News

DA Wants Fetal Assault Law Strengthened

Sullivan County District Attorney Barry Staubus, who championed a new state law that allows drug-addicted mothers to be charged with assault to a fetus if they refuse treatment, said the law should be reworked to include meth. The statute currently only applies to narcotics like prescription pain pills, heroin and crack. Statewide, roughly 100 women have been prosecuted under the law, Nashville Public Radio reports.

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Arrest Warrants Flagged for Mental Health Issues

In an effort to make warrant arrests safer, Davidson County General Sessions Court is flagging some arrest warrants to alert police if the person sought suffers from mental health issues, The Tennessean reports. Court officials also stamp warrants if the defendant is on the veterans treatment docket or the person has substance abuse issues. "It creates an alert in the computer system to let people out in the field know they may react differently ... display bizarre behavior because of their circumstance," Metro Police Lt. Jeff Bauer said.

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Expungement of Criminal Records Could Cost Millions

A proposed plan to erase charges filed against about 128,000 people in Nashville that have been dismissed or never prosecuted could cost more than $14 million to carry out, according to estimates from the Tennessee Department of Correction and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. "People’s lives shouldn’t be used as leverage to expand a government budget," Daniel Horwitz, a Nashville attorney who filed the class action suit, said in The Tennessean. "It’s a shame that the TBI and the Department of Correction have focused their attention on shutting down a popular local effort to help thousands of innocent people clear their names.”

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TBJ Columns Cover Crime, History, Humor and Books

Columns in the November Tennessee Bar Journal include Wade Davies’s criminal law, Russell Fowler’s history and Bill Haltom’s humor. Davies writes about "(Not) Summary Judgment," Fowler is all about Ida B.Wells, and Haltom reminds us the power of a hand-written note. Candi Henry reviews the book, The Billable Hour. The Journal’s 50th Birthday is celebrated this month with a story about the background of the magazine’s and other TBA publications’ proper names (which is not nearly as boring as this makes it sound). Read it!

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Counter Motions Cause Chaos in Shelby Court

The Commercial Appeal describes business in Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Carolyn Wade's courtroom as “chaotic" on Thursday. Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich filed a motion on Oct. 30 asking Blackett to recuse herself from all cases after questioning Blackett’s impartiality; however, defense attorney Michael Working instead asked for the recusal of Weirich’s office. "Total disqualification from all pending matters of the only African-American woman serving as a Criminal Court Judge ... would appear to be an especially egregious deprivation of democracy by dismissing the people's elected representative on the bench,” Working wrote in a motion this week.

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Social Media Subpoena Denied in Rape Case

Ex-Vols football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams, who are accused of aggravated rape, and the victim will not be forced to turn over social media posts and text messages that occurred before the 2014 incident, according to Knox County Judge Bob McGee. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports McGee reversed an earlier decision in the case after conducting further study of the use of subpoena power. “This is new territory,” the judge said. “Legal principles are failing to keep up. We are without legal guidance and authority.”

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Automated System Helps Crime Victims Track Offenders

Law enforcement, advocacy groups and legal professionals in Knoxville on Tuesday learned how to use an automated system that allows victims of a crime to track the offender, WBIR reports. The Statewide Automated Victim Information Notification System (SAVIN) first started in 2010. “It will give peace of mind to the victims of crime, and it does it anonymously," Gary Cordell, with the Tennessee Sheriff's Association, said. 

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Judge Refuses to Share Information Regarding New Trial Request

Judge Alan E. Glenn said that Shelby County Judge Carolyn Wade Blackett's refusal to give more information regarding her decision to grant a new trial to a man sentenced for attempted murder could “’reasonably’ be presumed a violation of the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct and ‘evidencing a personal bias’ against the district attorney general’s office.” The Memphis Daily News reports Blackett ordered a new trial after comments she heard from jurors regarding contact with the prosecution.

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New Trial Ordered Due to Graphic Photos

The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that graphic photos from the crime scene should not have been used during the trial of a Knoxville man convicted in a deadly hit and run. The judges said the photos showing one of the victim’s unborn child likely influenced the jury, WATE reports. “The photographs in this case were, without a doubt, the most grotesque, horrifying, and unnecessary photographs that I have viewed in 17 years on this court,” Judge John Everett Williams said. A new trial has been ordered.

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Knoxville Public Defender Disagrees with DA's New Policy on Shoplifters

Knox County Public Defender Mark Stephens does not agree with District Attorney Charme Allen’s authorization to use felony burglary charges to prosecute petty thieves who return to the scene of their shoplifting crimes. “The DA has almost relegated itself to being a collection agency or a protector of Walmart,” Stephens said in the Knoxville News Sentinel. “It is an overreaction. It is not at all what the legislature intended.”

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Man Wrongly Accused of Murder Speaks at Vanderbilt Law School

Ndume Olatushani, a man who spent nearly 27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, spoke at Vanderbilt Law School on Wednesday with his attorney and Vanderbilt Law School grad Anne-Marie Moyes. The Vanderbilt Hustler reports that Olatushani was accused of murdering a Memphis store owner in an attempted robbery in 1983, despite never having been to the state of Tennessee. “One of the first things I began to read was law books because I wanted to understand this process. I knew I had to understand this process,” Olatushani said.

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Black Caucus Discusses Drug Sentencing Reform

Members of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State legislators said they are considering legislative proposals that would provide alternative sentencing for individuals with drug or mental health problems, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. "We've got to distinguish mental health issues from violent crimes," District Attorney Glenn Funk said. The group also said it is considering legislations that would change the sentencing guidelines for offenders convicted of selling drugs near a school.

