News

Georgia Court Protects Execution Drug Makers

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled today that the state’s law protecting the source of execution drugs is constitutional, the Associated Press reports. In a 5-to-2 decision, the justices reversed a lower court ruling that granted a stay of execution to convicted killer Warren Lee Hill. His lawyers had argued they needed to know the source of the drug so they would know whether they had grounds to challenge its use as cruel and unusual punishment. They now say they will take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if efforts to get the court to reconsider are unsuccessful. WRCB TV has the story.

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Media Group Files Suit to Get Details on Execution Drugs

The Associated Press and four other news organizations filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging the way the state of Missouri obtains the drugs it uses in lethal injections, Knoxnews reports. The suit argues that the state’s actions prohibit public oversight of the death penalty and asks a state judge to disclose where the drugs are purchased and details about their composition and quality. The sourcing of execution drugs has become an issue nationwide since major drug makers, many based in Europe, began refusing to sell their products for use in executions.

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Former DA Re-hired After Primary Loss

Former Davidson County district attorney general candidate Rob McGuire has been rehired as a prosecutor, The Tennessean reports. On Wednesday, outgoing District Attorney General Torry Johnson announced that McGuire had been rehired though his role was still to be determined. McGuire came in second to Glenn Funk in the race to become district attorney general. In order to run, he had to resign his position. Also to be determined, according to the paper, is whether McGuire will have a position in the office when Funk takes over Sept. 1. McGuire reportedly met with Funk this week to discuss his future.

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Process Set to Fill Criminal Appeals Court Seat

The Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments is now accepting applications for an upcoming vacancy on the Court of Criminal Appeals following the appointment of Judge Jeffrey S. Bivins to the Tennessee Supreme Court. Interested candidates should reside in the Middle Grand Division and apply by June 2. The commission will meet on June 10 to conduct a public hearing on the applicants.

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New Knox Criminal Court Clerk Outlines Plans

Incoming Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond announced a number of initiatives this week geared toward "moving the department into the 21st century," WBIR 10 News reports. Hammond also appointed long-time chief of magistrates Richard Major to serve as his top aide. Hammond, who won last Tuesday's Republican primary, does not face opposition in August. He will take over the office on Sept. 2. Among the changes Hammond plans to implement are creating a usable website, cross-training employees and creating written procedures for the department. Current clerk Joy McCroskey, in office since 2008, opted not to seek re-election after revelations that lack of training and oversight in the office led to wrongful arrests and dismissal of cases.

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NAACP Criminal Justice Seminar Saturday

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County NAACP will host the 7th Annual Criminal Justice Seminar Saturday at the Chattanooga-Choo-Choo. According to officials, the seminar will focus on balancing the scales of justice through rehabilitation, reentry and redemption especially for non-violent offenders who compose the mass majority of individuals currently incarcerated or that are on parole and probation. The Chattanoogan has more.

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3 Advance to Governor for Criminal Appeals Court Post

Timothy Lee Easter of Williamson County, James Winn Milam of Robertson County and Roger Eric Neil of Montgomery County have been selected as the top candidates to fill the upcoming vacancy on the Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals. The Governors Commission on Judicial Appointments interviewed all nine of the candiates for the post today in Nashville before deciding on the three who will go to Gov. Haslam for consideration. The Administrative Office of the Courts has more.

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Former Court Clerk Arrested on Theft Charges

Former Franklin County Circuit Court deputy clerk Jennifer K. Hopkins is free on $5,000 bond, following her arrest last week on theft charges stemming from a State Comptroller investigation. The Comptroller’s Division of Investigations released findings on Dec. 19 that showed a Franklin County deputy court clerk had failed to deposit $3,046.25 in a local bank and allegedly diverted cash collections. The Herald Chronicle has more.

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Gideon's Promise Tour Stops in Memphis May 29-30

Gideon’s Promise, a program that trains young public defenders working in the South, will stop in Memphis later this month as part a four-city tour. On May 29, the founder of Gideon’s Promise, Jon Rapping, will host a social event at Local Gastropub from 6 to 8:30 pm. The event, “Burgers & Brews,” is free and open to the public but reservations are required. On May 30 from 2:30 to 6 p.m., the group’s award-winning documentary, "Gideon’s Army" will be shown in the Wade Auditorium at the University of Memphis School of Law. The screening will be preceded by a panel discussion including Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush and representatives from Gideon’s Promise. Learn more here.

