News

Armstrong’s Lawyer: Verdict is Legally Inconsistent

Former state Rep. Joe Armstrong’s lawyer is arguing in a new motion that if his client was not found guilty of trying to evade taxes, then he cannot be found guilty of filing a false tax return, Knoxnews reports. The motion also argues that prosecutors were required to present evidence distinguishing the crime of tax evasion from that of filing a false tax return, which they did not do. Lawyers are asking the court to judicially acquit Armstrong of the felony charge or grant a new trial. Armstrong, a Knoxville Democrat who served 14 terms in the state legislature, was on trial earlier this month in connection with the handling of income taxes on a $321,000 windfall from a cigarette tax stamp deal he made with a Knoxville tobacco wholesaler in 2007.

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AG Clarifies Opinion on Red Light Cameras

Expanding on an opinion released in July, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery clarified Monday that cities may contract with red-light camera companies and employees of those companies may view the video footage without violating state law. Under current law, only a certified police officer can determine whether laws were broken, but since vendors engaging in sorting or pre-screening of video footage “are not making a determination that a violation has occurred” their involvement is allowable. Read the opinion and a story about the decision in Knoxnews.

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Public Defender Brings Own Prison Experience to Job

Keeda Haynes spent five years in prison. Now, 14 years later, she is working for the Nashville Public Defender’s Office helping others maneuver the criminal justice system and, hopefully, keeping them from “being swallowed up by an unfeeling system.” Peter Strianse, the lawyer who defended her on the criminal charges and gave her a job after she was released from prison, says the experience makes her a unique advocate. “She knows what it’s like to be incarcerated, to feel helpless and have to rely on a lawyer.” The Nashville Scene chronicles her journey.

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Funding Jeopardized by New Juvenile DUI Law

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper is criticizing Tennessee Republicans for changes to the state’s underage drunken driving law that could lead to a loss of $60 million in federal highway funding, the Associated Press reports. The new law divides teens into two groups: 16 and 17 year olds, who remain subject to the federally-recommended limit of 0.02 blood alcohol content and 18 to 20 year olds, which have an allowable limit of 0.08 percent but are now subject to the same penalties as adult drivers. The bill’s sponsor said legislators were not warned of a potential conflict with federal standards but would work to address the issue. Humphrey on the Hill has the story.

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Jail So Crowded Officers Told to Keep Inmates in Patrol Cars

The Bradley County Jail was so overcrowded last night that officials declined to accept any more prisoners and told patrol officers they may need to keep inmates in their cars overnight, Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. A notice sent to officers said we “will not be taking anyone in on warrants tonight. There are 75 inmates in booking with nowhere to house them. Patrol officers will have to sit in [their] cars until we have room. Which may be until court tomorrow.”

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Memphis Official Proposes $50 Fine for Pot Possession

On the heels of the Nashville Metro Council’s initial vote in support of decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, Memphis City Council member Berlin Boyd says he plans to introduce a similar ordinance when the council’s Public Safety Committee meets next week. The proposal would institute a civil penalty and possible community service for knowingly possessing less than one-half ounce of marijuana. Local Memphis reports on the story.

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2016 Criminal Justice Handbook Now Available

The 2016 edition of the Criminal Justice Handbook is now available from the Administrative Office of the Courts. The handbook contains more than 600 pages of Tennessee criminal statutes and court rules and is available as a printed volume or on a CD. It is updated each year to reflect changes made by the legislature and the courts. The book includes chapters 11 through 17 of Title 39 as well as sections on the Sentencing Act, Rules of Criminal Procedure and Rules of Evidence. The appendix includes sections on DUI, warrants and summons, bail and a list of offenses by criminal class and code. Find out how to order a copy now.

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Judge Plans 10th Judicial District Mental Health Court

Circuit Court Judge Andrew Freiberg has announced plans to create a new mental health court in the 10th Judicial District, the Cleveland Banner reports. Freiberg said the move recognizes the need to rehabilitate individuals through appropriate mental health treatment as well as the limitations of the traditional criminal justice system in dealing with repeat non-violent offenders with mental health issues. The court, set to launch in January, will serve every county in the district, including Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk.

