News

Knox County a Finalist for Pre-Trial Risk Assessment Program

Knox County is a finalist for Pre-Trial Risk Assessment, a pilot program aimed at helping the county assess when to release people who have been arrested and are facing trial. The program considers factors like criminal history and how stable a defendant’s home situation is. Ten states and the federal court system already use the program, WATE reports.

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Nashville DA Will Not Face Criminal Charges

Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk will not face criminal prosecution related to his employment at the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference (TDAGC) while he was waiting to be sworn in as district attorney. The Attorney General’s office released a copy of its investigation today, the Tennessean reports. While the review found that Funk did benefit from the job -- receiving pension, salary and health insurance benefits for "virtually no work" -- and that he violated the law by continuing to defend criminal cases through his private practice while working for the conference, it also found that Funk had "... justifiably relied on the advice of Conference personnel with respect to the position requirements, his ongoing criminal defense practice and the submission of all necessary and proper employment paperwork relative to his position there."

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Parents Sue Brentwood Church Following Sexual Assault

A Nashville-area family has filed a lawsuit against Fellowship Bible Church of Brentwood after alleging that a teenage volunteer sexually assaulted their three-year old child in a church bathroom. The teen has pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual battery, according to Nashville News 5. The civil suit alleges that the church did not perform adequate background checks or provide sufficient training to protect children, and sought to hide the incident from other families.

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Report: Recovery Courts Yield Better Results

An evaluation of Tennessee’s recovery courts – including drug courts, mental health courts and veterans courts – shows that these settings succeed in putting defendants on the path to a more successful and rewarding future. According to the Chattanoogan, the study found that 81 percent of graduates became employed or saw improvement in their job status, 28 percent of homeless participants found their own place to live, and 14 percent completed a GED or secured an advance degree. 

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Juvenile Court Reforms Slowly Helping, Leaders Say

Two years into reform of the Shelby County juvenile justice system, leaders warn that there needs to be more contact with teenagers before and after they enter juvenile court, not just while they are in custody. “The real effort long term has to be geared toward prevention, toward stopping the school-to-jail pipeline,” says Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush. Others argue more resources are needed for job creation or long term contacts that move teenagers away from gangs, the Memphis Daily News reports.

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Haslam to Hear From 26 Agencies Before Crafting Budget

Gov. Bill Haslam is kicking off a week of budget hearings today, the Associated Press reports. Among the 26 agencies that will testify are the Departments of Safety and Children’s Services on Tuesday, two education agencies on Wednesday, the Department of Correction on Thursday and the Department of Transportation on Friday. The Memphis Daily News has the story.

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Appeals Court Vacates Ruling on Bail Bond Rules

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has found that Shelby County Chancery Court has no jurisdiction over rules that criminal court judges make for bail bond companies, the Memphis Daily News reports. The appellate court reversed a decision by Chancellor Jim Kyle that barred criminal court judges from enforcing a drug-testing requirement in recently updated rules. The Tennessee Attorney General’s office represented 10 criminal court judges in the action and argued Kyle’s ruling was trying to “hinder a sister court in the conduct of its business…”

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Study Shows Women of Color Bear Much of Burden for Incarceration

CNNMoney looks at the "steep cost of incarceration on women of color," using data from a CNN/Kaiser Family Foundation poll on race in America, which takes a look at women who are shouldering the financial burden of incarceration of a loved one, particularly in black communities. Fifty-five percent of black Americans said they either had been incarcerated themselves or had a close friend or family member who had been incarcerated compared to 36 percent of whites and 39 percent of Hispanics. "It's all on us, the mothers, the wives, the sisters, the girlfriends," said Gale Muhammad, the founder and president of the prison advocacy group Women Who Never Give Up.

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Judge Questions 66 Potential Jurors for Gray Trial

Jury selection for the first police officer to go to trial in Freddie Gray's death began today in Baltimore with a judge questioning potential jurors about their knowledge of the case, which led to widespread protests and rioting and added fuel to the Black Lives Matter movement. Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams conducted initial questioning in his courtroom but planned to interview 66 prospective jurors in a private conference room, an indication of how difficult the selection process could be for the high-profile trial, the Associated Press reports.

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Madison County Jail Expansion Considered

The city of Jackson could help finance a portion of a Madison County Criminal Justice Complex expansion in order for the building to house the Jackson City Court, according to the city and county mayors. Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist said talks are in the early phases because the county has not yet decided what it will do with the jail. The jail has undergone numerous studies from outside organizations to find a workable solution to its overcrowding problem, the Jackson Sun reports.

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AOC Names Harmon New General Counsel

Tennessee Attorney General senior counsel Rachel Harmon will join the Administrative Office of the Courts next month as general counsel for the judiciary. Harmon comes to the AOC after nine years with the AG's office, where she served in the criminal appellate division and the civil litigation and state services division. As general counsel of the AOC, she will head the legal division, oversee administrative functions and support trial and appellate judges across the state.

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Bill Would Increase Jail Time for Carjackers

Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, plans to file a bill to increase prison time for carjackers in Tennessee, The Commercial Appeal reports. The proposal will require those convicted of carjacking to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence behind bars before being released on parole. District Attorney Gen. Amy Weirich supports the legislation. “This office would support any effort to enhance carjacking punishment by making it a no-parole offense," she said. "Those who would commit such a dangerous crime should be required to serve every day of their sentence upon conviction."