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TBJ Columns Cover Electronic Surveillance, 'McCutcheon' and More

Columns in the May Tennessee Bar Journal include electronic surveillance in family law by Marlene Moses and Benjamin Russ; Tenn. Code Ann. §20-1-119 and its relationship with the federal courts by John Day; and the late Don Paine wrote about convicted murderer Paul Dennis Reid Jr. Bill Haltom explains how the "McCutcheon" case makes the phrase "free speech" into an oxymoron.

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Rape Kit Backlog: Legislature Wants Data Before Dollars

In the waning days of the legislative session, lawmakers defeated a proposal that would have provided $2 million to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits statewide. Senate Republican leader Mark Norris says the proposal was rejected because the legislature wants to know the size of the problem before authorizing money to fix it. He tells the Memphis Daily News that the legislature also is asking localities to explain how their situations came to exist and to offer a credible plan for eliminating backlogs. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is collecting the information and is expected to report to the legislature on its findings. Until then, the state has repurposed $500,000 in federal money to help the city of Memphis work through its backlog.

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City Wants to Use Grant for Federal Prosecutor

The city of Chattanooga is sitting on $300,000 from a federal grant intended to help crack down on crime, WRCB-TV reports. City officials said they plan on using the money to help fund a special federal prosecutor but need approval from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to change the grant’s purpose. Originally, the city applied for and was granted the money to hire a special prosecutor in the district attorney's office. City officials say they will submit the required paperwork in the next few weeks and should hear back from the DOJ within 30 to 60 days.

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Blackwood Appointed to Handle Poston Case

Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood has been tapped to preside over the case of Bruce Poston, a Knoxville defense attorney accused of giving prescription painkillers to the wife of a client. Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade issued an order Thursday appointing Blackwood as a special judge after all of Knox County’s judges recused themselves. A special prosecutor also has been assigned, Knoxnews reports. Poston is being represented by defense attorney Mike Whalen. An arraignment date has not yet been set.

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Brown Contempt Upheld, Case Sent to Appeals Court

Senior Judge Paul G. Summers, who is acting as a special judge in the case of former Criminal Court Judge Joe Brown’s contempt citation, ruled today that Brown was in contempt during an outburst in March before Juvenile Court Magistrate Harold “Hal” Horne. He then turned to the issue of whether the appeal of the contempt charge was improperly filed in criminal court instead of an appellate court. As Brown’s attorneys argued for the appeal, Summers replied, “Sounds to me like you’re wanting to have an extra charge lodged against your client,” WREG News Channel 3 reports. He ultimately decided to send the case to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

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Brown Contempt Hearing Delay Denied

Former Criminal Court Judge Joe Brown’s contempt citation in Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court is set to be heard tomorrow by Senior Judge Paul G. Summers, who is acting as a special judge in the case, after Summers denied motions to delay the hearing. Brown’s lawyers had sought to delay the hearing to add additional claims regarding Brown’s unsuccessful attempt to get a hearing before Juvenile Court Judge Curtis Person Jr., who set bail in the original contempt case.

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New Sevier County Prosecutor Joins Staff

Keith Cole was sworn in as a new Sevier County prosecutor yesterday, Knoxnews reports. Cole, who was given the oath of office by Circuit Court Judge Richard Vance, will be assigned to Sevier County General Sessions Court. Cole earned his law degree from Lincoln Memorial University's Duncan School of Law and was licensed in October.

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New Head Named for Civil Rights Unit

U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton has named Brian K. Coleman, assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, to lead the civil rights unit of his office. Coleman has been a federal prosecutor since 2008 and was a state prosecutor before that. Stanton created the unit in 2011 to handle traditional civil rights violations, as well as government corruption, human trafficking and hate crime cases. Larry Laurenzi, who previously led the unit, has been named first assistant in the office, the Memphis Daily News reports.

