News

Expungement Screenings Available in Knox County

Knox County Expungement Court employees are now offering expungement screenings of eligible criminal cases every Monday and Thursday, 3 – 4:15 p.m. in the Fourth Sessions Courtroom on the Main Floor of the City-County Building. The program is a joint effort between District Attorney General Charme P. Allen and Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond. "We looked at the expungement process, and we realized that it was more complicated than it needed to be," Allen said. 

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Madison Sheriff Applies for Grant to Relieve Jail Overcrowding

Madison County Sheriff John Mehr applied for a $325,000 grant to implement a risk assessment program that could help reduce the county jail’s overcrowding problem. The Jackson Sun reports that the overcrowding is due in-part to a large pre-trial population that sometimes waits months before being brought into court. “If it is done properly and (the program) provides relevant information (it is) something the court might use to set bonds that are appropriate, and more importantly, set conditions of bonds that are more appropriate,” Judge Don Allen said.

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Knox County Jail Accused of Using Restraint Chair as 'Torture Tactics'

Attorney Troy L. Bowlin II has filed two lawsuits – one in the U.S. District Court and one in Knox County Circuit Court – accusing the Knox County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) of inappropriately using a restraint chair to punish an inmate, The Knoxville News Sentinel reports. The lawsuit named as defendants the KCSO, Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones, two jail supervisors and other jail staff including 10 nurses.

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Cold Case Task Force Compiling Files

Tenth Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crump said the Cold Case Task Force is in the process of compiling files on all of unsolved homicides across the district in hopes of determining cases that can be realistically solved, the Advocate and Democrat reports. The Judicial Task Force is made up of Monroe, McMinn, Polk and Bradley counties. 

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Public Defender Steve Smith Adds Bond Costs to His Agenda

Public defender Steve Smith said that his office's future efforts will include how the state might better address the bonding process, The Chattanoogan reports. “I think that if we took a look at the bond numbers, we would be shocked by the number of people who don’t need to be there,” Smith said in speech to the Hamilton County Pachyderm Club. 

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Nashville Attorney Seeks to Expunge Court Records

Anyone who has had a criminal charge dismissed with no costs has a right to have his or her name cleared and records expunged, Nashville attorney Daniel Horwitz tells WMC Action News 5. To help them achieve that, Horwitz has filed a class-action motion to expunge records for more than 128,000 Davidson County residents who are currently eligible for expungement but have not gone through the process. “In a lot of cases, people assume wrongly that their dismissed offenses have been expunged automatically when they haven’t,” Horwitz says. 

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Chattanooga's Patterson to Run for Criminal Court Judge

Boyd Patterson, a Chattanooga assistant district attorney and former director of the city’s Gang Task Force, submitted papers to run for criminal court judge in in the upcoming March election, The Chattanoogan reports. Patterson will run as a Republican. "I look forward to applying on the bench that experience and the knowledge I gained while working with the Gang Task Force,” he said. Patterson was among three initial finalists for the vacancy created by Judge Rebecca Stern’s retirement in Division Two, but Gov. Haslam later requested three more names to be presented by a judicial selection panel and has yet to make a selection.

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Attorneys in Vanderbilt Rape Case to Ask for Change of Venue

Lawyers for Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey, two former Vanderbilt football players accused of raping a female student inside a dorm room, were in court today for a status hearing. WSMV reports no formal motions were filed, but defense attorneys said they plan to file a change of venue motion and outined dates for future motions. The new indictments were released in July after the rape case was declared a mistrial in June and exclude a charge against Vandenburg handed down in the 2013 indictment of tampering with evidence. No new charges were issued against Vandenburg or the three other men accused in the case.

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Judicial Errors Result in New Trial

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals ordered a new trial for Benjamin Foust on trial for a 2011 double murder, after the court said Knox County Criminal Court Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz made mistakes, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Judge D. Kelly Thomas Jr. issued an opinion stating Judge Leibowitz allowed jurors to hear a police interrogation containing irrelevant information about co-defendant Teddie Jones without listening to it first or holding a hearing outside the jury’s presence about it. “The trial court utterly failed in its gatekeeping function as outlined in (court rules),” Thomas wrote. The case now goes back to Knox County Criminal Court.

