News

Shelby DA Requests Money for 3 More Lawyers

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich told a County Commission committee today that she needs an additional $428,810 next year to pay three more lawyers and a support person. The request for an increase is her first since 2011, she said. The district attorney's office has seen defendant numbers grow from 179,179 in 2011 to 204,378 in 2014, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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DA Wants to Change Child Abuse Laws

District Attorney General Brent Cooper tells the Daily Herald that the system for handling child abuse cases needs to be reworked. One change Cooper said he and other district attorneys across the state have advocated is to the current reckless endangerment laws, specifically the actual harm doctrine. "The way the law in Tennessee is currently structured, you can’t charge a parent with abuse and neglect unless the child is actually harmed," Cooper says.

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Execution Drug at Center of High Court Debate

The U.S. Supreme Court today heard a challenge to Oklahoma’s execution protocol over the plea of death row inmates to outlaw the sedative midazolam. During the session, several justices gave voice to larger concerns. "There are other ways to kill people, regrettably, that are painless," Justice Sonia Sotomayor said. Justice Antonin Scalia said more effective drugs have been "rendered unavailable by the abolitionist movement." Justice Samuel Alito referred to a "guerrilla war" against executions by death penalty opponents working to limit the supply of more effective drugs. SCOTUSBlog offers an analysis.

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Victims’ Groups Oppose Release of Rape Evidence

Four victims’ rights groups are asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to rule against a coalition of news media organizations seeking access to text messages in a high-profile rape case involving four former Vanderbilt University football players. The Times Free Press reports that the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the Tennessean Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, the National Crime Victim Law Institute and the Sexual Assault Centers are asking the court to consider the victims before releasing information to the media.

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Appeals Courts Have Tossed 6 Shelby Cases Since August

Since August, Tennessee appeals courts have overturned the convictions of six Shelby County criminal defendants on charges that ranged from murder to bad checks. The reasons differ among the cases (use of the wrong murder weapon, lack of testimony on certain evidence, failure to produce a witness statement and inappropriate comments by a prosecutor). The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals called one of these oversights “egregious,” while the Supreme Court called another “wrong and inexplicable.” Read more from the Memphis Daily News.

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Lynch Sworn in as New AG

Loretta Lynch was sworn in as attorney general today at the Department of Justice. Vice President Joe Biden presided over the ceremony. Lynch replaces Eric Holder, who left the job Friday after six years as attorney general, the Associated Press reports.

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Rutherford DA to Investigate Alleged Misconduct in Sheriff's Office

The Rutherford County Ethics Committee has asked the District Attorney General's Office to launch an investigation into potential conflicts of interest and misconduct by Sheriff Robert Arnold, involving questionable contracts, purchases and vendor services at the county jail, the Murfreesboro Post reports. Committee members also asked the DA to determine possible conflicts of interest regarding Chief Deputy Administrator Joe Russell and Detective Maj. Bill Sharp.

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Chattanooga Judge Reflects on 18 Years on Bench

Hamilton County Judge Rebecca Stern talks with News Channel 9 about her upcoming retirement. She was appointed criminal court judge in 1997, becoming the first woman in the county to hold that position. Stern said she hopes people will remember her efforts for making the local criminal justice system better.

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Man Gets 22 Years for Trafficking in Nashville

Michael Kohlmeyer was sentenced in Nashville Thursday to 22 years in prison for trafficking a person under the age of 15 for a sex act, according to the Tennessean. The case is the first time in Tennessee a customer of sex trafficking has been prosecuted, Assistant District Attorney Antoinette Welch said. Derri Smith, executive director of End Slavery Tennessee, said that 94 minors are trafficked each month in the state.

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Visit Coffee County's New Jail on Saturday

The Coffee County Sheriff’s Department will host an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony at the county's new jail on Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. Opening ceremonies for the state-of-the-art, 400-bed facility are expected to start at 1:15 p.m. and feature a host of current and former officials who took part in the years-long process of planning, financing and constructing the $22 million project.

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Haslam Signs Guns-in-Parks Bill

Gov. Bill Haslam today signed the controversial guns-in-parks bill into law, allowing handgun-carry permit holders to go armed in all parks statewide, regardless of local ordinances. The governor, a former mayor of Knoxville, had expressed concerns about the legislation because it removed the authority of city and county governments over parks under their control, and because the parks often border school properties, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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Drug Task Force Director Fired

The director of the Eighth Judicial District Drug Task Force has been fired following an investigation into the group's practices and protocols, WBIR reports. Eighth Judicial District Attorney General Jared Effler announced Melvin Bayless's termination Thursday. Effler also is requesting that a prosecutor outside his office "determine what, if any, action should be taken in light of these investigations."

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Court Grants Review on Lesser-Included Offenses Case

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted review in a case on the issue of lesser-included offenses. The Raybin-Perky Hotlist reviews it and makes a prediction as to how it may be decided.