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Nashville Marijuana Bill Survives 1st Vote

A proposal to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana survived an unexpected first vote by the Metro Nashville Council Tuesday night, the Tennessean reports. The group voted 32-4, with one abstention, to advance a bill that would decrease the penalty for knowingly possessing or exchanging a half-ounce or less of marijuana to a $50 civil fine or 10 hours of community service. Under state law, individuals convicted of possessing less than one ounce of marijuana face a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

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Man Pleads Guilty in Loniel Greene Shooting

A 20-year-old man accused of shooting former Metro councilman Loniel Greene pleaded guilty Wednesday to aggravated assault and was placed on supervised probation for three years. Under the plea deal, Brandon Hunt-Clark also must participate in a “violence interruption” class, the Tennessean reports. Greene, who resigned from the city council in January, is facing legal action of his own. Last month, he pleaded not guilty to a count of coercion of a witness in a case involving his cousin.

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VW Likely to Face Criminal Penalties

Volkswagen is expected to face criminal and civil penalties for circumventing Clean Air Act standards, but prosecutors have not yet decided the specific criminal charges they might bring against the automaker, according to the Wall Street Journal. The paper reported today that the Justice Department is negotiating a settlement with the car maker but those familiar with the matter said there will be “significant” financial penalties. The Chattanooga Times Free Press has a summary of the article.

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DA: Increasing Juvenile Age Would Have Broad Complications

Responding to a proposal by Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael to expand the jurisdiction of state juvenile courts to individuals up to 25 years old, District Attorney General Amy Weirich said such a change would prompt a long, complicated process. The issues that would need to be addressed include expanding the number of personnel, facilities and treatment programs. Michael acknowledged his proposal would prompt a “massive change” and that he does not have easy answers on how to pay for it, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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Moreland Named New Sessions Court Presiding Judge

Nashville General Sessions Judge Casey Moreland has been selected as the new presiding judge of the court. He will replace Judge Rachel Bell on Sept. 1. The court meets every August to select a new presiding judge. Bell had reportedly made it clear she was not interested in re-appointment. “I'm very proud he will be my successor,” Bell told the Tennessean. “He brings a wealth of knowledge, leadership qualities and a strong commitment to our general sessions courts.” Moreland became a judge in 1998 and served as presiding judge from 2003-2006. In 2003, he founded treatment court, a special program focused on providing rehabilitation to offenders.

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300 Inmates Moved out of Downtown Jail

The Davidson County Sheriff’s office on Friday transferred 300 inmates from the downtown Nashville criminal justice center to a facility on Harding Place. After 34 years of processing and housing criminals, the jail now sits empty, but workers will soon begin demolishing it with the goal of replacing it within three to four years. The new jail will provide needed features, including a separate place to house the mentally ill, who long have been housed with criminals. Fox 17 has the story.

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Indigent Task Force Holds Final Hearing

The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Indigent Representation Task Force held its final listening session today in Franklin, hearing from more than a dozen members of the private bar and parents of children in the child welfare system. The task force will meet in September to consider all comments and recommendations submitted during the tour and discuss the timing of presenting its own findings.

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DEA Rejects Downgrading of Marijuana

The Obama administration has denied a bid by two Democratic governors to reconsider how marijuana is treated under federal drug control laws, National Public Radio reports. The move keeps the drug in the most restrictive category for law enforcement purposes. The DEA said the decision was based on the FDA’s finding that marijuana has no currently accepted medical use and remains highly vulnerable to abuse as the most commonly used illicit drug.

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‘Making a Murderer’ Lawyers to Speak in Nashville

Defense lawyers Dean Strang and Jerry Buting, known for their Emmy-nominated Netflix series “Making a Murderer,” will speak Sunday at 7 p.m. in Nashville. The pair will wrap up a multicity speaking tour at TPAC’s James K. Polk Theater. The event, called “A Conversation on Justice,” will be moderated by the Tennessean’s courts and criminal justice reporter Stacey Barchenger and will provide attendees the opportunity to submit questions. Tickets are available online at TPAC.org, by phone at 615-782-4040 and at the box office at 505 Deaderick St. in downtown Nashville.