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Memphis Receives Grants for Rape Kit Testing

Memphis will receive nearly $4 million in grant money from the U.S. Department of Justice Sexual Assault Kit Initiative and the New York District Attorney’s office to help clear the city’s backlog of untested rape kits, the Memphis Flyer reports. “We know that these rape kits can help catch perpetrators and prevent additional attacks, so we should do everything we can to cut through this backlog and give victims the justice they deserve,” Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen said. The Associated Press reports the White House and New York's district attorney have pledged a combined $79 million to test rape kits across the country. 

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Knoxville Attorney Argues DUI Arrest Before Supreme Court

Knoxville attorney William Davis Jr. argued in his own defense before the Supreme Court Wednesday that although he had been drinking and driving the night he was arrested, there was not enough probable cause for his traffic stop and subsequent DUI arrest, WATE reports.  Davis said he should not have been pulled over because a BOLO (“be on the lookout”) for his car was not checked out before he was pulled over. Assistant Attorney General Leslie Price argued that a BOLO alone was enough of a reason for the stop and the officer verified Davis' driving was consistent with being under the influence.

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Report Says Judges Have 'Too Much Control' in Public Defense System

Judges have too much control over the federal public defense system, according to a new study by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). The group recommends an overhaul of the government’s system for defending the poor. "There's some significant ways we feel the federal system is not measuring up — most importantly, in the area of independence," Bonnie Hoffman, a Virginia lawyer who led the study, said in a NPR report. The study said judges play a role in selecting defense lawyers for the poor and also have the ability to approve or reject the defense lawyers' fee requests. 

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Supreme Court to Consider Traffic Stop Guidelines

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear two cases this month that could impact when police can pull over drivers for crossing lines on roads, the Tennessean reports. The cases from Williamson and Knox counties involve drivers who were charged with a DUI after they were stopped by police for crossing road lines only once and for a brief amount of time. Similar cases have been dismissed, including the dismissal of DUI charges against Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville. But Nashville attorney Rob McKinney predicts the Supreme Court will say a single violation, including crossing a road line once, warrants a traffic stop. "I think it opens up the door that (police) can make any kind of traffic stop any time they want to," McKinney told the Tennessean.

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9th Judicial District Criminal Court Applicants Announced

The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments will consider three applicants -- Walter B. Johnson II of Lenoir City, Porsche Lyn Shantz of Lenoir City and Jeffery H. Wicks of Rockwood -- to fill the criminal court vacancy in the Ninth Judicial District. The district includes Loudon, Meigs, Morgan and Roane counties. The vacancy is being created by Judge E. Eugene Eblen's Dec. 31 retirement. The council will conduct a public interview with the applicants Sept. 25 in the Raider Room at Roane State Community College. The meeting will include a public hearing starting at 9:30 a.m. EDT.

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Hearing Date Set in Vanderbilt Rape Case

A status hearing has been set in rape cases against Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey, two former Vanderbilt University football players who were convicted in January, but got a new trial because of an issue related to a juror’s bias. The Tennessean reports that the hearing has been set for Sept. 11 before Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins. Defense attorneys have previously said they will consider filling motions to change the second trial's location or bring in a jury from outside Davidson County.

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Request Denied for Video Evidence Before Preliminary Hearing

Shelby County General Sessions Judge Loyce Lambert Ryan blocked efforts by defense attorneys for Tremaine Wilbourn to receive video evidence before the preliminary hearing, The Daily Times reports. Wilbourn is charged with the Aug. 1 killing of Memphis police officer Sean Bolton. Judge Ryan said subpoenas seeking Bolton’s daily log and video materials, including dashboard video, were premature.

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Pope Could Address Criminal Justice Reform in U.S. Visit

Pope Francis will address congress during next month’s visit to the United States, and he could raise the issue of reforming the U.S. penal system, Yahoo Politics reports. “What we’re really hoping for are some specific United States statements,” said Karen Clifton, the executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, an anti-death-penalty group. “We do incarcerate per capita more than anyone else in the world. He’s got to bring those facts to life.” 

