News

Judge Orders Ex-Rutherford Sheriff’s Chief to Forfeit JailCigs Profits

The convicted former Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office administration chief Joe Russell must forfeit the more than $52,000 he made as a part of the JailCigs scheme, The Tennessean reports. District Court Judge Marvin Aspen ruled in the case, and ordered a hearing on Tuesday to sentence Russell. Russell pleaded guilty in January to wire fraud, honest services fraud and extortion. 
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TBJ Columnists Cover Crime, History and the Phones That Run Our Lives

Wade V. Davies’s criminal law column this month is about the Mens Rea Reform Act of 2017 and how it is possible to be convicted of a criminal offense without having meant to do anything wrong. Russell Fowler writes about Thomas E. Dewey, “America’s Greatest Prosecutor,” and Bill Haltom takes a humorous look at the new facial recognition technology on iPhones.

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State Gets Failing Grade in National Bail Report

A recent report scored Tennessee at the bottom of the country for the state’s pretrial detention and bail practices. The Pretrial Justice Institute evaluated states on the rate of unconvicted people in jails, the percentage of people living in jurisdictions that utilize evidence-based pretrial assessment and the prevalence of use of secured money bail. The use of secured money to post bail is an especially significant factor, the study indicates. “Poor and working class people will remain behind bars while those who are wealthy go home, regardless of their likelihood of success.” Fox 17 News has more

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Opioid Commission Comes Out for Drug Courts

A system of nationwide drug courts would help place substance abusers into treatment rather than sending them into the prison system, a new report from the President’s Opioid Commission reported yesterday. That sweeping change was one of the boldest of the 56 recommendations made by the panel, headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, LocalMemphis.com reports from CNN. "It's an ambitious recommendation but one that we think would … get help to people who need it in order to slow down recidivism, and … lower the federal prison population."

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Help Solve Court Reporter Shortage in Tennessee

Like many states, Tennessee has been experiencing a shortage of court reporters in our criminal courts. Adding to this problem is the closure of several specialized court reporter schools, which leaves us without in-state training for these good-paying jobs for qualified, trained reporters. 
 
 
New and innovative ways to address the shortage of reporters must be studied to fulfill the critical role these reporters play in our criminal justice system. Due process rights, including an official record in criminal trials, are insured by the Constitution and crucial to the right to a fair trial. 
 
To help solve this problem, the Tennessee Supreme Court recently created a task force of judges, clerks and court reporters, to assist the Administrative Office of the Courts in studying the issue and making recommendations regarding innovative ways to address this shortage.
 
With a grant from the Office of Criminal Justice Programs, the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Court Reporter Task Force have begun developing a pilot educational program with the goal of increasing the number of well-trained court reporters for our courts and our citizens.
 
To assist in this effort, the TBA Criminal Justice Section is soliciting comments that you may have on this subject. Please take a moment to complete this very brief survey, which will be reviewed by the Criminal Justice Section Executive Council to determine if the section will take a position on the issues involved.
 
Please respond by Nov. 6. Thanks for your help with this important endeavor.
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Hamilton County Judge Allows Deposition of Witness with Brain Cancer

In the case of the 2000 murder of Sarah Perry, lawyers will travel to Michigan to depose an important witness who is dying from brain cancer and might not make it until the trial, the Times Free Press reports. Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz authorized the deposition of witness Michael Penetrics this morning. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys for accused murderer Jason Sanford say they want to speak with Penetrics under oath while they still have the chance.
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20-Year-Old Murder Conviction Called into Question, Witnesses Recant Testimony

The Nashville Scene this week profiled the case of Cyrus Wilson, a 43-year-old man who was convicted of murder more than two decades ago and has been fighting to see his conviction overturned. In 2013, two of the state’s witnesses in the 1992 case came forward and recanted the testimony they gave. Both were minors when they originally gave the testimony, and claim that they lied at the time under pressure from a Nashville police detective. Wilson had a hearing in Judge Seth Norman’s courtroom in Nashville earlier this week to revisit his case. Norman’s ruling isn’t expected for 60 to 90 days.
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Changes in Memphis Police Review Draws Fire

The decision to scale back a federal review of the Memphis Police Department is drawing criticism in some quarters. "I believe this is a new day, and I don't believe it's going to be a better day," defense lawyer Murray Wells told WMC Action News 5. Wells represents Darrius Stewart's father. Stewart, 19, was shot and killed by an MPD officer back in 2015. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland defended the move. "I don't believe the program has changed. I believe the wording of the agreement has changed," Strickland said. "We've kept our position the same. We wanted a review of the community policing and a review of the use of force.”

