News

Term 'Cruel and Unusual' Evolves With Recent Ruling

In light of the Supreme Court's decision earlier this week, columnist George Will looks into what the Supreme Court has called “the evolving standards of decency." Originalism holds that the Constitution’s language should be construed to mean what the words meant at the time to those who wrote and ratified the Constitution. On Monday, the court's ruling about punishment vexed the four justices (John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito) most sympathetic to originalism, who dissented. The majority held that sentencing laws that mandate life imprisonment without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders violate the Eighth Amendment. The Leaf Chronicle has the column

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Chattanooga's Minor Offenders No Longer Subject to Search

The head of Chattanooga's gang task force says he will remove a little-known provision on a Sessions Court form that allows police to search the homes of people assigned court-ordered community service. Boyd Patterson said the provision was never intended for minor offenses such as littering, simple drug possession or similar misdemeanors. Instead, the language is aimed at the "worst of the worst" gang members. But the provision, in effect since November, requires people who agree to perform public works days through the court to allow such searches regardless of their offense. The provision is "just such a gross overkill," attorney Hank Hill said. "No competent lawyer would ever require a client to sign it."  The Times Free Press has more

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Attorneys Say DA Hid Info on Baumgartner During Case

More accusations are flying regarding Judge Richard Baumgartner and the torture slaying cases of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. Defense attorneys Tom Dillard and Stephen Ross Johnson are firing back at Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols' allegations of unethical conduct by Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood with accusations of their own: that Nichols and his staff hid information about then-presiding Judge Baumgartner's misdeeds while Baumgartner was still on the bench handling the case. The News Sentinel reports

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Restructured DUI Law Takes Effect Next Week

When new DUI laws take effect next week, a driver’s refusal to submit to a blood test when an officer has valid suspicion of intoxication will be virtually meaningless, the Johnson City Press reports. Tennessee’s DUI law now allows forced blood draws for blood alcohol tests in any situation if a search warrant is obtained. It also increases punishment for those convicted of a DUI if a child under age 18 is in the vehicle at the time of the offense.

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Bids for Anderson Co. Jail Work Reviewed

With a budget of $10 million set for expansion of the overcrowded Anderson County Jail, several bids came in under the mark, with Rouse Construction Co. of Knoxville having the apparent low bid of $9,660,000. The plan is to significantly redesign the existing facility and construct a new 45,965-square-foot building that will provide space for 212 beds. The News Sentinel has more

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Death Penalty Ruled Unconstitutional in Arkansas

The Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state's execution law today, calling it unconstitutional. In a split decision, the high court sided with 10 death row inmates who argued that, under Arkansas' constitution, only the Legislature can set execution policy. Legislators in 2009 voted to give that authority to the Department of Correction. Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said that at this point he doesn't plan to call a special session to address the court's ruling. "The death penalty is still the law in Arkansas, but the Department of Correction now has no legal way to carry out an execution until a new statute is established," Beebe said in a statement. WRCB-TV has the story

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Texas Man Indicted for Mosque Bomb Threat

U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin announced today that a Texas man has been charged with violating the civil rights of members of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro when he allegedly left a threatening, expletive-ridden voice message at the mosque saying there would be a bomb there on Sept. 11, 2011. Javier Alan Correa, 24, of Corpus Christi, is charged with one count of intentionally obstructing by threat of force the free exercise of religious beliefs, and one count of using an instrument of interstate commerce to communicate a threat to destroy a building by means of an explosive device. Martin made the announcement in Murfreesboro from the construction site of the new of the mosque. The Tennessean has video of Martin's remarks and more.

