News

Overcrowding Fix Would Move Women's Jail

A Putnam County commissioner has a plan to fix the current overcrowding situation at the Putnam County Justice Center. It starts with remodeling the old jail/clerk's office and making it a women's jail annex. The Herald Citizen has details

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Are Cameras That Help Fight Crime Also Invading Privacy?

High-tech cameras that create a detailed picture of the whereabouts of cars, regardless of whether they are suspected of any link to criminal activity, are being used in Tennessee. This type of government surveillance is also raising privacy concerns across the country and is pushing police departments to consider how the cameras and records should be used. “I’m sure that there’s going to be people out there that say this is an invasion of privacy,” said Gallatin Detective James Kemp. But “the possibilities are endless there for solving crimes." The Tennessean has more

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MTSU Murder Trial Begins, Self-Defense the Issue

Jury selection was to begin today in Chattanooga in the trial of Shanterrica Madden, accused of killing MTSU basketball guard Tina Stewart. Madden’s claim of self-defense comes at a time of intense national debate over what are known as Stand Your Ground self-defense laws, resulting from the fallout of the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. MTSU Criminal Justice professor and Murfreesboro lawyer Lance Selva explains the law and the issues a jury will have to consider when deciding whether to believe a claim of self-defense. The Tennessean has the story

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Self-Surrender Program for Misdemeanors This Week

Nashville residents who have failed to comply with the booking requirements of state misdemeanor citations and who are now named in arrest orders are about to be given a second chance. The Metropolitan Police Department, in association with the General Sessions Courts, District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Criminal Court Clerk and Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, will host a Failure to be Booked Self-Surrender Program this Friday and Saturday.

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Legislature Wraps Up 107th Session

The 107th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned Tuesday – the earliest adjournment since 1998 – after a flurry of action in the final days. Legislation approved and sent to the governor included:

HB 2385/SB 2247, which overhauls the Tennessee Regulatory Authority. Read more from the Knoxville News Sentinel

SB 3597/HB 3576, which prohibits state colleges and private colleges receiving more than $24 million in state funds from imposing antidiscrimination policies on religious student groups. The bill, designed to address a situation at Vanderbilt University, was vetoed by Gov. Bill Haslam today. WATE.com has more

HB 2868/SB 3005, which expands state racketeering laws to include criminal gangs, and imposes additional jail time and fines of up to $250,000 for gang members. The Times Free Press reports

SB 1325/HB 1379, which requires proof of citizenship to get state services. Learn more in the Memphis Daily News

SB 2580/HB 2725, which requires drug testing for some welfare recipients. The Tennessean reports

HB 3234/SB 2908, which authorizes referendums on whether Shelby County’s suburbs may form municipal school districts. The Memphis Daily News has more

The legislature did not act on a contentious gun issue that would have allowed employees to store weapons in vehicles parked on company lots and failed to pass a measure that would have allowed Tennessee to join an interstate compact challenging the federal health care law

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Rutherford Drug Court Wins Increased Funding

While other state programs and services saw funding cuts in the recently approved budget agreement, the Rutherford County Drug Court secured an additional $37,500 for its operations, for a total of $87,500. Officials who led the fight for the funding increase said this particular court is “setting the standard for intervention and treatment in Tennessee.” Read more in the Murfreesboro Post

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Courts Recognized for Language Access Programs

The Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) recently received several awards from the Consortium for Language Access in the Courts for its efforts to eliminate language barriers for persons with limited English proficiency. Among the initiatives recognized were those providing remote interpreting services through Internet video conferencing, interpreter services in criminal cases for non-indigent defendants, and translation of order of protection forms into five languages. The AOC also was recognized for its successful legislative efforts to secure an additional $2 million in funding to cover interpreter services in all cases. The AOC reports

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Court to Consider Retroactivity of Padilla Decision

The Supreme Court agreed today to consider the retroactivity of its 2010 decision finding that lawyers have a Sixth Amendment obligation to warn their clients when guilty pleas can result in deportation. At issue is whether the ruling in Padilla v. Kentucky applies to defendants whose convictions became final before the date of the opinion. According to the cert petition, “federal and state courts are openly and intractably divided” over whether the Padilla holding applies retroactively. Read more in the ABA Journal

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Child-Porn Sentences Under Scrutiny

Child-pornography offenders are the focus of an intense debate as to whether the federal sentences they face have become too severe, the Associated Press reports. The U.S. Sentencing Commission plans to release a report this year that is likely to propose changes to the sentencing guidelines that it oversees. Some federal judges and public defenders say Congress has skewed the guidelines to the point where offenders who possess and distribute child pornography can go to prison for longer than those who actually rape or sexually abuse a child. Others oppose any push for leniency.

