News

Court Overturns Murder Conviction Over Suppressed Testimony

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the second-degree murder conviction of Brandon Scott Donaldson and ordered a new trial, over testimony that was barred from the original trial, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Donaldson was convicted of the 2013 fatal shooting of his pregnant girlfriend Marcia Crider and her unborn child, as well as the attempted murder of Crider’s mother. However, testimony that the victim had told Donaldson news about transmitting a venereal disease to him just two hours prior to the crime could have swayed the jury to find Donaldson guilty of a lesser crime, such as voluntary manslaughter.
read more »

Lawyer Says Memphis ‘Not Cooperating’ in Rape Kit Lawsuit

An attorney for plaintiffs suing the city of Memphis for its handling of rape kits claims that the city is not cooperating with turning over evidence in the case, The Commercial Appeal reports. Forty plaintiffs are involved in the suit, which alleges that authorities mishandled and failed to prioritize the testing of the kits. In 2013, the police department admitted that more than 12,000 kits needed to be tested, a number that has been reduced to 506 as of a report from last month.
read more »

July Columns: Bitcoin, Temporary Insanity and the President's Tweets

Bitcoin is a virtual currency that appears to be favored by cybercriminals, Knoxville lawyer Wade Davies writes in his July Tennessee Bar Journal column. There are fascinating cases involving the use of Bitcoin, but because the cases were solved, Davies points out that "Bitcoin isn’t foolproof for the criminal." Chattanooga lawyer Russell Fowler writes about the first case of temporary insanity. He writes that the insanity defense is especially unpopular when it is based on so-called “temporary insanity.” But in the first case when this plea was used, "people rejoiced in the streets when the defendant was acquitted." Nashville lawyer Jim Thomas reviews Broken Scales: Reflections on Injustice, a book by Joel Cohen. Memphis and self-professed non-Tweeting lawyer Bill Haltom asks in his column, "should lawyers vet the president’s Tweets?"

read more »

Study Ranks Shelby County DA as ‘Most Overzealous Prosecutor’

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich was named the “Most Overzealous Prosecutor” by Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice and its Criminal Justice Institute, Action News 5 reports. The initiative, called the Fair Punishment Project, surveyed every available state appellate court opinion in California, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee between 2010 and 2015, finding that Weirich was the "most egregious of the four most overzealous prosecutors" on the list. "This is a grossly inaccurate and incomplete account of these cases as seen through the eyes of a defense advocacy group," Weirich said in response. “I will never apologize for trying to seek justice for victims of crime."
read more »

Racial Disparities in Shelby County Juvenile Court Highlighted

Officials have weighed in on the problem of racial disparities in the Shelby County Juvenile Court system, which is currently under consideration for the removal of federal monitors who have been reviewing the court since 2012, WREG reports. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Judge Dan Michael and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell want the court removed from federal oversight. Although Strickland notes that the number of children who are brought to Juvenile Court has been reduced over the past few years, this month the federal monitors "found race still matters in detention and black youth are more likely to be pushed to adult court." Michael said that transports have gone down 78 percent and the number of children in detention has been reduced from 6,200 in 2010 to 890 last year. 
read more »

Nashville Public Defender’s Office Creates ‘Client Advisory Board’

The Metro Nashville Public Defender’s Office has made plans for a Client Advisory Board, an initiative to create open communication with the community and provide the office with feedback, the Nashville Scene reports. “Our goals for the Board include providing consistent feedback about office services; serving as a sounding board for office initiatives; and helping design, execute and evaluate office programs, all from a client perspective,” said Public Defender Dawn Deaner. The first meeting of the board is expected to be in August.
read more »

Item of Interest

Below is an article that was published in the the Disability Section Connect. We thought it had information that would be of interest to those of you in this section as well.  

read more »

Hargrove Elected President of Public Defenders Conference

Seventeenth District Public Defender Donna Orr Hargrove has been elected president of the Public Defenders' Conference for 2017-2018, the Elk Valley Times reports. As president, she will be the principal executive officer responsible for supervising and controlling the business and affairs of the group, as well as assisting in advising the General Assembly on legislation to improve the criminal justice system. Hargrove is a graduate of the Nashville School of Law and currently serves a district that includes Bedford, Lincoln, Marshall and Moore counties.
read more »

