Trial Set for Former Drug Task Force Employees

An October trial has been scheduled for two former employees of the 24th Judicial District Drug Task Force facing charges in both Henry and Carroll counties. Steve Lee was director of the task force until March 2011, when he was suspended after $4,200 in missing drug proceeds sparked an investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations. Leona Simoneau was fired as secretary of the task force that same month. They both have been indicted on charges of theft, conspiracy, tampering with evidence, official misconduct and giving false statements to auditors. The Paris Post Intelligencer reports

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Editorial: Positive Steps for Integrity of Judicial System

In an editorial, the News Sentinel says that recent events regarding former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner are "positive steps for the integrity of the Knox County judicial system." The first step was when the state Supreme Court on May 15 released an order signaling its possible willingness to review three overturned murder convictions from Baumgartner's court stemming from a brutal double murder. The second step was when, on the same day, Baumgarter was arrested and arraigned in federal court on seven counts of failing to report felonious acts. "We are confident that justice, in the end, will be served," the paper says.

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Is Evading Arrest A Violent Felony?

Chattanooga lawyer Lee Davis writes about a 6th Circuit case, United States v. David Earl Doyle, that concerns whether a defendant’s prior conviction for evading arrest is a “violent felony” for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). Read his column in the Chattanoogan

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Study Shows 2,000 Exonerations in 23 Years

More than 2,000 people have been exonerated of serious crimes since 1989 in the United States, eight of them in Tennessee, according to a report by college researchers who have established the first national registry of exonerations. Researchers say that the leading causes of wrongful convictions are perjury, faulty witness identification and misconduct by prosecutors. The registry itself, which looks deeply into 873 specific cases of wrongful conviction, examined cases based on court documents as well as from groups that have long documented wrongful convictions. That group of wrongfully convicted spent more than 10,000 total years in prison, according to the report, with an average of 11 years each. CNN has more

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New Law Would Allow Nonviolent Criminals to Clear Records

Tennesseans who have committed certain nonviolent crimes will be able to have their criminal records expunged for a $350 fee under a bill expected to become law July 1. The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Karen Camper and state Sen. Reginald Tate, both D-Memphis, passed by a wide margin earlier this year. Tennesseans convicted of a single felony or misdemeanor for nonviolent theft, certain types of fraud, vandalism, or other nonviolent crimes may qualify. They must have stayed crime-free for the past five years and paid all restitution and penalties. The Commercial Appeal has more

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Coleman Retrial May Not Include Mention of One Victim

When Vanessa Coleman is tried for a second time in a January 2007 torture slaying, one of the victim's name will not be on the indictment. Coleman's lawyer, Ted Lavit, told Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood on Thursday that he intends to file a motion also asking the judge to bar prosecutors from introducing testimony or evidence related to Christopher Newsom's death, including photographs of his burned body. Lavit says Coleman was exonerated on all counts related to Newsom. Prosecutors Leland Price and TaKisha Fitzgerald have not yet weighed in on Lavit's position that evidence on Newsom's death should be excluded since Lavit has not yet filed a written motion. The News Sentinel reports

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Man Confesses to Plan to Murder Judge

Kenneth Wade Jr. this week confessed to a charge of threatening to kill Social Security Administrative Law Judge K. Dickson Grissom after the judge denied Wade Social Security benefits. Wade now says he armed himself with a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol in February and waited outside Grissom's Knoxville office "so that he could shoot him, but the judge did not come out." The News Sentinel reports

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Mayor Calls for More Domestic Violence Prosecutors

Last year, two domestic violence prosecutors handled 12,686 reported incidents in Davidson County, averaging about 250 cases every week. Now Mayor Karl Dean says they need help. In his budget proposal, the mayor recommends $125,000 to add two more domestic violence prosecutors, bringing the total to four. Davidson County District Attorney Torry Johnson supports the move saying it would increase the amount of time attorneys have to spend on cases and, in turn, increase the quality of the representation. The Tennessean has more

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Federal PD Explains Decision to Step Down

After 16 years, Stephen Shankman is leaving his post as West Tennessee federal public defender. He sent his notice to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month saying he wants to opt out of another possible appointment to a new four-year term. "I'm fine. There are no health issues," he said this week, the day after the notice for applicants was posted. "It’s just time." However, Shankman did tell The Memphis Daily News that the job had become "a bit frustrating" now that federal courts deal with more "street crime and low level stuff," which he says belongs in state court.