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Former President Calls for Abolition of the Death Penalty

A recent poll showed that 61 percent of Americans would choose a punishment other than the death penalty for murder and just 1 percent of police chiefs think that expanding the death penalty would reduce violent crime, former President Jimmy Carter writes in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He points out that 90 percent of all executions are carried out in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States, and that while Southern states carry out more than 80 percent of the U.S.'s executions they have a higher murder rate than any other region. "Our nation’s focus is now on punishment, not rehabilitation," he writes in the opinion piece, which calls to abolish the death penalty. Read his column

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Grand Jury Praises Community Corrections, Makes Other Recommendations

The Hamilton County Grand Jury's recent report praised the county's community corrections program, saying its use of electronic monitoring is cost effective and its low rate of recidivism is remarkable. Among its many recommendations, the group suggests expanding community corrections for non-violent offenders, providing more work opportunities for inmates, increasing fees for jury service, and hiring truant officers to ensure kids are attending school. Read the full report on Chattanoogan.com

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Connecticut Abolishes Death Penalty

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a bill into law Wednesday that abolishes the death penalty, making the state the 17th in the nation to abandon capital punishment, and the fifth to do so in the last five years. The law is effective immediately, though prospective in nature, meaning it will not apply to those already sentenced to death. It replaces the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of release as the state's highest form of punishment. WCYB Channel 5 has the story from CNN.

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Smith Asks Not to Hear DUI Cases

Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Jerry L. Smith requested yesterday that he not be assigned to any drunk driving cases until his own charges for driving under the influence are resolved. Presiding Judge Joseph M. Tipton agreed to the request. Smith was arrested Monday night in Knoxville after refusing a blood alcohol test. The Tennessean has more

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Attorney Accused of Forging Judge's Signature

Hamilton County attorney Andrew Stinnett has been charged with forging Judge Howell People's signature on an order of protection for one of his clients. The client quotes Stinnett as saying, "I'm friends with Judge Peoples so we don't need to go back to court." When Peoples found out about the possible forgery, he contacted the district attorney, WDEF News Channel 12 reports. Stinnett is currently suspended for practicing law while suspended and not informing clients he was suspended. He will be back in court May 1 on the criminal charges.

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No Automatic Action Against Judge Charged with DUI

A drunk driving charge filed Tuesday against Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Jerry Lynn Smith won't impact his ability to hear cases for now according to two state agencies. A spokeswoman with the state Administrative Office of the Courts said Tuesday "it's just too soon for us to comment" on Smith's arrest but "an arrest for a misdemeanor does not preclude a judge from hearing cases." Timothy Discenza, disciplinary counsel for the Court of the Judiciary, said no automatic sanctions are activated against Smith with his arrest and it is too early to speculate on what action the court might take. The News Sentinel has more

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Opinion: Abu Ali's Defense Did Not Do Justice

Nashville lawyer Bradley MacLean writes on behalf of his client, Abu Ali Abdur’Rahman, who is on Tennessee's death row. Pointing out that his original counsel, Lionel Barrett, himself has acknowledged his part in Abu Ali's conviction because he conducted no investigation and failed to present key evidence in his defense, MacLean is working to have the sentence changed from death to life in prison. He says what may be the last appeal has now been filed with the U.S.Supreme Court. MacLean and the late William Redick took over Abu Ali’s case in 1996. Federal Judge Todd J. Campbell had set aside the death sentence, to be overturned by the Sixth Circuit. Sixth Circuit Judge R. Guy Cole Jr., in his dissenting opinion, wrote that the “sentence of death resulted from a breakdown in the adversary process that renders the result unreliable.” Read it in the Tennessean

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Criminal Court of Appeals Judge Arrested

Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Jerry L. Smith is facing charges after he was arrested for driving under the influence in Knoxville. Smith, of Nashville, was arrested Monday night on Cumberland Avenue. WBIR reports

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California to Vote on Death Penalty

A measure to abolish capital punishment in California qualified for the November ballot on Monday, Secretary of State Debra Bowen said. If it passes, the 725 California inmates now on Death Row will have their sentences converted to life in prison without the possibility of parole. It would also make life without parole the harshest penalty prosecutors can seek. The Los Angeles Times has this story  If passed, the measure would make California the 18th state in the nation without a death penalty. During the last five years, four states have replaced the death penalty and Connecticut  likely will soon follow.