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Legislative Session Wraps Up

State lawmakers finished their work for the 2015 legislative session just before 10 p.m. last night, the Tennessean reports. Among the bills passed yesterday, lawmakers approved an additional exemption to the Hall tax on investment income, new rules for ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, and the use of cannabis oil to treat seizures. Among the bills that failed to advance were measures allowing undocumented immigrants’ children who grew up in Tennessee to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities (which lost by one vote), allowing residents of parts of cities to de-annex territory, and banning alcohol sales to people with three or more drunken driving convictions. See a break down of more legislative winners and losers from the Associated Press.

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U.S. Senate Approves Lynch Nomination

The five-month battle to choose President Barack Obama’s next attorney general came to a close today when the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Loretta Lynch, CNN reports. Ten Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, joined Democrats in the 56-43 vote to make Lynch, 55, the first African-American female attorney general in U.S. history. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, was the only senator not to vote. Lynch, a two-time U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, will replace Eric Holder.

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Photos of Homicide Victims OK in Court

An “appropriate photograph” of a homicide victim prior to his or her murder will be able to be shown during trial if Gov. Bill Haslam signs new legislation passed this week, Chattanoogan.com reports. According to 10th Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crum, the action will guarantee that murder victims have the same rights as other victims of crime in Tennessee.

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Book Signing: 'Mass Incarceration, Death Sentences and Racism'

Joseph Ingle will discuss and sign his book, Slouching Toward Tyranny: Mass Incarceration, Death Sentences, and Racism, Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Parnassus Books in Nashville. As a pastor to Death Row inmates across the South, Ingle's book "is part personal experience, part history: the history of systematic destruction of minorities in America, from colonial days to now, by physical slaughter and by legal and judicial means."

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Nashville Mayor Wants to Move Criminal Justice Center Operations

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean today proposed a new $110 million Davidson County Sheriff's Office complex at 5115 Harding Place that would consolidate all sheriff operations, including the 800-inmate downtown detention center. The new complex would be located on 163 Metro-owned acres where the current South Precinct operates alongside three other detention facilities. The undertaking would be the most expensive public safety investment in Metro's history. Dean is also seeking to relocate the Metro Nashville Police Department headquarters from the 33-year-old Criminal Justice Center to a new $23 million facility on Jefferson Street in North Nashville at the corner of 14th Avenue North near Interstate 40. The Tennessean has more.

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Legislators Approve Rape-Kit Testing and Cannabis Oil Bills

Legislators approved and sent to Gov. Bill Haslam a bill that would create a protocol for the collection of sexual assault evidence kits. Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis, the bill should go a long way in alleviating the kind of situation that resulted in a backlog of untested rape kits in Memphis and other parts of the state, the Citizen Tribune reports. Lawmakers also approved a bill allowing a person to possess cannabis oil under certain conditions. If it becomes law, certain amounts of cannabis oil can be used for the treatment of intractable seizures, especially in the case of children.

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Flawed FBI Testimony Found in Death Penalty Cases

FBI examiners gave flawed forensic testimony in 16 Tennessee cases that led to convictions, including four that sent defendants to death row, according to a report from The Washington Post this weekend. The Post reports that "[t]he Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000." None of the defendants in Tennessee have been executed yet, although Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas have all executed at least one person convicted in a case now identified as having included flawed forensic testimony, the Nashville Scene reports.

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Knox County Prosecutor Fired Over Alleged Sexual Assault

Knox County prosecutor Frederico Flores has been fired and is under investigation for an alleged sexual assault. Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen dismissed Flores on Wednesday after an internal investigation into the alleged attack on a female attorney. Allen has asked for an investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Because the TBI works at the direction of the prosecutor’s office, Allen filed an order recusing her office from the case, Knoxnews reports.

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Frankenberg Named New Knox Magistrate

The Knox County Commission appointed Sharon Frankenberg as a new judicial magistrate yesterday, Knoxnews reports. She replaces Mark Brown, who resigned in January. Frankenberg, who held the same post from 1994 to 1996, was nominated after three rounds of voting by commissioners.

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TBI Investigating Nashville DA Glenn Funk

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has joined in an investigation of Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk, reviewing actions he took just prior to taking office, the Tennessean reports. The action in question came to light when NewsChannel 5 broke a story that Funk arranged to have a part-time state job created for himself two months prior to taking over as DA, with the alleged goal of improving his pension and benefits. Funk has since said he would repay any benefits he received.

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Legislators Pass Protocol for Rape Exam Kits

Lawmakers approved and sent to the governor a bill that would create a statewide protocol for the collection of sexual assault evidence kits, the Commercial Appeal reports. The bill would require that evidence be tested within 60 days of healthcare providers turning them over to law enforcement agencies. The measure also directs the state’s Domestic Violence Coordinating Council to create a model policy for responding to reports of sexual offenses, and requires law enforcement agencies to establish written procedures with the same or higher standards.

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UT Law Prof, Grad Featured in Column on 'Overcriminalization'

A column published last week in The Washington Post by longstanding contributor and Pulitzer Prize-winner George F. Will features law review articles by University of Tennessee College of Law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds and recent graduate Michael Anthony Cottone, now a federal judicial clerk. Will’s column, “When Everything is a Crime,” discusses the overcriminalization of American life and builds on ideas Reynolds and Cottone previously presented in law review articles. Read more from the law school.

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