News

Supreme Court Denies New Trial After Witness’ Memory Loss During Testimony

The Tennessee Supreme Court rejected a Memphis defendant’s argument that he was entitled to a new trial because a witness on the stand said he was unable to recall his earlier statements about the murder. Marlo Davis was convicted of second degree murder and reckless homicide in the 2006 death of a man working on a rental property. During the investigation, one witness gave a sworn statement to police and then later testified at a preliminary hearing that he saw Davis shoot the victim. At trial, that same witness said he could not recall what happened that day and did not recall what he had said to police or at the hearing. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the court rejected the argument regarding feigned memory loss, saying that the trial court had no way of definitively determining if a witness was being truthful about their lack of memory. The AOC has more.

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Inmate Indicted in Courthouse Powder Scare

A state inmate convicted of a 2013 armed robbery at a Sevier County adult lingerie store has been indicted in connection with the mailing of a suspicious substance to the Sevier County courthouse in February, Knoxnews reports. The white, powdery substance was mailed to the Sevierville offices of 4th Judicial District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn. The package also contained threats targeting an assistant district attorney general who had prosecuted the case against Rhodes, the release states. The substance proved to be benign, although six courthouse staffers were evaluated at a local hospital as a precaution.

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CASA Fundraiser Raises Record-Breaking Amount

Williamson County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) announced this week that the 4th Annual Voices for Children fundraiser raised more than $130,000, money that will serve its mission to find safe and permanent homes for abused and neglected children in the court system. Director of Public Relations and Development Danielle McMorran estimates that nearly $120,000 will go straight toward program support. Williamson Herald has the story.

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22nd Judicial District Brings Back Drug Task Force

District Attorney Brent Cooper is reviving the Drug Task Force in the 22nd Judicial District that includes Maury, Giles, Lawrence and Wayne counties, News Channel 5 reports. According to Cooper, at least 60 percent of the cases he prosecutes has something to do with drugs, from shoplifting to murders. The Drug Task Force specifically benefits the smaller cities by providing more collaborative resources from surrounding areas. The task force is partially funded through a federal grant and will begin operations July 1.

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$4 Million Approved for Rape Kit Testing

Another $4 million in federal money would be available to help Memphis and other cities cut the backlog of untested rape kits under an amendment U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen has successfully pushed through the U.S. House. Lawmakers decided by voice vote yesterday to accept Cohen’s amendment to the House commerce, science and justice appropriations bill for the upcoming fiscal year. The additional money means $45 million will be available for the grant program created last year to focus on reducing the backlog, up from last year’s $41 million budget. The Commercial Appeal has the story.

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Court Rules on Head Scarf, Internet Threats

The U.S. Supreme Court today issued orders from its May 28 conference and four decisions in argued cases. In Mellouli v. Lynch, the court ruled that a lawful permanent resident may not be deported after a misdemeanor state drug paraphernalia conviction. In Bank of America v. Caulkett, the court found that when a mortgage lien is worth more than the market value of the property, courts may not reduce the lien’s value to the property’s market value. In EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, the court found for a job applicant whose faith dictates a personal practice that contradicts the company’s workplace rules, even though the rules are entirely neutral about religion. And in Elonis v. United States, the court overturned a Pennsylvania man’s conviction for making threats over the Internet. SCOTUSblog has more on each of the decisions.

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Upper Cumberland Justice Center to Open in New Space

The Upper Cumberland Family Justice Center has finally found a place to call home and will open its doors this July, the Cookeville Herald Citizen reports. The center, which provides a centralized location of services to assist victims of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault and elder abuse, had been looking for permanent space as a requirement of a three-year state grant. The center will open July 1 at 269 S. Willow Ave., Suite E, Cookeville, TN 38501. A grand opening ceremony will be held that day at 3 p.m.

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Can Insanity Plea Help Colorado Movie Theatre Shooter?

How hard is it to make the case of not guilty by reason of insanity? Christopher Slobogin, director of the criminal justice program at Vanderbilt University Law School and associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, discusses the topic on the public radio show Here & Now. At issue is the trial of James Holmes, who opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012. He’s pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to 166 criminal counts, including first-degree murder.

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Shelby Jail Gets Grant to Study Incarceration Alternatives

The Shelby County Jail has received a $150,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to find ways to reduce the number of people unnecessarily behind bars. The goal of the grants, according to the foundation, is to empower local efforts that “will model effective and safe alternatives to the incarceration status quo for the rest of the country.” The jail is one of 20 to receive a grant. The Memphis Business Journal has more.

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Memphis Criminal Justice Program Ranked in Top 25

The University of Memphis’ online criminal justice program has been named as one of the 25 best in the country, the Memphis Business Journal reports. BestColleges.com, which released the rankings this week, looked at rates of acceptance, retention, graduation and enrollment in determining the placements. 

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Nashville Police Studying Body Cameras

Nashville police are checking out how other big-city law enforcement agencies use body cameras before deciding whether to employ them, the Tennessean reports. Metro police spokesman Don Aaron says the devices are more complex than pinning a camera to an officer and hitting record. He says privacy concerns and specifics on when the cameras should be rolling need to be addressed. Video storage and retention are also being studied.

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Team to Focus on Alternatives for Juvenile Offenders

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell today announced a new effort aimed at reducing juvenile crime in the region. Under the plan, an eight-member team of professionals from the mayors’ offices, sheriff’s office, juvenile court and police department will work for one year to find positive alternatives for teens who get arrested on domestic violence and assault charges. The move, according to WMCA News 5, is designed to respond to criticisms that African-American juveniles end up at juvenile court at a rate much higher than other races.