Notices of Appeal Must Be Filed with Clerk of the Appellate Courts

Beginning July 1, all Notices of Appeal filed with the Court of Appeals, Court of Criminal Appeals or Supreme Court must be filed in the office of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts rather than in the office of the Trial Court Clerk. The Rules of Appellate Procedure related to the filing of a Notice of Appeal directed to the Appellate Courts will change July 1. After that date, trial court clerks will no longer accept a Notice of Appeal for filing in their office. The Notice of Appeal must be filed in the office of the Appellate Court Clerk in the grand division of the trial court from which the appeal arises.

read more »

Court Gives Memphis Man 2nd Chance in Drug, Deportation Case

A Memphis restaurant owner in jail and facing deportation after pleading guilty to a drug charge 7½ years ago will get another chance in court after the U.S. Supreme Court today vacated his conviction on grounds that he had been given bad legal advice, the Commercial Appeal reports. “He was really thankful that someone finally understood the harm that his lawyer’s advice caused him,” said Nashville attorney Patrick McNally, who is part of the legal team that handled the appeal.

read more »

Senate Health Care Bill Offers $2 Billion to Fight Opioid Crisis

The U.S. Senate health care bill, revealed today, includes $2 billion to help address the opioid crisis, USA Today reports. The amount would fall short of the $45 billion some Republican senators had sought over 10 years. The funds would go to provide grants to states to support treatment and recovery services for 2018, but does not reference continuing funds beyond.
read more »

Memphis, Jackson Get Federal Help to Fight Violent Crime

Memphis and Jackson are among 12 cities that will get federal help in fighting violent crime under a just announced effort from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Commercial Appeal reports. The selected cities are ones that need "significant assistance" in combating "gun crime, drug trafficking and gang violence," the Justice Department says. The 228 slayings last year in Memphis represented a 43 percent increase from the year before.

read more »

Nashville’s Judge Blackburn Profiled for Mental Health Court Work

The Tennessean profiled Judge Melissa Blackburn this week for her work in the mental health court. Blackburn was inspired to take up the work after the death of her daughter, who died from a heart attack shortly after beginning to take anti-depressants. “It’s important because it’s part of who I am, and it’s in my fabric,” Blackburn said. “It’s affected how I make decisions, my thought process. It’s how as a judge I come to who I am.”
read more »

Trial Underway for 3rd Vandy Football Player Accused of Rape

The trial of Brandon E. Banks, a former Vanderbilt University football player accused of raping a woman alongside teammates, began today in Nashville, The Tennessean reports. Banks pleaded not guilty, and his defense will argue that he was forced to act by others in the room on the night of the crime. He is the third of four accused to go to trial. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey are currently serving sentences following their convictions. A fourth former player is expected to testify against Banks in hopes of a plea deal in his own case.
read more »

Trial for Truck Driver Charged with Killing Six Postponed

The trial for Ben Brewer, a truck driver accused of killing six on Interstate 75 in 2015, has been postponed after the public defenders asked for more time, the Times Free Press reports. The trial was expected to be in court Monday with an out-of-town jury in Chattanooga. A motion was filed June 8 by the defense asking prosecutors to produce any expert witness who would testify about drugs found in Brewer’s system.
read more »

ABA Urges U.S. Supreme Court to Require Funds for Post-Conviction Investigation in Capital Cases

The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief today, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a decision by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals setting a “substantial need” rule for funding for investigation of claims in post-conviction capital cases. In a Texas death penalty case, the Fifth Circuit set a rule that effectively requires counsel for a capital defendant to establish a viable claim before the circuit will authorize funding for an investigation in the post-conviction phase. The ABA brief argues that indigent capital defendants are entitled to qualified legal counsel in order to “conduct an independent and adequate investigation of the facts.”
read more »