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Error on Jury Form Results in New Trial

An error on a jury form prompted the the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals to grant a new trial to a Hendersonville man serving 10 years in prison for the death of a nine-month-old girl. The verdict form only listed aggravated assault without specifying whether jurors believe the assault was reckless or intentional; Randall Beaty is serving a longer sentence for intentional aggravated assault, Hendersonville Star News reports. “It is certainly likely that the result is going to be a lesser sentence because of the nature of the Court of Criminal Appeals decision,” Sumner County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Dean said.

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Most Date Rapes Not Committed by Serial Predators, Study Finds

A new study reveals the majority of college rapes are committed by men who are not serial predators, challenging that accepted perception. “Exclusive emphasis on serial predation to guide risk identification, judicial response and rape-prevention programs is misguided,” Kevin Swartout, a lead researcher on the Georgia State University study, said. “To deter college rape, prevention should be initiated before, and continue during college.” Read more from WSMV.

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Extra Court Fine Will Fund Washington County Family Justice Center

The Washington County Commission unanimously voted to assess an additional $45 in court fines for people convicted of certain criminal charges in the county, WCYB reports. Money collected from the Victim Assistance Fee, set to go into effect in early 2016, will go toward funding the new Family Justice Center. "That's part of paying for your crime, so I don't have a problem with it at all," Washington County District Attorney General Tony Clark said.

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Major Violent Crimes Drop in Memphis, Shelby County

Major violent crimes – including murder, rape, aggravated assault and robbery – dropped in Shelby County and in Memphis from January through October compared to the same time period a year ago, according to statistics released by the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission. The Memphis Daily News reports major violent crimes in Memphis are down 33 percent since 2006.

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$5M Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Knox County, Jailers

Attorney Lance Baker on Monday filed a $5 million federal lawsuit on behalf of former Knox County inmate Louis Flack against the county and six county sheriff’s office jailers, who were involved in an alleged beating of the mentally-ill Flack. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that the lawsuit also claims Flack was strapped into a restraint chair that is the subject of another civil-rights lawsuit filed earlier this year.

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Report: Campbell County Judge Charging for Unused Defense Services

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that Campbell County General Sessions Court Judge Amanda Sammons is charging people a fee for court-appointed counsel even if they do not use the service. Sammons said that in each incident, the families initially asked for court-appointed counsel before choosing to hire private lawyers. “The AOC fusses at us if we do not collect that fee. In order for the indigent defense [system] to work statewide, that fee must be paid,” Sammons said. But others say that the law establishing the fee as well as court rules provide a mechanism to waive the fee.

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Hamilton County Drug Court Marks 10-year Anniversary

The Times Free Press shares the successes – and difficult failures – of the Hamilton County Drug Court, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. Judge Tom Greenholtz spent time Monday thanking the coordinators, medical partners, former graduates and former judge Rebecca Stern.

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Consumers More Vulnerable to Cybercrime, Norton Says

A new report released by Norton, a cybersecurity company, reveals in the 12 months to September, more than 348 million identities were exposed as a result of data breaches. Norton says consumers globally spent $150 billion in the past year dealing with the issues related to cybercrime. Read more from the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog.

Training Conference for Parents of At-Risk Males

The Conference for Single Parents Rearing At-Risk Males, a new three-day program implemented by Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway, will offer training for 250 parents of at-risk males referred to Building Families and Communities Missions. The program is planned for Dec. 11-13 in Nashville. For more information, including a program schedule, contact BFC Missions at 615-498-4669.

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6th Circuit: Ex-Deputy Not Entitled to Summary Judgment

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling by Judge Harry S. Mattice that said former Bradley County deputy Dustin Patrick was not entitled to summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity, The Times Free Press reports. Friday's ruling means the case will go to trial, but no trial date has been set. Patrick shot Armetta Foster in 2011 after she allegedly slashed him with a knife and drove off in his patrol car; Foster later died from the gunshot wounds. Foster’s father filed a federal civil lawsuit claiming that Patrick used aggressive force.

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Wrongfully Imprisoned Lebanon Man Awaits State Payment

Lawrence McKinney has yet to receive a penny of the $1 million the Innocence Project says he is owed for spending 31 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The Lebanon Democrat reports that the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole has not exonerated McKinney and without the exoneration, he cannot receive his compensation. “I’m working with an attorney from Memphis. We’re just waiting to see what the next step is," McKinney said.

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Opinion: 'Tough on Crime' Ads Impact Perception of Judges

An article in the Atlantic reports on a common thread in recent state supreme court campaigns: whether judges are sufficiently "tough on crime." Alicia Bannon with the Brennan Center for Justice writes that more than half of TV ad spots that aired in recent state supreme court elections either criticized or praised the records of judges and candidates on criminal justice issues. “Behind these ads are special interest groups—many with clear financial interests in cases that come before state courts—who appear to be coalescing around a strategy to exploit public-safety issues." That leaves judges less likely to side with criminal defendants and the public less confident in a fair judiciary, she argues.

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Investigation Shows Ex-offenders Continue Paying for Crimes

An investigative report from WREG finds that ex-offenders continue paying for their punishment through complex fines and fees associated with the criminal justice system long after they have completed serving their time. A basic fee schedule does not exist in Memphis, according to WREG, and the amount of fines and fees vary by crime. "I don't disagree that people shouldn't foot the bill if they commit a crime, [but] we've gone well beyond that," says Josh Spickler, executive director of Just City -- a local group committed to reform. Spickler says the group plans to conduct research on the issue, including how the fines impact taxpayers.

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