News

Court Clarifies Parole Procedures

The Tennessee Supreme Court clarified on Friday the procedures an inmate must follow to dispute the determination of parole eligibility for consecutive sentences, clarifying that the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) and the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole (BOPP) are separate entities with distinct roles. TDOC is responsible for calculating release eligibility dates, the court said in the case, and BOPP decides whether to release inmates on parole. Inmates may obtain judicial review of these decisions, but the procedure differs. Chattanoogan.com has more

read more »

Court 'No Shows' Slow Down Wheels of Justice

Washington County Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn says failing to show up for court is a common practice for many defendants and it not only impacts the victims, it slows the court down because of the extra paperwork when the defendant is arrested again. Guinn says that of the 685 defendants scheduled to appear in Sessions Court in the last eight days, 78 were no shows. Every time someone fails to appear, Judge Robert Lincoln says he issues a bench warrant for their arrest and the process starts again, but with higher stakes for the accused. TriCities.com has this story

read more »

Shelby DA Candidates Talk About Juvenile Court

The race for Shelby County District Attorney General is tightly contested, with Republican incumbent Amy Weirich and Democrat Carol Chumney, a former state representative, going head-to-head in the August election. Both women say they will be focusing their attention on children's rights, especially the juvenile court system in light of a recent scathing Department of Justice report. In related news, local Democratic chairman Van Turner held a joint press conference with Chumney to show the party's support of her candidacy after a recent opinion column in the Commercial Appeal questioned both’s Chumney level of campaigning and the party’s commitment to her candidacy. WMC-TV interviews both candidates

read more »

Court Clerks Prepare to Enforce License Revocation Law

East Tennessee court clerks are gearing up to enforce a mandatory license revocation law that went into effect last July. The law gave defendants owing court costs from criminal cases one year to comply or lose their drivers' licenses. Clerks have mixed feelings, saying the law will result in many more defendants driving illegally on revoked licenses, require a lot more record-keeping, but also gives them another enforcement tool in collecting court costs. Anderson County Criminal Court Judge Don Elledge doesn't seem to be looking forward to it: "It's going to be a huge mess," he says. The News Sentinel has the story

read more »

Court Vacates Order for New Trials in Baumgartner Case

The Tennessee Supreme Court today vacated an order granting new trials for three defendants convicted of first-degree murder in trials presided over by former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, saying that defendants had not shown that Baumgartner's misconduct outside the courtroom had affected their trials. The court directed the trial court to "expeditiously reconsider the defendants' motions for new trial under the legal standards" clarified by the high court. Download the order or read a story about the decision from WATE News 5

read more »

Opinions Vary on New Expungement Law

Beginning July 1, certain nonviolent ex-offenders in Tennessee can apply to have their records expunged after paying a $350 fee. A story in the Commercial Appeal shows that reaction has been mixed. Frank Cantrell, general counsel for Memphis Area Legal Services, is quoted as saying "I think most people in the legal aid community would say we needed a bill like this" since prior to its passage, "it was nearly impossible to get a conviction expunged in Tennessee, even a misdemeanor." But he adds, "The one thing that bothers me right off the bat is the $350 fee." By contrast, assistant public defender Josh Spickler says people will find the money to make it happen: "If you've qualified for this, $350 is easy. You find the $350 to get this off your record."

read more »

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

read more »

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.

read more »

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

read more »

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

read more »

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

read more »

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

read more »

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

read more »

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

read more »

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.

read more »

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

read more »

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

read more »

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

read more »

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

read more »

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

read more »

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

read more »

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.

read more »

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

read more »

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

read more »