News

High Court Hears Electric Chair Challenge in Knoxville

The Tennessee Supreme Court heard a challenge to a new state law resurrecting electrocution in capital murder cases when it convened today in Knoxville. It was not considering whether the 2014 law passes constitutional muster. Instead, the panel was to hear arguments on whether it is too soon for the 34 death row inmates suing the state over all manner of death penalty protocols to mount a challenge at all. Knoxnews.com has the story. The Associated Press issued this guide to the state's lethal injections protocols.

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Alleged Victim On Stand in Lawyers' Extortion Trial

Defense attorneys for two lawyers charged with extortion began grilling the alleged victim on cross examination in Clarksville Wednesday morning, the Leaf Chronicle reports. Attorneys Carrie Gasaway and Fletcher Long are each charged with one count of extortion after allegedly pressuring a client, Michelle Langlois, to pay money she claims she didn't owe them, and then having her arrested. The lawyers were charged after a two-year review by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

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Drug Courts Emphasize Accountability and Compassion

Bradley County celebrated the success of Tennessee Drug Courts on Tuesday as part of "National Drug Court Month." Joining with courts from across the country, the celebration shows a combination of accountability and compassion is key to rehabilitating drug-addicted people in the criminal justice system, WDEF.com reports. "What we have learned over the years is, just incarcerating people is not the answer," says Richard Hughes, 10th Judicial public defender. The program not only provides treatment to people who need it, he says "it's cheaper than to incarcerate them in the local jail or prison." WTVC has more on two of the graduates.

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Lifetime Carry, Cannabis Oil Bills Signed

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed legislation that allows Tennesseans to get a lifetime handgun-carry permit, Memphis Daily News reports. Prior to the legislature’s action this session, a permit was valid for four years. In other bill signings, WATE News 6 reports that Haslam signed a measure decriminalizes the possession of cannabis oil for treating seizures and epilepsy.

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Bomb Squad Clears Suspicious Package

A metro Nashville bomb squad cleared a suspicious package this morning, just hours after the item was reported at the Criminal Justice Center, the Tennessean reports. The center is located at 200 James Robertson Parkway, across the street from the Justice A.A. Birch Building, home to the city’s criminal courts.

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Court Rules for Police Whistleblower

The Tennessee Supreme Court today reversed a trial court’s ruling against a police officer claiming retaliatory discharge under Tennessee’s Public Protection Act. The court held that the officer had proven that the sole reason he was discharged was retaliation for his refusal to participate in or remain silent about the police chief’s involvement in fixing tickets. The trial court had found in favor of the city, which claimed the officer was fired for a variety of reasons, including violating the police department’s chain-of-command rules by reporting the matter to the mayor. Read more from the court.

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Big Payback: Youth Courts Need Your Support

Help keep the Tennessee Youth Court program alive and growing by giving to The Big Payback Campaign. The Community Foundation fundraiser begins at midnight and runs all day Tuesday. Sponsors have stepped forward to match gifts, so your generosity can have a big impact, even if you donate just $10 or $20. The Youth Courts program is losing a major source of its funding this fall, so your contributions are vital to its future. Learn more about youth courts in Tennessee.

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Criminal Law CLE Connects with Juveniles

Representing juveniles charged with crimes is the focus of this week’s Criminal Law CLE. On Friday, attendees will look at how to handle criminal cases that involve juveniles, as well as cases that involve adult clients charged with abusing and/or neglecting juveniles. Learn more or register for the the program.

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Opinion: Be Smart, Not Soft, on Crime

Leaders across the political spectrum are taking a hard look at the facts behind “over-imprisonment,” commentators Steven and Cokie Roberts write in a piece published by the Daily Herald, going on to say that the “current system of criminal justice is badly broken.” The pair cite innovations from Republican governors, such as Rick Perry in Texas and Nathan Deal in Georgia, as well as Democratic legislators that could make a difference.

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Court to Hear Challenge to Electrocution

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next week regarding whether a death row inmate can properly challenge the constitutionality of electrocution as a possible method of execution. The  issue is part of a broader suit being brought by 34 death row inmates challenging Tennessee’s death penalty protocol. That case is continuing in a lower court while this interlocutory appeal is being heard. The court will also hear six other cases when it convenes in Knoxville. Read more about them from the Administrative Office of the Courts.

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Food Truck Festival Benefits Drug Court

Eat the Street Food Truck Festival” returns to Franklin on May 8, Williamson Source reports. The annual event, which benefits the 21st Judicial District Drug Court and attracted an estimated 10,000 attendees last year, will be moving from Main Street to the recently completed Bicentennial Park on 3rd Ave. The event will run from 5 to 9 p.m. and feature more than 40 food trucks.

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Shelby DA Requests Money for 3 More Lawyers

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich told a County Commission committee today that she needs an additional $428,810 next year to pay three more lawyers and a support person. The request for an increase is her first since 2011, she said. The district attorney's office has seen defendant numbers grow from 179,179 in 2011 to 204,378 in 2014, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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DA Wants to Change Child Abuse Laws

District Attorney General Brent Cooper tells the Daily Herald that the system for handling child abuse cases needs to be reworked. One change Cooper said he and other district attorneys across the state have advocated is to the current reckless endangerment laws, specifically the actual harm doctrine. "The way the law in Tennessee is currently structured, you can’t charge a parent with abuse and neglect unless the child is actually harmed," Cooper says.