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Governor to Fill 29th Judicial District DA Position

The Governor’s office is now accepting applications to fill the District Attorney General position for the 29th Judicial District, which includes Dyer and Lake counties. The opening comes with the retirement of C. Phillip Bivens, which will be effective Jan. 1. Attorneys interested in the position should submit a resume and cover letter to Dwight Tarwater, Counsel to the Governor, State Capitol, First Floor, 600 Charlotte Ave., Nashville, TN 37243 or by email to dwight.tarwater@tn.gov by 5 p.m. CST on Nov. 13. The appointment will last until the August 2018 election.

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4 Apply for 30th District Judicial Vacancy

The Trial Court Vacancy Commission will consider four applicants when it meets on Nov. 6 in Memphis to select nominees for the Criminal Court vacancy in the 30th Judicial District, representing Shelby County. The vacancy was created by the retirement of Judge James C. Beasley Jr. The applicants are Dean DeCandia of Memphis, Robert Harris of Germantown, Jennifer J. Mitchell of Memphis and Jennifer S. Nichols of Memphis. The commission will interview the applicants at the Marriott Memphis East, 5795 Poplar Avenue. The meeting will include a public hearing starting at 9 a.m. The commission is expected to vote immediately following the interviews and forward three names to Governor Bill Haslam for his consideration.
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DSC Moves to Protect Records in Brentwood Academy Suit

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is fighting Brentwood Academy’s efforts to obtain documents, correspondence and records related to allegations made by a boy who is suing the school and other students accused of assaulting him, the Tennessean reports. The department has a statutory obligation to maintain the confidentiality of its records, a DCS spokesman told the newspaper. School officials say they should have access to the information as part of the discovery process. A court hearing on the DCS motion is scheduled for Nov. 9. 

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Court Affirms Especially Aggravated Robbery Conviction

In an opinion filed today, the Supreme Court of Tennessee clarified when a serious bodily injury must occur during a robbery to elevate the crime to especially aggravated robbery. In State of Tennessee v. Antonio Henderson, the Supreme Court determined a serious bodily injury suffered by a victim of a robbery must be sustained during the robbery in order for the enhanced charge and punishment to apply. In deciding when a robbery is over, the Court concluded a theft is completed when a defendant has taken all of the property he intended to steal.
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8 Cases Granted Review by Supreme Court

The Tennessee Supreme Court has recently granted review in eight cases, including civil cases that involve wrongful death plaintiffs, health care liability pre-suit notices, and accrual of civil actions. Criminal cases include sex offender probation, error coram nobis, warrantless searches, retroactivity of constitutional challenges, and creation of child pornography. The Raybin Supreme Court Hot List reviews the cases and offers predictions.

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Shelby Sheriff’s Office Wins $350K Grant to Reduce Jail Population

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office won a $350,000 MacArthur Foundation grant to assist in reducing the jail population of low-level nonviolent offenders by 24 percent over the next two years, The Commercial Appeal reports. The grant seeks to reduce the jail population without hurting public safety, according to Shelby County Chief Deputy Floyd Bonner. This is the third grant Shelby County has received to support these efforts.
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Court Issues Proposed Rules Amendments, Asks for Comment

The Tennessee Supreme Court has published the annual package of recommendations from the Advisory Commission on Rules of Procedure and Evidence, the 2018 Proposed Rules Amendments. Several TBA sections are reviewing the recommendations for possible comment. Comments are due to the court no later than Nov. 22.