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Authorities Reveal Identity of Bomb Threat Caller

Rutherford County sheriff's detectives are seeking the public’s help locating William Moon, 51, of Tracy City, who is accused of calling in a bomb threat last month to the county judicial building, saying three bombs were set with the intention of killing Judge Don Ash. According to detectives, Moon was supposed to have been in Ash's courtroom that day for a plea on charges of theft, vandalism, trespassing and possession of burglary tools, but did not show up. Anyone with information about Moon should call Rutherford County Crime Stoppers at (615) 893-STOP or (615) 893-7867.  Learn more from WKRN News 2

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Blackwood Tosses Retrials, Sets Date for Recusal Hearing

Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood yesterday reversed his previous order granting new trials to two defendants caught up in the fall-out from misconduct by former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner. The issue of retrials now will be subject to further review of the cases and a hearing set for August 17. In addition, Blackwood set a hearing for Oct. 8 to give the state a second chance to argue that he should step down from the cases. WBIR has the story

In related news, the DA’s office has asked for audio recordings and a transcript of last week’s hearing in which Blackwood and DA Randy Nichols wound up in a "yelling match," according to WATE News 6. That hearing turned volatile when Blackwood refused to recuse himself and prohibited the state from making any arguments about that issue. The DA's office says the outburst shows that Blackwood cannot rule impartially because of his emotional connection to the trial.

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DA Candidates Discuss Juvenile Court Reform

Contenders for the Shelby County District Attorney General post addressed problems plaguing the Memphis Shelby County Juvenile Court at a forum on Monday. In discussing the Department of Justice's recent report about the court, Republican incumbent Amy Weirich focused on the lack of attention to victims of the system. "What is frustrating as a prosecutor of 21 years is that nowhere in that report does anyone mention the victims." She also defended the work being done to clean up the problems saying, "We're addressing those issues...In fact, we have a much more aggressive plan than the Department of Justice even asked us to accomplish." By contrast, Democratic challenger Carol Chumney maintained that the problems have been ongoing and persistent and "need to be dealt with." The Daily News reports

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Davidson Co. Judge Shakes Every Hand

Some say it's a security risk, others call it gutsy, but Davidson County Judge Mike Jameson says it's no big deal. "Come on up. I don't bite," he told one defendant as he makes good on his personal commitment to shake the hand of everyone that comes before him on the bench. "As a judge, I get an air-conditioned parking garage. I get to ride up a private elevator. I get a fancy black robe. And I get to sit at a nice desk. And if you let that go to your head, then you're really not going to be an influence," Jameson said. "Every judge here has some technique they use to keep themselves grounded, and for me it's a handshake." WSMV TV reports

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Judge Randolph Receives Reprimand

The Court of the Judiciary has issued a public reprimand against Bradley County General Sessions Court Judge Sheridan Randolph in response to a complaint that he conducted a hearing and set release conditions for a defendant arrested in connection with a burglary in which he was the victim. When confronted with the complaint, Randolph admitted it was a mistake to hold the hearing. The court found that his actions violated Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 2A and Canon 3E(l)(d)(iv). Download the letter of reprimand

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Deadline Extended for PD Job

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has extended through July 16, the deadline for applying for the position of federal public defender in the Western District of Tennessee. The position, which is filled by the court, is located in Memphis and is vacant due to retirement of the incumbent. The successful candidate will serve a four-year term. A full public notice, application and qualification standards are available on the court's website

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Blackwood: Temptation Was Strong to 'Tell it Like It Is'

Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, tired of being blamed for the legal morass that followed Judge Richard Baumgartner's conviction, says now he had planned to say more than he did in court last week, when proceedings turned into a shouting match with Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols. "When I saw this motion to recuse, I jumped up and did three cartwheels and said, 'It's my time, baby,' " Blackwood said. "I'm going to make this like the Jerry Springer Show. The Jerry Springer Show would be mild in comparison." But, Blackwaood says, a colleague advised him against taking it to that level. Read the story in the News Sentinel

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Will Sandusky Take the Stand? Experts Say It May Be His Only Hope

As Jerry Sandusky begins his defense today in his child sex abuse trial, the "million-dollar" question is whether or not the defense will call Sandusky. Criminal defense attorney Michael Engle said he doesn't see many other options for the former Penn State assistant football coach, saying that taking the stand in his own defense may be Sandusky's "only shot at convincing this jury he didn't do this." Legal experts analyze the options in The Legal Intelligencer and USAToday has details from today's testimony.