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Thousands of Drug Inmates Set for Early Release

More than 4,300 federal inmates serving sentences for drug crimes are set for early release this weekend in an effort to reduce the nation’s prison population, the Associated Press reports. The release comes after a U.S. Sentencing Commission ruling that reduced the potential punishment for drug offenders. More than 1,700 additional inmates who are not U.S. citizens will be turned over to immigration officials.

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Predicting the Impact of Proposed Criminal Justice Reform

The Urban Institute, a Washington-based think tank, developed a calculator to predict how much the federal prison population will drop over the next eight years in light of proposed criminal justice reform. Slate reports that according to the calculator, the overall prison population will be reduced by 18 percent by September 2023 if drug traffickers saw their sentences slashed by 50 percent.

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State Seeks February Retrial for Batey and Vandenberg

WKRN reports that a new hearing for Cory Batey and Brandon Vandenburg, the former Vanderbilt football players accused of rape, has been set for Oct. 29. The hearing will review the district attorney’s request for the trial to begin on Feb. 29, 2016, with jury selection on Feb. 22, and the defense’s response. The trial was delayed earlier this month; the retrial is expected to cost an estimated $74,000.

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Tennessee to Implement Animal Abuse Registry

When the state's animal abuse registry goes live Jan.1, it will be the first one like it in the nation. The registry will include names of people convicted of serious animal abuse for two years, or longer if they are found guilty of a second, similar offense, NewsChannel 5 reports. Up to eight other states are now considering following in Tennessee's footsteps, according to animal advocates.

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Prosecutors Discuss Trafficking, Sexting and More at Fall Meeting

Prosecutors from across the state gathered this week to discuss possible changes to laws at the annual fall Tennessee District Attorneys General conference, the Times Free Press reports. Topics included cyberbullying, human trafficking and sexting, where there isn't always a clear legislative solution, Jennifer Moore Mason said. The problem, she said, is that no specific statute exists for juvenile sexting, where teens exchange sexually explicit photos via email or text. Instead, teenagers can get hit with charges of sexual exploitation of a minor, or harassment. 

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Mental Health, Drug Programs Work Within Justice System

The Manchester Times looks into the Coffee County Mental Health Court program, now in its fourth year. The court helps to keep those with identified mental health issues out of jail, according to Mike Lewis, director of the Coffee County Drug Court, which oversees the program. Coffee County General Sessions, Juvenile and Drug Court Judge Tim Brock presides over the court once a week. Also, the Coffee County Recovery Court program has helped over 70 people since 2005, the Tullahoma News reports. This program is designed to help current and former inmates overcome drug and alcohol addictions, as well as address underlying mental health issues. 

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Stevenson to Speak at Knox County PD Event

The Knox County Public Defender's Community Law Office, in celebration of its 25th Anniversary and in partnership with East Tennessee Foundation, is hosting an evening with New York Times best-selling author Bryan Stevenson. The Nov. 9 event will be at the Crowne Plaza Knoxville. Stevenson wrote the book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, about his work with the Equal Justice Initiative.

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Police Chiefs Form Group to End 'Mass Incarceration'

The police chiefs of Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga are among 130 top law enforcement officials from across the nation calling for an end to "mass incarceration" in the United States while maintaining public safety. The officials have formed a new group, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, whose top leaders announced the group's policy agenda — to push reforms to reduce incarceration and strengthen public safety — Wednesday in Washington. The Commercial Appeal reports.

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Ohio, Arkansas Halt Executions; Scalia Predicts Death of Death Penalty

Ohio and Arkansas have become the latest in a string of states putting the death penalty on hold because of issues with the drugs needed to carry out the lethal injections. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has delayed executions until at least 2017, while prison officials try to secure supplies of lethal injection drugs, The Johnson City Press reports. The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a lower-court judge overstepped his jurisdiction by halting the executions of eight death row inmates, but the high court immediately granted its own stay to give the inmates time to challenge a new state law that bars Arkansas from disclosing its execution-drug supplier, according to an Associated Press report. Meanwhile, in an address at the University of Minnesota Law School, Justice Antonin Scalia said Tuesday it "wouldn't surprise" him to see the U.S. Supreme Court invalidate the death penalty after moving in recent years to restrict its application.

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Rape Retrial Estimated at $74k

The new rape trial for former Vanderbilt football players Cory Batey and Brandon Vandenburg will cost taxpayers an estimated $74,000, WSMV reports. The Davidson County trial courts administrator based that figure on the costs of bringing a jury from Chattanooga and sequestering jurors for two weeks. The new trial was supposed to begin Nov. 30, but Judge Monte Watkins decided earlier this week to move it to March or April.

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Campbell County Judge in Court Over Expungement Issue

Campbell County General Sessions Judge Amanda Sammons found herself in circuit court this week for not signing an expungement order after dismissal of a misdemeanor vandalism charge. Her five-month delay in signing the order resulted in a local teen losing two job opportunities, Knoxnews reports. In court, she pledged to finally sign the order. Sammons promised “a revolution” in Campbell County’s judicial system when she was elected in 2014, but her actions are drawing a series of complaints, the newspaper reports.

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Memphis Now a Leader in Rape Kit Testing, Norris Says

Memphis has made great progress handling its backlog of untested sexual assault kits and has become a model for other cities in dealing with the problem, state Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said during a summit on the issue Monday. Norris, who has sponsored three laws to help ease the backlogs across Tennessee, said, "It's not just a Memphis problem or a Tennessee problem. It's a national one. And they're looking to us for best practices." The Commercial Appeal has more

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Seminar on Human Trafficking Comes to Brentwood

The Brentwood Library will host a program on human trafficking, how to identify it and steps to prevent it on Oct. 29. Co-sponsored by the Brentwood Woman’s Club and You Have the Power, the “No Girl’s Dream” program will be from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Brentwood Library, 8109 Concord Rd. Brentwood Homepage has more.

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