News

643 Children Identified as Severe Abuse Victims

A Tennessee committee charged with investigating and issuing recommendations on severe child abuse in the state says 643 children were victims of a second or subsequent incident of severe abuse during the 2014-2015 fiscal year. The Second Look Commission found that sexual abuse is the most prevalent type of abuse and that the “lack of consequences for failing to report child abuse continues to be an issue.” The report is based on data provided by the Department of Children’s Services. Fox 17 has more on the findings.

read more »

Court Clarifies Evidence for Criminal Stalking Convictions

The Tennessee Supreme Court today clarified that the criminal offense of stalking contains both an objective element and a subjective element of significant mental suffering or distress that must be met to sustain a conviction. The court emphasized that the state must present evidence that a victim actually experienced significant mental suffering or distress. The ruling came in a case in which the court concluded that the evidence presented was insufficient to sustain the conviction.

read more »

Memphis Sued for Untested Rape Kits

Rape victims are in fear they may never see justice because of the backlog of rape kits that remain untested, News 5 reports. But now there is a $10 million class-action lawsuit being brought against the city of Memphis and Shelby County for negligence. “We’re suing for the insult to the injury,” attorney Daniel Lofton said. He also said the suit calls for full transparency as to how the backlog occurred.

read more »

Court Overturns Precedent on Ex Post Facto Protections

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that the state constitution’s prohibition against ex post facto laws provides no greater protection than that provided by the U.S. Constitution. The ruling came in a case testing whether application of the exclusionary rule to evidence seized prior to the law’s enactment violates constitutional bans on ex post facto laws. The court found that federal law prohibits retroactive application in four specific scenarios, none of which were involved in this case, and that nothing in the state constitution or history supports a conclusion that the state ex post facto clause is more expansive than its federal counterpart, overturning prior precedent.

read more »

Reentry Center Seeks to Expand Beyond Shelby County

When the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Reentry (MSCOR) opened its doors last year, the mission was to equip Shelby County residents being released from prison with the tools they need to return home. But since the facility opened, many who could benefit are not taking part of the program, says County Mayor Mark Luttrell. To address that gap, the office is working with officials at other state prisons and the state parole board to help direct inmates into pre-release re-entry programs while incarcerated and eventually to MSCOR. The Commercial Appeal looks at plans for the program’s future.

read more »

Law Firm Hackers Accessed Networks, Made Insider Trades

Federal prosecutors have charged three Chinese nationals with securities fraud, insider trading, computer intrusion and other offenses after they hacked into the networks of multiple international law firms with offices in New York City. According to the Associated Press, the three made more than $4 million in profits by buying stock in companies that were about to be acquired and then selling the shares after the acquisitions were announced. The firms affected were working on the deals but have not been identified. The Memphis Daily News has more on the story.

read more »

Year-old Trousdale Facility Still Needs Work

The rollout of Tennessee’s newest private prison, the largest in the state, has not gone well, acknowledges CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger. “We've got work to do,” Hininger told the Tennessean during an interview. In the year since it has opened, the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center has been marred by safety, security and staffing concerns, according to the paper. These issues “boiled over” in May when the state Department of Corrections advised the facility to stop accepting new inmates. Since then, problems have persisted with the facility going into “lock down” mode several times.

read more »

Have You Heard About the TBA Mashup?

Interested in observing a legal hackathon or getting a hands-on demonstration of the new Fastcase 7 platform? Both will be part of the first TBA Mashup, a full-day of activities and free programming set for Feb. 17 at the Tennessee Bar Center in conjunction with the annual TBA Law Tech UnConference CLE program.