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Carter County Jail Opens to Lukewarm Reception

Although there were tours at the ribbon-cutting of a new $26 million jail facility in Carter County, the mood was somber about the building that has taken more than a decade to complete. Even the sheriff said the jail project has been very “unpopular” and “disappointing” and that he would rather be dedicating a new school or new bridge. The Elizabethton Star has the story

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Blackwood Threatens Knox DA with Contempt

Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who is sorting out the fate of cases previously prosecuted in former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner's court, threatened Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols with contempt of court today and told Special Counsel John Gill he needed to produce proof of ex parte communications by the court or report himself to the Board of Professional Responsibility. Gill had accused the court of such activity in an email made public by the Knoxville News Sentinel. The fiery exchange came as Blackwood refused to step down from one of the cases in play and would not allow the government to argue its motion that he recuse himself. Read about today's developments from the paper.

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Baumgartner Gets Delay in Federal Trial

U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley today approved a three-month delay in the federal trial of former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner. Lawyers for Baumgartner had asked for the delay saying they had “only scratched the surface of the complex and voluminous government discovery” and would not be ready to file meaningful motions by this week's deadline. The trial was to have started on June 18. It now will start on Oct. 23. Read more in the News Sentinel

In related news, U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips, who was set to preside over the trial, recused himself yesterday. It will be up to Chief U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier to name a replacement. Learn more about that development

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NPR Investigates Indigent Defense 'Crisis'

In the first of a two-part series, National Public Radio today looked at what the U.S. Justice Department is calling a “crisis” in the provision of legal assistance for the indigent. Today’s program focused on the situation in Michigan, where a patchwork of rules that vary among counties are confusing for defendants and appointed counsel, who often are young and inexperienced. Now, a lawsuit against the state and recent exonerations due to poor legal counsel are adding pressure to do something about the situation. Tomorrow, the station looks at a legal aid program in Baltimore that faces an uncertain future. Listen to today's story or read it here

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Court Hears Challenge to 287(g) Program

Tennessee Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments today on a controversial immigration program that allows local law enforcement to question a person's immigration status. The so-called 287(g) program is a partnership between local departments and federal authorities. Three civil rights groups want the court to block Davidson County's participation in the program. A local lawyer argues the sheriff's office can't enter into such an agreement, because the agency gave up law enforcement powers in 1963. News Channel 5 has the latest

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Haslam Moves Drug Courts to New Department

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced an executive order to change the management and oversight of state drug court programs as part of an ongoing effort to increase government efficiency and effectiveness. Executive Order No. 12 transfers the drug court program from the Department of Finance and Administration to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) effective July 1. In signing the order Haslam said the transfer would reduce duplication of effort and better align the drug courts with TDMHSAS’ role as the substance abuse authority in the state. Read more in the Cannon Courier

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Man Admits Forging Judge's Signature

A Chattanooga man pleaded guilty yesterday to charges that he forged the signature of U.S. District Court Judge Harry "Sandy" Mattice to try to get out of prison early on parole. Shaun Steven Kidd now faces up to five years for the charge on top of separate bank fraud charges to which he previously pleaded guilty. The presiding judge set a sentencing date of Oct. 1. Read more in the Times Free Press

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Former Judge Taylor Pleads Not Guilty

Former Hawkins County General Sessions Judge James "Jay" Taylor pleaded not guilty to 41 counts of theft of property in a Nashville courtroom today. During the hearing, the presiding judge reduced bond to $100,000 from $175,000, though Taylor returned to jail after the proceeding. He faces 12 similar charges in Hawkins County. News Channel 9 reports

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Public Defender Fires Brother-in-Law

Two decades and two opinions later, Knox County Public Defender Mark Stephens is firing his brother-in-law. Stephens said he was forced to fire Mike Stone, an investigator assigned to the DUI division, after the state attorney general found that Stephens' employment of his brother-in-law violated Tennessee's Nepotism Act, though Stephens exercises no direct control over Stone. Read more in the News Sentinel

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'Section Cup' Winners Named at TBA Convention

News from the Appellate Practice, Criminal Justice and Health Care Law Sections
Recipients of the 2012 Section Cup were announced recently at the Section Chairs Roundtable, kicking off the TBA Convention in Memphis. TBA President Danny Van Horn created the Section Cup to encourage service to section members. Over the past year, sections accumulated points for holding meetings and CLEs or providing new services to members. Sections of like size competed against each other for the honor. 

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