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Court to Review New Civil, Criminal Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court has granted review to several new cases. Civil issues to be decided include corporate shareholder standing and challenges to charges by utilities. Criminal issue include traffic stop suppression, expired sentences, defective indictments and lesser-included offenses. The Raybin-Perky Hotlist reviews each and offers a prediction on how the cases may be decided.

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Prosecutor: There is No Meaningful Death Penalty in Tennessee

The natural-causes death of death row inmate Donald Strouth is the most recent example of problems with Tennessee’s death penalty and undermines the credibility of the criminal justice system, Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said. Strouth had been on death row for more than 30 years, an appeal process length Staubus said is too long. Right now all executions in Tennessee are on hold because of a pending lawsuit where death row inmates, including Strouth, are questioning if the state's lethal injection process is constitutional. WJHL has more. On Wednesday, Nebraska lawmakers agreed to abolish the death penalty. The margin by which the bill passed in the unicameral state legislature is more than sufficient to override a promised veto by the state's governor, ABA Journal reports.

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Memphis U.S. Attorney Nominated to Federal Bench

President Barack Obama has nominated U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton III to be a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. The nomination of Stanton, who has been the chief federal prosecutor for West Tennessee for five years, was announced yesterday by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis, who recommended Stanton to the White House after convening a screening committee of local attorneys. Memphis Daily News has more.

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DA Creates Unit to Prosecute Human Trafficking

Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk has formed a human trafficking unit inside the DA's Office. Four assistant district attorneys have been assigned to the unit, led by lawyer Tammy Meade, and will ensure full prosecution of human sex trafficking cases in Nashville, a press release from the office read. The move comes as the TBI creates the Middle Tennessee Human Trafficking Task Force, which this week arrested about a dozen people as part of an operation in Nashville, according to Knoxnews.com. The task force, which will include the DA's Office, End Slavery Tennessee and several local law enforcement agencies, is currently working to secure a federal grant to assist in prosecution of offenders and services for victims. Fox 17 has the story. Earlier this week, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill giving TBI jurisdiction over investigations of human trafficking. 

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12 Graduate from Jackson Drug Court

The City of Jackson Drug Treatment Court recognized 12 people who completed its program and recognized former graduates and current participants as part of May’s celebration of National Drug Court Month. Under the leadership of Judge Blake Anderson, the court has helped 114 individuals since its inception in 2003. Mayor Jerry Gist told the Jackson Sun that the program has been effective in getting and keeping graduates sober.

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Charity Heads to Pay Fraction of Amount Owed

Three operators of phony cancer charities will pay less than one penny on the dollar toward their combined $106 million settlements, Knoxnews reports. The paper also says that investigators will not comment on whether any of them will face criminal charges after spending donations on lavish trips and personal paydays. The reduced settlement is based on their “documented inability to pay,” officials said. The cases likely will have to be resolved in court, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett said earlier this week.

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Court Brings Arguments to Boys and Girls State

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hold oral arguments before hundreds of high school students next week. At Boys State, held May 27 at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, the court will consider cases involving unlawful search and seizure and whether an employer can refuse to hire someone who previously filed a workers’ compensation claim. At Girls State, held May 28 at Lipscomb University, the court will hear cases involving termination of parental rights and whether records related to the Vanderbilt rape case should be released to the public. The AOC has more on the cases.

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Special Victims Unit Created in Chattanooga

The Chattanooga Police Department is launching a team of investigators that will be dedicated exclusively to working sex crime and domestic violence cases, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The new special victims unit, which will include six detectives, aims to take over the investigation of all of the department's sex crimes by June 8, said Lt. Darrell Whitfield.

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Obama Expected to Sign Anti-Trafficking Bill

The House approved long-awaited legislation yesterday to combat human trafficking, sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act will expand law enforcement tools to target sex traffickers, create a new fund to help victims, and define child pornography production as a form of trafficking. Obama is expected to sign it. The Greeneville Sun has more from the AP.

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Batey Seeks Mistrial in Vanderbilt Rape Conviction

Cory Batey is asking for a mistrial as well as a new one in the Vanderbilt University rape case almost a week after his former co-defendant Brandon Vandenburg’s attorneys motioned for the same thing. With less than a month before his sentencing, Batey’s lawyer said the Jan. 27 guilty verdict should be set aside due to questions on whether the jury foreman misrepresented himself by not disclosing that he was a victim of sexual abuse. News 2 has more.

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250 Rape Kits Untested in Hamilton County

More than 250 sexual assault kits from three of Hamilton County’s largest law enforcement agencies were never sent to the state’s crime lab for testing, Channel 3 Eyewitness News reports. The oldest case in the backlog dates back to 1993, which makes it too old to prosecute. The station also found that the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office destroyed 80 of 104 untested kits and claims it plans to destroy more based on a court order. The tally of untested kits comes in response to a new state requirement that local law enforcement inventory the kits in their possession.

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Rutherford Veterans’ Court to Open by September

Rutherford County officials say the county’s first Veterans’ Court is on track to be fully operational by September, the Daily News Journal reports. The court, which was approved in February, will serve veterans who already are participating in the Drug Court and DUI Court, officials said. The program also will serve active-duty soldiers who run into trouble with the law. Rutherford joins Montgomery, Davidson and Shelby counties in launching Veterans’ Courts.

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TBI Releases 2014 Hate Crime, Police Assault Data

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) has released its annual statistical studies on hate crimes and law enforcement officers targeted for violence while on duty in the state. In 2014, law enforcement departments reported 340 victims of 295 bias-motivated incidents – a 2.6 percent decrease from 2013. However, the number of victims indicated in offenses with a religious bias increased from eight victims in 2013 to 21 in 2014. With regard to police officers assaulted in 2014, law enforcement departments reported 1,704 victims in 1,378 incidents – a 7.7 percent decrease from the previous year. No officers were killed in the line of duty in 2014, the Chattanoogan reports.

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