In addition to the hackathon and Fastcase 7 demo, the TBA Mashup will feature sessions on: 

  • Current State of Health Insurance for the Small Firms
  • Professional Liability Insurance - What to look for in YOUR Policy
  • A Demo of Fastcase TopForm, a powerful bankruptcy filing software
  • Retirement Planning Guidance from the ABA Retirement Funds
  • Pro Bono in Action: How to help with pro bono events and how to take part in online options

At the annual TBA Law Tech UnConference CLE program, you can take as many or as few hours as you need. Registration will be open all day. Payment will be determined at checkout based on the hours you need. Topics will include: 

  • Bill & Phil Tech Show
  • Ethical Considerations for Cyber Security in Law
  • Evolution of the Legal Marketplace
  • Making e-Discovery Affordable 
  • Drone Law
  • Encryption for Lawyers

read more »

Family Center Aims to Improve Post-prison Life

The Tennessean profiles the Nashville Family Reconciliation Center, a non-profit that provides a variety of services to the formerly incarcerated and their families. The center offers support groups to help prevent recidivism, youth outreach programs to help the youngest offenders receive fair treatment in the criminal justice system, and free therapy to help ex-inmates heal from past traumas. The center is recruiting new volunteers and board members. To learn more visit the group's website or contact director Malinda Davenport-Crisp.

read more »

Wrongful Arrest Prompts Calls for Investigation

For more than eight weeks last fall, Rachel Heffner was prohibited from returning home because she had been designated an “aggressor” and “defendant” in a domestic violence case. In fact, she was not the aggressor but the victim. But that was not acknowledged by prosecutors or the police until criminal charges against her were dismissed when her older son failed to appear in court. Now, police confirm charges against the teenager are pending. According to the Tennessean, Heffner’s lawyer is raising a host of issues such as why the two children were not separated before being interviewed by police and why they were allowed to remain home alone after their mother’s arrest. He also has asked the department to conduct a review as to why Heffner’s side of the story was never investigated.

read more »

Obama Signs Bill to Review Civil Rights-Era Killings

Racially motivated, civil rights-era killings that are now cold cases will get a fresh look under legislation signed by President Barack Obama, PBS reports. The measure, signed last week, extends a 2007 law that calls for a full accounting of race-based deaths, many of which have been closed for decades. It also provides federal resources to help local jurisdictions look into the cases, extends the time frame of cases to be considered and requires the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI to consult with civil rights organizations, universities and others who had been gathering evidence on these deaths.

read more »

Town of Mason to Begin Holding Court in Gallaway

The city of Gallaway has granted approval for the town of Mason to temporarily use its courthouse to hold municipal court beginning Jan. 17, the Covington Leader reports. Mason will pay Gallaway $100 per court session as well as $25 per hour for a Gallaway police officer to be present during court, with a minimum of $50 for the officer per session. The town will hold hearings on the third Tuesday of the month and will continue to use the Gallaway courthouse until another suitable facility is located. Court proceedings will be conducted by Judge Price Harris with attorney Kevin Reed serving as the city prosecutor and Lureatha Harris as the city court clerk.

read more »

31 Complete Federal ‘Smart on Crime’ Program

The federal “Smart on Crime” initiative was announced in 2013 and implemented in East Tennessee by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chattanooga and the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services Office in conjunction with local law enforcement, social service organizations and churches. The program focused on ways to make the district safer by providing federal ex-offenders with the resources necessary to successfully re-enter the community and reduce recidivism. U.S. Attorney Nancy Stallard Harr recently announced that 31 ex-offenders completed the program in 2016. “As a result, these ex-offenders are in a better positon to become productive members of our communities, making east Tennessee a safer and better place to live,” Harr told Chattanoogan.com. She also announced that a special emphasis will be placed on juvenile offenders in 2017.

read more »

Court Amends Pro Se Divorce Forms

The Tennessee Supreme Court today issued an order revising pro se forms to be used in uncontested divorce cases with minor children. The court reports that its Access to Justice Commission requested the change to make it clear that spouses with orders of protection may use the forms. The documents released today replace the forms published by the court in October. The forms can be used beginning Jan. 1.

read more »

AG to Chattanooga Families: Beware of Predatory Firms

Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III is asking Chattanooga residents to be aware of predatory law firms seeking to profit from the Woodmore Elementary school bus tragedy. While communities and families deal with the heartache and stress associated with tragedy, out-of-state law firms have been known to solicit business and coerce families into signing legal agreements that are difficult to understand, Slatery says. Often, these firms use misleading or inaccurate information, offer incentives such as paying funeral costs in exchange for using their services, and promise millions in civil lawsuit awards. In some cases, salesmen hired by the law firm will portray themselves as licensed attorneys when they are not. In a warning released today, Slatery outlines four signs of a suspicious solicitation, and pledges to prosecute anyone taking advantage of the situation.