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SCOTUS to Hear Case of Death Row Inmate Unable to Stop Lawyer from Conceding Guilt

The U.S. Supreme Court today announced it will consider whether it is unconstitutional for defense counsel to concede a defendant’s guilt over his express objection, the ABA Journal reports. The question centers around the case of Robert Leroy McCoy, a Louisiana death row inmate who objected to his lawyer’s suggestion to admit guilt and accept a plea deal. His lawyer, Larry English, argued that it was his ethical duty to save McCoy’s life, and therefore admitted McCoy’s guilt with the goal of sparing him from the death penalty.
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Adams Gets Life Plus 50 Years for Rape and Murder of Holly Bobo

Zach Adams was sentenced to life in prison without parole plus 50 years for the kidnapping, rape and murder of Holly Bobo, ABC News reports. Judge C. Creed McGinley said that Adams made a deal with prosecutors minutes prior to his scheduled sentencing hearing on Saturday, allowing him to avoid the death penalty. Adams was convicted of murder, especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape on Friday.
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Zach Adams Found Guilty of the Murder of Holly Bobo

After coming to the judge with questions during deliberations, a Hardin County jury has found Zach Adams guilty of the first degree murder of Holly Bobo, The Tennessean reports. Adams was also found guilty of seven other charges, including especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape. Closing arguments in the case were given yesterday. Adams will not be sentenced today; the court will recess and resume tomorrow at 10 a.m. to begin the penalty phase of the trial, and ultimately determine if he will be sentenced to the death penalty.  Adams was arrested in 2014 for the 2011 murder of Bobo.
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Second Mistrial Declared in Case of Murdered Pregnant Woman

For the second time, a judge declared a mistrial in the case of Norman Eugene Clark, accused of killing his girlfriend and their unborn son, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Criminal Court Judge Steven Sword set an Oct. 20 status hearing to determine whether the state will try Clark for a third time, after the second trial’s jury deadlocked on all counts. Victim Brittany Eldridge was killed inside her bedroom in 2011. The defense argues evidence against Clark is circumstantial.
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AOC Director Tate Named to National Opioid Task Force

Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) Director Deborah Taylor Tate and Indiana Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush were appointed co-chairs of the newly created Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) National Opioid Task Force. The Task Force will find solutions, examine current efforts and make recommendations to address the opioid epidemic’s ongoing impact on the justice system. "We hope Tennessee — through Director Tate’s strong leadership and background in mental health — can play a pivotal role in national solutions," said Marie Williams, Commissioner of Tennessee Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

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Eyewitness Changes Testimony in Chattanooga Homicide Case

An eyewitness to the Lookout Valley triple homicide case changed his testimony on the witness stand today, the Times Free Press reports. Brandon Jackson told law enforcement that he saw a vehicle headed towards his family’s trailer home and he witnessed Derek Morse get out of the car and head toward three men who were killed that night. However, on the stand today Jackson said he couldn’t remember giving the statement.
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U.S. Senate Leaders to Reintroduce Criminal Justice Reform Bill

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee members confirmed Tuesday that they plan to reintroduce the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which increased judicial discretion in sentencing, reduced sentences for some nonviolent drug offenders and expanded reentry services for prisoners, the Brennan Center for Justice reports. The bill has seen bipartisan support, with committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., taking part in the announcement.
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Felony Count Changes for Bradley County Sheriff

Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson faces 12 felony charges, up from the six he was indicted with in July, after his attorney challenged the wording of the original charges, the Times Free Press reports. Watson’s attorney, James F. Logan Jr., said that the 12 felony counts are "merely a reformulation of the prior charges against him," which in their original form could have lead to non-unanimous guilty verdicts against his client. The charges are related to falsified or altered vehicle titles.
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Court Denies Roof’s Request to Replace His Indian, Jewish Lawyers

The Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a request from white supremacist Dylann Roof, who asked for new lawyers because his court-appointed ones are Indian and Jewish, the ABA Journal reports. Roof, who was convicted of the mass murder of nine black churchgoers, filed the pro se motion on Monday because he said the lawyers were his “political and biological enemies” and it would be impossible for them to represent him fairly. The court denied his request the following day.
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Cheatham County Inmate, Deputies Reach Settlement in Tasing Lawsuit

A former Cheatham County inmate who sued three deputies for using excessive force has dropped his civil lawsuit, NewsChannel 5 reports. Ben Raybin, Jordan Norris's attorney, said his client reached a confidential settlement in the case. The lawsuit alleged that Cheatham County deputies used force amounting to torture when they tased Norris multiple times while he was strapped into a chair. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation found that they had used a stun gun on Norris at least four times.
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