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State High Court to Hear 'Wooded Rapist' Appeal, 7 Others

The Tennessee Supreme Court has granted review in eight cases. One of the two criminal cases -- from Robert Jason Burdick, dubbed "the wooded rapist" -- involves the novel question of tolling the statute of limitations with a John Doe warrant coupled with a DNA profile of an unknown offender. The second criminal case addresses the scope of appellate review in sentencing decisions where there is no transcript of the underling guilty plea. The remaining cases are civil and concern the application of the 120-day medical malpractice act notice provision to the statute of limitations under the Tennessee governmental tort liability act, proof of causation in a wrongful death action, construction of a silent consent clause in an anti-assignment contract, the lack of an effective signature in the execution of will, a choice of law question between the Federal Arbitration Act and the Tennessee Uniform Arbitration Act, and a certified question addressing immigration enforcement. The Raybin-Perkey Hot List has the details

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Crime Down, But Murders Up, Report Says

Overall crime in Tennessee is down, but murders and DUI arrests increased last year, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reports. The TBI "Crime in Tennessee" report stated there was a 1.7 percent decrease in reported crimes in 2011 when compared to 2010. Read more from the City Paper

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Prosecutor: Cost was Factor in West Memphis 3 Deal

Speaking at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Bowen School of Law, Scott Ellington – the former prosecuting attorney of the West Memphis Three – said that future legal costs of a retrial factored into his decision to agree to a plea deal with Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelley. Ellington also said he was worried what an acquittal could cost the state, including potential damages the men could seek for false imprisonment. Ellington appeared at the school as part of a daylong symposium on the case. Read more in the Memphis Business Journal

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DUI Proposal Headed to Governor

A proposal that may increase the penalty for drunken driving when a child under 18 is a passenger in the vehicle is headed to the governor. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, was unanimously approved in the state House on Tuesday. The companion bill unanimously passed the Senate last month. Under current law, a person arrested for DUI with a minor in the vehicle is sentenced to a mandatory minimum incarceration of 30 days and a fine of $1,000. The new proposal requires the incarceration be served consecutively with any sentence for DUI, vehicular assault, vehicular homicide or aggravated vehicular homicide. The Memphis Daily News has more

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Sentencing Commission Proposes New Guidelines

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has proposed several new amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines. The proposed changes cover securities fraud, mortgage fraud, human rights offenses, drug offenses, contraband cellphones in prison, cigarette offenses, trafficking in fake Indian goods and animal crush videos. The commission must submit its proposed guideline amendments to Congress by May 1. Congress will have 180 days to act on the proposals, which will take effect Nov. 1 unless Congress votes to modify or disapprove them. ABAJournal.com has more

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Stage Set For 4 Executions After Lethal Injection Ruling

The Tennessee Court of Appeals last week issued an opinion affirming the decision of Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman to uphold a new procedure set by the state Department of Correction to try to ensure a death row inmate is unconscious before fatal drugs are administered under the state's three-drug lethal injection process. Under this ruling, after a single dose of sodium thiopental is given, the warden will brush his hand over the inmate's eyelashes, call out the inmate's name and gently shake the inmate. If there is no response, he will give the go-ahead for the next two drugs. This ruling paves the way for the executions of four death row inmates. The News Sentinel has the story

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Blackwood: Jayson Bailey to Get New Trial

"I am sincerely sorry everybody is going to have to go through this again," Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood said Thursday when he ordered that Jayson Bailey, previously convicted of raping his stepdaughter, get a new trial. This case is one of many upended in the fallout from former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner's abuse of prescription painkillers and related crimes. "If the allegations are true, it breaks my heart (for the girl). If the allegations are not true, this man is falsely incarcerated," Blackwood said. The News Sentinel has more

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