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Rule Change Package Released for Review, Comment

The Tennessee Supreme Court has published the annual package of recommendations from the Advisory Commission on Rules of Procedure and Evidence. Proposals include new authority for appellate courts to dismiss appeals; provisions permitting electronic signatures in courts employing electronic filing; clarification of the effect of service of process on commencement of actions; adoption of the term preliminary hearing in lieu of preliminary examination in criminal procedure; and, refinement of procedure for correction of illegal sentences in criminal cases. The are no evidence rules changes proposed this year. A 90-page comprehensive restructuring and revision of the Rules of Juvenile Procedure is also included.

Six TBA sections -- Appellate Practice, Litigation, Tort and Insurance Law , Family Law, Juvenile and Children’s Law and Criminal Justice -- will be asked to review the proposed amendments and recommend comments on behalf of the association. Comments on the proposals are due to the Court by November 25, 2015.

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State Requests Agency to Review Prison System

The state of Tennessee requested an independent accrediting agency to review certain practices and policies within the state prison system, The Tennessean reports. Tennessee Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield asked the American Correctional Association to conduct the review. The agency will focus its review on five of the state’s 13 prisons, reviewing officer schedules and how the state classifies assaults or attacks within prisons.

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DA Names Escobar to Lead Domestic Violence Team

Attorney Ana Escobar was appointed by District Attorney Glenn Funk to lead the DA’s domestic violence unit in prosecuting cases and assisting victims. Escobar was sworn in as assistant district attorney in March. She previously served as deputy director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. 

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Some Judges Questioning How Defendants are Punished

Some judges across the country are pushing for a reassessment of how defendants are punished, adding to the nation’s conversation and debate regarding the criminal-justice system and high prison population. “Judges are moved by the broader public conversation about the need for reforms, and certain ones say, ‘That broader conversation ought to be reflected in the work I do, not just in the work that the political branch does.’” The New York Times highlights cases where United States judges asked for alternative or edited sentences.

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Warden Wants Prison Staff Schedules to Remain Confidential

West Tennessee State Penitentiary Warden James M. Holloway said correctional officers should be detained if they remove scheduling information from prison grounds, The Tennessean reports. “While such may be an attempt to help their cause, it is not authorized and can compromise the security and safety of staff who are working,” Holloway wrote in a letter. Multiple media sources used scheduling information to highlight staffing issues at Tennessee prisons. 

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Wicks Seeks Criminal Court Judge Appointment

Jeff Wicks has applied for the Ninth Judicial District criminal court judge seat that is being vacated by E. Eugene Eblen, according to the Roane County News. Wicks has been a general sessions court judge in Roane County since 2006. “I enjoy criminal law, and I believe that my background and experience have prepared me for this position,” he said.

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Judge Says Tennessee's Lethal Injection Protocol is Constitutional

Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ruled Wednesday that the state’s lethal injection protocol is constitutional, The Tennesean reports. Bonnyman said a group of condemned inmates and their attorneys did not prove during trial that the single lethal-injection protocol creates risk of cruel and unusual harm. The decision does not immediately allow executions to resume after a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling earlier this year put them on hold until the final disposition of the case.

The ruling comes the same day as U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate issued a temporary restraining order blocking the state of Mississippi from using two drugs – pentobarbital or midazolam – in executions, The Commercial Appeal reports. Prisoners there also claimed they face risks of excruciating pain and torture during an execution. 

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Prison Officials Acknowledge Mistakes in Reporting

The Tennessee Department of Correction acknowledged in a letter given to lawmakers that “mistakes in the review of incidents do happen”, but continued to defend its controversial 28-day work schedule, the Tennessean reports. Commissioner Derrick Schofield and other department officials met with lawmakers Monday to discuss the scheduling system after officers and inmates said the staffing issues are leading to less safe prisons. A Senate hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday.

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