had agreed to stay the proceedings until the high court ruled.

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Tennessee Supreme Court Calls for New Trial in Assault Case

The Tennessee Supreme Court today ruled that a man convicted in Memphis of aggravated assault is entitled to a new trial because the prosecution did not properly elect an offense for the jury to consider. Michael Smith was charged with one instance of aggravated assault involving his one-time girlfriend. The Supreme Court determined that the jury heard evidence of more than one instance that could establish guilt for aggravated assault, but the law requires the prosecution to elect only one such instance upon which the jury would deliberate. Read the full opinion.

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Ruling Clarifies When Enhanced Federal Sentences Can Be Applied

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday clarified the criteria for using state law convictions to impose enhanced federal sentences, ruling that a prior crime can be used "only if its elements are the same as, or narrower than, those of the generic offense." In a 5-3 opinion authored by Justice Kagan, the court reversed a lower court decision in Mathis v. United States. That decision had allowed inclusion of a burglary conviction under Iowa law to trigger Armed Career Criminal Act sentence enhancements. The majority opinion found the Iowa statute covered a broader range of conduct than that covered by generic burglary and set out alternative ways of satisfying the locational elements of the crime, according to a report in Jurist.

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Court Finds Warrantless Blood Draws in DUI Arrests Unconstitutional

States may not prosecute suspected drunken drivers for refusing warrantless blood draws when they are arrested, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in a 7-1 opinion that found such tests violate the Fourth Amendment, the ABA Journal reports. The court did find, however, that states may require a warrantless breath test because such tests are less intrusive. The ruling affects laws in Tennessee and 10 other states where drivers who refuse blood tests can face penalties beyond having their licenses revoked, NewsChannel 9 reports.

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Progress Continues on Bedford Jail, Justice Center

Bedford County’s plans to build a new jail and justice center are moving ahead on schedule, officials meeting Wednesday said. The county has received several responses for its request for quotes from landowners at preferred sites and will now begin meeting with its architect to review the sites, the Shelbyville Times-Gazette reports. The county has received recertification of the existing jail, but that approval is contingent continued progress towards construction of a new jail.

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Deadlocked High Court Halts Obama Immigration Orders

The Supreme Court today issued rulings on several pressing issues including affirmative action, discrimination and immigration. The court’s 4-4 ruling on President Obama’s executive actions on immigration means that a lower court ruling blocking the programs will remain in effect. In Tennessee, immigrant advocates expressed outrage. “This is a devastating loss, not only for affected families but for our entire state,” Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Co-Executive Director Stephanie Teatro told The Tennessean. Attorney General Herbert Slatery, however, hailed the decision, saying "this lawsuit is not about immigration. It is about the rule of law, presidential power, and the structural limits of the U.S. Constitution." The Supreme Court also upheld the University of Texas's practice of using applicants’ race as a factor in admissions. The 4-3 ruling greenlights the limited use of affirmative action policies by schools, CNN reports. The court also ruled 7-1 in favor of a Georgia death row inmate’s discrimination claim. The ruling found, in part, that prosecutors made a “concerted effort to keep black prospective jurors off the jury.”

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City Will Stop Jailing for Unpaid Fines

A federal class action lawsuit against Jackson, Mississippi, has been settled, ending a system of jailing people because they could not pay court fines. The suit was filed by the nonprofit civil rights group Equal Justice Under Law and the University of Mississippi School of Law on behalf of seven plaintiffs who were jailed due to inability to pay fines and fees imposed in misdemeanor cases. Under the settlement, defendants can pay their fines at a rate of $25 per month or perform community service and get a credit toward their debt at a rate of $9 per hour. News Channel 5 has the story.

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Court Still to Rule on Most Controversial Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court issued five decisions Monday, including rulings (1) upholding a patent review procedure known as inter partes review, which has been used by Apple and Google to invalidate patents; (2) directing lower courts in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi to re-examine three convictions for evidence of racial prejudice in jury selection; and (3) directing the U.S. Labor Department to do a better job of explaining why it is changing a longstanding policy on whether certain workers deserve overtime pay. With just one week left in the court’s current term, however, the most contentious cases still need to be resolved, including regulation of Texas abortion clinics, the use of race in college admissions, the legality of the president’s immigration executive orders, and the public corruption conviction of Virginia’s former governor. WKRN looks at the remaining cases.

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Prosecutors Drop FedEx Prescription Drug Case

Criminal charges alleging FedEx knowingly delivered illegal prescription drugs to dealers and addicts were dropped suddenly last week after prosecutors asked a judge to dismiss all charges. FedEx was indicted in 2014 and the trial began last Monday. In court on Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer said FedEx was “factually innocent” and had repeatedly attempted to identify the customer in question but the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was unwilling or unable to provide the information. The Times Free Press has more.

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Alexander, Corker Vote Party Line on Gun Bills

In successive votes yesterday, a divided U.S. Senate defeated four gun control measures, two proposed by Democrats and two put forward by Republicans. The votes fell mostly along party lines. Tennessee’s two Republican senators were no exception, the Nashville Post reports. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker both voted against a measure from Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., to expand background checks as well as a measure from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to block gun sales to those on a federal watch list. But they both voted for a plan by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to deny gun sales to those on the watch list if a prosecutor shows probable cause within three days, and another proposal by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that would have increased funding for background checks.

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Judge Slone Receives Public Health Award

Fourth Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Duane Slone recently received the Tennessee Public Health Association’s Visionary Award, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts. Tennessee Commissioner of Health Dr. John Dreyzehener presented the award to Slone for his work co-founding the district’s drug court, raising awareness about Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome — which affects children born to mothers using opiates during pregnancy — working against legislation that would have imprisoned addicted mothers and establishing transitional housing for pregnant mothers.

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Vandenburg Found Guilty on All Counts

The jury in the retrial of Brandon Vandenburg late Saturday found the former Vanderbilt football player guilty on all eight counts, including charges of aggravated rape, aggravated sexual battery and unlawful photography. The jury of seven women and five men deliberated four and one half hours before delivering their decision. The verdict ends a three-year ordeal for the victim, who testified in three trials, including the retrial of Vandenburg. The Tennessean has more on the story.

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