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Execution Drug at Center of High Court Debate

The U.S. Supreme Court today heard a challenge to Oklahoma’s execution protocol over the plea of death row inmates to outlaw the sedative midazolam. During the session, several justices gave voice to larger concerns. "There are other ways to kill people, regrettably, that are painless," Justice Sonia Sotomayor said. Justice Antonin Scalia said more effective drugs have been "rendered unavailable by the abolitionist movement." Justice Samuel Alito referred to a "guerrilla war" against executions by death penalty opponents working to limit the supply of more effective drugs. SCOTUSBlog offers an analysis.

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Victims’ Groups Oppose Release of Rape Evidence

Four victims’ rights groups are asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to rule against a coalition of news media organizations seeking access to text messages in a high-profile rape case involving four former Vanderbilt University football players. The Times Free Press reports that the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the Tennessean Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, the National Crime Victim Law Institute and the Sexual Assault Centers are asking the court to consider the victims before releasing information to the media.

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Appeals Courts Have Tossed 6 Shelby Cases Since August

Since August, Tennessee appeals courts have overturned the convictions of six Shelby County criminal defendants on charges that ranged from murder to bad checks. The reasons differ among the cases (use of the wrong murder weapon, lack of testimony on certain evidence, failure to produce a witness statement and inappropriate comments by a prosecutor). The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals called one of these oversights “egregious,” while the Supreme Court called another “wrong and inexplicable.” Read more from the Memphis Daily News.

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Lynch Sworn in as New AG

Loretta Lynch was sworn in as attorney general today at the Department of Justice. Vice President Joe Biden presided over the ceremony. Lynch replaces Eric Holder, who left the job Friday after six years as attorney general, the Associated Press reports.

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Rutherford DA to Investigate Alleged Misconduct in Sheriff's Office

The Rutherford County Ethics Committee has asked the District Attorney General's Office to launch an investigation into potential conflicts of interest and misconduct by Sheriff Robert Arnold, involving questionable contracts, purchases and vendor services at the county jail, the Murfreesboro Post reports. Committee members also asked the DA to determine possible conflicts of interest regarding Chief Deputy Administrator Joe Russell and Detective Maj. Bill Sharp.

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Chattanooga Judge Reflects on 18 Years on Bench

Hamilton County Judge Rebecca Stern talks with News Channel 9 about her upcoming retirement. She was appointed criminal court judge in 1997, becoming the first woman in the county to hold that position. Stern said she hopes people will remember her efforts for making the local criminal justice system better.

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Man Gets 22 Years for Trafficking in Nashville

Michael Kohlmeyer was sentenced in Nashville Thursday to 22 years in prison for trafficking a person under the age of 15 for a sex act, according to the Tennessean. The case is the first time in Tennessee a customer of sex trafficking has been prosecuted, Assistant District Attorney Antoinette Welch said. Derri Smith, executive director of End Slavery Tennessee, said that 94 minors are trafficked each month in the state.

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Visit Coffee County's New Jail on Saturday

The Coffee County Sheriff’s Department will host an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony at the county's new jail on Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. Opening ceremonies for the state-of-the-art, 400-bed facility are expected to start at 1:15 p.m. and feature a host of current and former officials who took part in the years-long process of planning, financing and constructing the $22 million project.

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Haslam Signs Guns-in-Parks Bill

Gov. Bill Haslam today signed the controversial guns-in-parks bill into law, allowing handgun-carry permit holders to go armed in all parks statewide, regardless of local ordinances. The governor, a former mayor of Knoxville, had expressed concerns about the legislation because it removed the authority of city and county governments over parks under their control, and because the parks often border school properties, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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Drug Task Force Director Fired

The director of the Eighth Judicial District Drug Task Force has been fired following an investigation into the group's practices and protocols, WBIR reports. Eighth Judicial District Attorney General Jared Effler announced Melvin Bayless's termination Thursday. Effler also is requesting that a prosecutor outside his office "determine what, if any, action should be taken in light of these investigations."

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Court Grants Review on Lesser-Included Offenses Case

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted review in a case on the issue of lesser-included offenses. The Raybin-Perky Hotlist reviews it and makes a prediction as to how it may be decided.

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Legislative Session Wraps Up

State lawmakers finished their work for the 2015 legislative session just before 10 p.m. last night, the Tennessean reports. Among the bills passed yesterday, lawmakers approved an additional exemption to the Hall tax on investment income, new rules for ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, and the use of cannabis oil to treat seizures. Among the bills that failed to advance were measures allowing undocumented immigrants’ children who grew up in Tennessee to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities (which lost by one vote), allowing residents of parts of cities to de-annex territory, and banning alcohol sales to people with three or more drunken driving convictions. See a break down of more legislative winners and losers from the Associated Press.

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