Trial Starts Monday for 3rd Former Vandy Football Player

Former Vanderbilt Univeristy football player Brandon E. Banks' trial on aggravated rape and other charges begins Monday, nearly four years to the day after the rape that rocked that school, The Tennessean reports. Since the rape and while his charges were pending, Banks, who has pleaded not guilty, moved from Nashville and has been playing football at Lane College in Jackson. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey, who have already been tried and convicted in the same incident, are serving 17- and 15-year sentences, respectively. Jaborian "Tip" McKenzie, who also was charged in the case, has pleaded not guilty and has testified against his former teammates in each trial. He's expected to return and testify against Banks.

read more »

Website Shows America's Brutal Lynching History

Two years ago, a groundbreaking study on lynching documented the brutal mob violence that forced many African Americans to flee the south. With help from Google, now the Equal Justice Initiative that published the study has transformed Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror into an interactive digital platform that combines historical data and personal stories so people can explore one of the darkest passages in the nation's history. Knoxnews.com has the USAToday story.

read more »

Memphis DA Tries a New Approach to Lowering Crime

The Shelby County District Attorney's Office has begun a new tactic to lower crime -- by sending letters to people convicted of multiple crimes and simply asking them to stop. District Attorney Amy Weirich told WREG she couldn't say how many letters she plans to send or how effective they might be, but she said this new approach is worth a try. "The message in the letter from me to this defendant was, ‘Stop! Stop committing crime,'" said Weirich. "You are a drain on our community." However, one advocacy group doesn't like the approach, saying that the "tone of shame" the letter takes is not helpful.

read more »

Man Mistakenly Arrested, Jailed for 4 Days

After a grand jury declined to indict him, authorities arrested Quentin Brown and booked him into Shelby County Jail and held him for four days, The Commercial Appeal reports. A grand jury returned a “not true bill” on May 18, but Brown was still arrested and booked on a charge of aggravated child abuse on June 8. Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Bobby Carter ordered Brown’s release after attorney Blake Ballin showed the court Brown hadn’t been charged. Brown will speak with civil lawyers before speaking publicly, his lawyer said.  
read more »

TSC: Defendant Has No Appeal From Denial of Motion for Return of Property

The Tennessee Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that a defendant in a criminal case has no right to appeal a decision denying his request for the return of property that was seized during a criminal investigation when the defendant failed to file a pretrial motion to suppress the evidence. Ray Rowland of Memphis had property, including firearms, seized from him and he later pleaded guilty to aggravated assault by use or display of a deadly weapon. Rowland filed a motion for return of the firearms three years later. That motion was denied, but was granted on appeal. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Criminal Appeals and dismissed the appeal.
read more »

Defending Trade Secrets, Jason Long's Last President's Column and More in June Bar Journal

Read about the Federal Defend Trade Secrets Act from Nashville lawyer Andrew B. Campbell in the June issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal, out today. Jason R. Smith explains the dangers of plea agreements that provide for concurrent Tennessee and federal sentences. In his last column of his term, Tennessee Bar Association President Jason Long tells the secret of his presidential success as he thanks the TBA staff members who have been instrumental to his year.

read more »

Sentencing in Murder Conviction Delayed Over Alleged Attorney Misrepresentation

Attorneys for a man convicted of murder asked to withdraw from his case after their client alleged he was not represented properly, the Times Free Press reports. A judge granted the motion and rescheduled Cortez Sims’ sentencing to Aug. 2. Sims said that he “was done incredibly wrong” because his attorneys did not put on a closing argument during his trial. Sims has since filed for a new trial.
read more »

Haslam Signs Law to Cheapen Price Tag of Expungements

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law legislation that will lessen the costs of expunging criminal conviction records, NewsChannel 5 reports. Effective immediately, the cost of expunging records will be $270, down from $450. The law was backed by a bipartisan coalition and was sponsored in the state legislature by Rep. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, and Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville. 
read more »

Judge Writes Murder Mystery Set in Northwest Tennessee

A new book, Reelfoot Killins', is out from Dog Ear Publishing. By retired Judge Joe G. Riley, it is about "a gruesome double murder and the trial of a suspect who might be headed to death row." Riley was a trial judge for 18 years near Reelfoot Lake in Lake and Dyer counties in Tennessee, trying several capital cases and imposing the death penalty in murder cases. Readers follow the action through the perspective of a judge, starting from an anonymous tip and progressing through the process of justice. Watch for an upcoming review in the Tennessee Bar Journal.

read more »