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Baumgartner Arrested on Federal Charges

Former Knox County Criminal Judge Richard Baumgartner was arrested on federal charges today after a federal grand jury indicted him on seven counts of failing to report felonious activity. He appeared in handcuffs in court this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley and with his lawyer Don Bosch. In the state case, Baumgartner avoided jail time and a felony conviction when Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood granted him judicial diversion. His plea agreement barred the filing of additional state charges but did not preclude a federal prosecution. The News Sentinel has more

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Jury Finds MTSU Roommate Guilty of 2nd Degree Murder

A jury convicted Shanterrica Madden, the roommate of slain MTSU basketball player Tina Stewart, of the lesser charge of second-degree murder after two hours of deliberation today. Prosecutors had argued for first-degree murder  Stewart was fatally stabbed in the chest March 2, 2011. NewsChannel 5 has more

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Drug Court Employees Understand Offenders

Workers in the Hamilton County Drug Court can empathize with participants because they have been in their shoes. The Times Free Press has this story

Haslam Signs 'Gateway Sex,' Anti-Abortion Bills into Law

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed legislation that adds the concept of “gateway sexual activity” to the state’s abstinence-first sex education curriculum. Other bills now law are the Life Defense Act of 2012, which requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital in the county where they perform an abortion or in a neighboring county; and a bill that will let prosecutors charge alleged assailants with a second count of assaulting or murdering an embryo after an attack on a pregnant woman. The Tennessean has the story

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Victim's Friend Testifies in MTSU Murder Trial

Defense attorney Joe Brandon Jr. and District Attorney General Bill Whitesell continued with the second day of the trial of  Shanterrica Madden, accused of killing her roommate, MTSU basketball player Tina Stewart. Jurors heard a friend of Stewart's say she heard Madden pleading with Stewart to let her leave her bedroom moments before their argument turned deadly. The case is before Judge Don Ash in Murfreesboro. The Daily News Journal is following the trial

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Social Media at Center of Murder Accusations

Social media gets maligned in court sometimes, but yesterday transcripts of violent text messages aided in charges being dropped against a 20-year-old Chattanooga man who was accused of soliciting murder on Facebook. Gerald Webb, Carl Parks Jr.'s attorney, showed the text messages in which the alleged murder target had threatened to have Parks, his mother and cousins killed in retaliation for their break-up and a dispute over a money loan. Prosecutor Lila Statom then dropped a charge of solicitation of murder charge against Parks. The Times Free Press reports

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Sheriff's Department Settles Civil Rights Lawsuit

The Humphreys County Sheriff's Department has settled a federal case involving the beating and Tasering of an unarmed man in January 2011. The U.S. Department of Justice had criminally indicted the department earlier this year for violating the civil rights of Darrin Ring, who reportedly was beaten and Tasered for 19 minutes – sustaining broken ribs and a punctured lung. Ring will be paid $350,000. The settlement resolves all charges except those pending against a Waverly police officer, who allegedly performed the Tasering. WSMV has more

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Disgraced Judge's Pill Supplier Back in Custody

Christopher Lee Gibson, who gained notoriety as the pill supplier to former Knox County Judge Richard Baumgartner, is back behind bars after being arrested for a probation violation, according to the News Sentinel. Gibson had been free on bond pending appeal of a four-year sentence imposed for a probation violation that stemmed from his involvement with Baumgartner. He was arrested Monday for possession of oxycodone and failure to report the incident to his probation officer. Gibson was a felon on probation in Baumgartner's court when he began selling prescription painkillers to the judge.

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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. 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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