News

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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6th Circuit Affirms Donald Decision

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has upheld the life sentence of a Jackson man who pleaded guilty to exploitation of minors and trafficking in child pornography. Stephen Lynn Hammonds had argued that his sentence by U.S. District Court Judge Bernice Donald was unreasonable and excessive. Writing for the appeals court, Judge Julia Gibbons said Donald did not abuse her discretion: "The district court did consider the mitigating factors in the case but found, appropriately and within its discretion, that concerns about the seriousness of the crime and the need to protect the public were paramount." Read an analysis of the case on Chattanoogan.com or download the opinion

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Judge, Prosecutors at Odds Over Retrials

Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood ruled yesterday that former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner had not affirmed the jury verdict in the case of Paul Jerome Johnson Jr., found guilty in the July 2008 death of an 18-month-old child. Saying he could not serve as the so-called "13th juror" required by law to affirm verdicts, Blackwood granted Johnson a new trial. If the decision stands, it likely means that new trials also will be granted for child rapist Jayson Bailey, mall shooter William Johnson and kidnapper Tallie Lee Riley. But prosecutors disagree that Baumgartner did not fulfill the legal requirement and say they are taking the case to the Court of Criminal Appeals. The News Sentinel has more

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MICHELLE LAMBERT v. STATE OF TENNESSEE

The General Sessions Court of Shelby County found the petitioner, Michelle Lambert, in contempt for failing to comply with the orders of the court and sentenced her to five days in jail.

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Attorney 1: 

Robert Jones, District Public Defender; and Phyllis Aluko, Assistant Public Defender, for the appellant, Michelle Lambert.

Attorney 2: 

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; J. Ross Dyer, Senior Counsel; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Garland Erguden, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: 
GLENN

3rd Washington Co. Court Would Create Money, Space Problems, DA says

If the new judge approved by the Washington County Commission is also approved by the state legislature, District Attorney General Tony Clark says he doesn't know where money for the related staff will come from -- or where they will sit. When the state funds new DA positions, the District Attorney General’s Conference decides what districts need those positions the most. Clark said he's requested positions in the past, but those haven't been approved for the past three years. “I have 19 employees in an area designed for probably 10,” and only one bathroom, he said. “I don’t have space for anybody else.” The Johnson City Press has more

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Tennessee's Take on Strip Searches

Just days after the U.S. Supreme Court gave the OK for jailers to strip search anyone who’s arrested — regardless of how minor their offense — the sheriff in Tipton County decided that every incoming detainee will be strip searched, the Tennessean reports. In Nashville, Sheriff Daron Hall says they do not strip search routinely, but have people change out of their street clothes behind a curtain turn their clothes over to officials. He says his department is not going to change its policy as a result of the court’s ruling, but said there does "need to be a consistent application of how you search, when you search." The City Paper has more

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Commissioners Out of 'Probable Cause' Business

Shelby County judicial commissioners are out of the business of holding probable cause hearings for suspects arrested by Memphis police and the Shelby County Sheriff's Office by order of the General Sessions Court. An appeal is expected. The issue arose when the Criminal Court of Appeals called into question the way some suspects are held for 48 hours before they are formally charged. The ruling came in a decision to order a new trial for a murder defendant. Learn more in the Memphis Daily News

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Haslam Announces Anti-Meth Campaign

Gov. Bill Haslam today rolled out a statewide campaign designed to inform Tennesseans about the consequences of violating the "I Hate Meth Act," which took effect last July. The announcement took place in coordination with the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association meeting in Nashville. "The goal of this campaign is to communicate the harsh consequences of violating our anti-meth law," Haslam said. It targets counties in the state that have seen the highest number of children removed from homes because of meth-related incidents and the greatest number of meth lab seizures. Read more on Chattanoogan.com

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Funding Cut Ends Jail-Based Drug Treatment

A residential program to help jail inmates fight drug addiction and take accountability for their actions has ended after federal funding for it was slashed. The Residential Substance Abuse Treatment, or RSAT, operated in the Washington County Detention Center for nearly 12 years, but without the grant of $100,000 from the Department of Justice each year the program is over – much to the disappointment of judges and local law enforcement. "We had about 300 successfully graduate from RSAT," Sheriff Ed Graybeal said Monday. "We were the only one in the state still operating the program at a county facility." The Johnson City Press has more

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High Court: Strip Searches OK

Jailers may perform invasive strip searches on people arrested even for minor offenses, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday. The court's conservative majority declared that security trumps privacy in an often dangerous environment. In the 5-4 decision, the court ruled against a New Jersey man who was strip-searched in two county jails after his arrest on a warrant for an unpaid fine that he had, in reality, paid. The Tennessean has this AP story

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Haslam Budget Update Adds Money for Local Jails

Gov. Bill Haslam announced Monday a budget amendment that includes funding for a more rapid decrease in a food tax cut and extra money for local jails. Increasing the state's daily payment to local jails by $2 a day is designed in part, Haslam says, to help break an impasse over his proposal to require incarceration for repeat domestic violence offenders. The $4 million jails reimbursement provision is the most expensive item in Haslam's budget plan. He also announced that weekend negotiations resulted in an agreement from the Tennessee State Employees Association to support his plan to overhaul state civil service rules. The Tennessean has this AP story

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Judge Blocks Importation of Execution Drug

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon yesterday blocked the importation of a drug used in executions on grounds that the Food and Drug Administration ignored the law in allowing it into this country. Leon sided with lawyers for death row inmates in Tennessee, Arizona and California who want to keep out sodium thiopental because it is an unapproved drug manufactured overseas. The Obama Administration argued it had discretion to allow unapproved drugs into the United States. Read more from the AP in the News Sentinel

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Appointed Attorneys Get Paid More Often in Greene Co.

Greene County leads the state in fees collected from defendants who are assigned court-appointed lawyers, the Greeneville Sun reports. General Sessions Court Judge Kenneth Bailey Jr. said he and Criminal Court Judge John Dugger Jr. make sure that defendants pay their fair share and do not burden taxpayers. "I feel like especially if people can find the money to bond out of jail, they need to find the money to pay for their appointed attorney," Bailey said.

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Baumgartner Under Federal Investigation

Former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner is now under federal probe, officials confirmed Friday. "The case remains open and ongoing, and TBI agents are continuing to investigate Baumgartner," federal prosecutor spokeswoman Kristin Helm said in an email. "Specifically, we are looking at possible federal violations with the U.S. Attorney's Office." Read more in the News Sentinel

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Tennessee also has 'Stand Your Ground' Law

Tennessee is among 23 states that have sweeping self-defense laws like Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law that has come into focus with the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin outside of Orlando. In 2005, Florida became the first state to explicitly expand a person's right to use deadly force for self-defense. Under that law, and a similar version in Tennessee, deadly force is justified if a person is gravely threatened, in the home or "any other place where he or she has a right to be." There is no duty to retreat, and once self-defense is invoked, the burden is on the prosecution to disprove the claim. Pro Publica looks at the issue

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Court: Defendants Have Right to Counsel in Plea Bargains

For the first time, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that defendants have a constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel in plea bargains. Its 5-4 decision today also declared that when a lawyer acts unethically or gives clearly wrong advice, the defendant may be entitled to a second chance at accepting a plea offer. Writing on behalf of the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy argued that since 99 percent of all convictions are the result of plea bargains, not trials, the right to adequate assistance of counsel guaranteed in the Constitution cannot exclude the central role plea bargaining plays. NPR has this analysis

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