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Nashville Expungement Clinic Attracts Hundreds

An expungement clinic in Davidson County last week attracted hundreds of people hoping to clear their criminal records, the AOC reports. People began lining up five hours in advance for the Community Court, which also featured shoe giveaways, free haircuts, health vendors and employment leads. All county general sessions judges were on hand as well as Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry, Assistant District Attorney Katie Ladefoged and AOC Pro Bono Coordinator Patricia Mills. TBA YLD Diversity Committee Chair Amber Floyd also was in town from Memphis to help coordinate the event. For more information about the clinic, contact General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell, 615-862-8341, or learn more about the expungement process in Tennessee.

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‘Plunge to Expunge’ Set for Friday in Memphis

Just City, an organization that provides financial, legal and administrative services to those seeking expungements, will host its first annual Plunge to Expunge dunk tank fundraiser tomorrow from 4-7 p.m. at Memphis Made Brewing Co., 768 South Cooper. This year’s dunk tank target is Just City board member and University of Memphis law professor Daniel Kiel, who teaches constitutional, civil rights and educational law. The group also announced that the brewery will debut its latest beer – Justice Will PrevALE – at the event. Read more from the law school.

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Judge Sammons Indicted, Suspended from Bench

Campbell County General Sessions Judge Amanda Sammons was indicted yesterday on four felony charges of official misconduct, including lying and misusing her authority in two cases. The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct responded by issuing a temporary suspension order barring Sammons from performing any judicial functions. Sammons’ attorney, Wade Davies, said she will plead not guilty and is prepared to show she has not committed any offense, according to Knoxnews. Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee also today filed a standing order for substitute judges, authorizing Chancellor Elizabeth C. Asbury, Circuit Court Judge John D. McAfee, Criminal Court Judge E. Shayne Sexton and Claiborne County General Sessions Judge Robert M. Estep to hear cases on Sammons’ docket. The Campbell County Commission may also act to fill the seat until the case is resolved.

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Vandenburg Lawyer Withdraws from Rape Case

One of former Vanderbilt University football player Brandon Vandenburg’s lawyers has withdrawn from the case citing a conflict with his client. Morristown lawyer Troy Bowlin asked the court to remove him and Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins granted the request today, the Tennessean reports. The motion indicates that a rift between Bowlin and Vandenburg arose after trial and that release of any other details would violate attorney-client privilege. Vandenburg faces a sentencing hearing on Sept. 30. A jury found him guilty of five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery after a trial in June.

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Reminder: Indigent Task Force Hearing Thursday

The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Indigent Representation Task Force will hold the final session in its listening tour this week. The hearing will take place Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Williamson County Administrative Complex, 1320 West Main St., Franklin, TN 37064. Sign up here to speak.

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Woman Released After 11 Years Pledges to Find Killer

Noura Jackson was released from prison this weekend after serving 11 years for the death of her mother. But she has always maintained her innocence and is now pledging to find the killer, the Commercial Appeal reports. “In the next chapter of my life, I plan to honor my mom by forcing the State of Tennessee to identify the person whose complete DNA profile was mixed with my mother’s blood in her bed,” Jackson said. Her lawyers successfully appealed her conviction because prosecutors failed to turn over evidence that could have discredited a key witness. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted a new trial, but Jackson instead accepted an “Alford plea” agreeing to a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter.

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NAACP Opposes County’s New Charge on Criminal Defendants

A new $45 fine on criminal defendants will have a disparate impact on the poor, African-Americans and other minority groups, according to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County chapter of the NAACP. The Chattanoogan reports that a resolution from the NAACP argues that the Hamilton County Commission was “ambivalent to the disparity rates, disproportionate ratios and disparate impact” such fees have on these populations. The group also maintains that the commission’s decision relies on a “narrow and stringent interpretation” of the applicable state law. Proceeds from the new fee would be divided three ways: $21 to the Partnership of Families, Children and Adults, $21 to the Children’s Advocacy Center and $3 to the county.

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ABA Annual Meeting Includes FBI Director, Marcia Clark as Speakers

The American Bar Association (ABA) annual meeting in San Francisco continues today. Offerings at the meeting include updates about the legal implications of electronic devices such as home security systems, cellphones and fitness trackers that collect and exchange data, and the Zika virus. Today, FBI Director James Comey was among experts who examined the use of emerging technology by criminals and terrorists to evade detection, and Marcia Clark, who was the lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson case, was on tap to discuss her new work of fiction.

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