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Rape Kit Backlog Poses Testing, Prosecution Challenges

The former federal prosecutor investigating the rape kit backlog in Memphis says clearing the backlog will mean more than an investment in testing the rape kits for DNA. “Let’s say out of the 2,000 there are 1,000 that are prosecutable," Veronica Coleman-Davis said. "Think about what the prosecutor’s office is going to have to do in terms of resources.” Coleman-Davis said she has interviewed more than 25 people so far in trying to determine how the backlog occurred. She expects to have a report to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. in about two weeks.

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Court Hears Arguments in Cellphone Privacy Cases

The Supreme Court seemed wary Tuesday of allowing police unbridled freedom to search through cellphones of people they arrest, taking on a new issue of privacy in the face of rapidly changing technology, WATE reports. The court heard two cases today involving a drug dealer and a gang member whose convictions turned in part on evidence found on their cellphones. A key question is whether Americans' cellphones, with vast quantities of sensitive records, photographs and communications, are a private realm much like their homes. Decisions are expected by late June.

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1 in 25 Sentenced to Death Are Likely Innocent, Study Says

A new study suggests that about one in 25 people who are sentenced to death are likely innocent, the ABA Journal reports. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says that while only 1.6 percent of those on death-row are exonerated and released, the actual figure is likely a minimum of 4.1 percent when statistical assumptions are applied to the cases of people who are removed from death row and given life sentences.The new study also refutes a statement made by Justice Antonin Scalia in a concurring opinion in 2007 in which he wrote that American criminal convictions have an error rate of 0.027 percent “or, to put it another way, a success rate of 99.973 percent.”

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Defense Lawyers Can Stay on Vandy Rape Case

Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins ruled yesterday that California attorney Albert Perez Jr. and retired judge Eugene Osko meet state requirements to stay on the legal defense team for Brandon Vandenburg, one of four former Vanderbilt University football players charged in the June 2013 rape of a female student inside a campus dorm. Watkins also said that Perez did not err in making statements about the case in a local TV news interview. The comments by Perez, "although colorfully opinionated, do not rise to the level of material prejudice," the judge wrote. The Tennessean has more.

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Supreme Court Clarifies Standard for Review of Judicial Diversion

The Tennessee Supreme Court in a unanimous opinion today clarified the standard of appellate review for a trial court’s decision regarding judicial diversion, the Administrative Office of the Court reports. When a case is appealed, the court must determine what standard of review applies. In the case State v. King, the defendant argued that the Court of Criminal Appeals used the wrong standard when reviewing the trial court’s decision to deny judicial diversion. The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the Court of Criminal Appeals, adopting as the appropriate standard of review for judicial diversion rulings “abuse of discretion with a presumption of reasonableness.”

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Documentary Looks at Recidivism in NE Tennessee

"Outcasts: Surviving the Culture of Rejection," a locally produced documentary that looks at the high cost of recidivism and its impact on Northeast Tennessee, will premier Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Wellmont Regional Center for Performing Arts on the campus of Northeast State Community College. Produced by Jane Hillhouse of Hillhouse Video Works in Kingsport, "Outcasts" also examines viable solutions that are making a difference. After the premiere, the documentary will air on East Tennessee PBS and affiliates nationwide. Learn more or RSVP online. The Kingsport Times News has more on the making of the film.

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Accused Gang Member Fatally Shot During Trial

An accused street gang member standing trial in federal court in Salt Lake City who was shot by a U.S. marshal this morning has died of his wounds, according to an FBI spokesperson. The defendant was shot when he attacked a witness who was testifying against him, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said. The defendant, Siale Angilau, 25, who was not handcuffed, lunged at the witness on the first day of testimony in his trial. After the shooting, a group of marshals continued to hold Angilau at gunpoint near the jury box. The incident is being investigated by the FBI. The Chicago Tribute reported.

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Shelby DA Race Heating Up

The two candidates -- incumbent Amy Weirich and Joe Brown -- vying to be the next district attorney general in Shelby County won’t face each other until August, but they were making news this week with what panelists on News Channel 3's "Informed Sources" called "questionable comments." The program reviewed recent developments in the race.

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