read more »

State’s Prosecutors Taking on Elder Abuse

District attorneys throughout Tennessee will be going after elder abuse cases more aggressively in 2017 thanks to a law that goes into effect Jan. 1, WJHL reports. In one district, the work is underway to form a Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigative Team (VAPIT), which will be made up of law enforcement, prosecutors and protective services employees. Like other teams, the Sullivan County team will educate the public about elder abuse, encourage people to report abuse and prosecute those who abuse the elderly and disabled adults. Under the program, law enforcement officers will be trained to spot abuse and prosecutors will be given access to closed protective services cases for possible prosecution.

read more »

Court Agrees to Hear 6 Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently agreed to hear six cases. Issues to be considered include statutes of limitations, self-defense and theft of property. The Raybin Supreme Court Hotlist reviews the cases and offers a prediction as to how each may be decided.

read more »

East Nashville Site Approved for Sheriff’s Headquarters

The Nashville Metro Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a proposal from Mayor Megan Barry to build a new headquarters for the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office in East Nashville near the Cayce Place public housing community, the Tennessean reports. Earlier this year, the council allocated $20 million for the headquarters. Sheriff Daron Hall originally wanted to build on property his office owns on Harding Place, but area neighbors objected. 

read more »

Court Adopts 2017 Rules Package

The Tennessee Supreme Court today published the 2017 amendments to its rules of procedure and evidence. Proposals include changing the place for filing a notice of appeal to the appellate clerk’s office, requiring payment of fees and taxes to the appellate court clerk at the time of initiation of an appeal, and other changes to the rules of appellate procedure, civil procedure, criminal procedure and juvenile procedure, as well as the rules of evidence. Six TBA sections – Appellate Practice, Litigation, Tort and Insurance Law, Criminal Justice, Family Law, and Juvenile and Children’s Law reviewed the rules when proposed and either found no objections or supported the changes. The proposals now go to the legislature for ratification before becoming effective on July 1.

read more »

Shelby County Launches New Prosecution Program

The Shelby County District Attorney announced a new community protection plan yesterday, News 5 reports. Under the plan, all cases from a designated area will be handled by the same prosecutor and judge in an attempt to build relationships between the courts and the community and expedite the consideration of cases. A pilot of the Community Prosecution Program will begin Jan. 3 at the Old Allen precinct in Frayser.

read more »

Police Chief: DA Spokesman Released Info on Rape Victim

Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson publicly rebuked Ken Whitehouse, a spokesman in the district attorney’s office, on Monday, saying he committed an “unconscionable” act that was a “violation of trust and human dignity” when he released the name and personal information of a rape victim to the media. Anderson says that Whitehouse sent an incident report that included the names of the alleged victim and suspect to a local television station. The district attorney’s office said the information was mistakenly released. Whitehouse will retain his job, but Anderson says he has blocked him from further access to confidential police files, the Tennessean reports.

read more »

Judges Consider Social Media Access in UT Rape Case

A three-judge panel of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals heard arguments today on whether former University of Tennessee football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams can use subpoenas to force their accuser to turn over social media posts, messages and texts. The pair are accused of raping a female athlete during a post-football game party in 2014. They insist the encounter was consensual. Police did not try to get the information and prosecutors have been trying to block  defense access it to, Knoxnews reports. Neither man will be tried until the social media issues are decided, the newspaper says.

read more »

Lawyers Report Frigid Temps at Juvenile Detention Center

After hearing reports that underage detainees in the Shelby County Juvenile Court detention center had inadequate clothing to guard against frigid temperatures outside and inside, the criminal justice reform advocacy group Just City donated 80 sweatshirts for residents. Just City’s founder, Josh Spickler, said he learned through attorneys that detainees were speaking to their legal representatives through chattering teeth, while wearing only short-sleeved t-shirts. In response, a detention center official said the building was adequately heated and he was not aware of complaints. Memphis Flyer reports the story.

read more »

Obama Grants 78 Pardons, 153 Commutations

President Barack Obama granted 78 pardons and 153 commutations today – a single-day record for the use of presidential clemency power, USA Today reports. With just 32 days left in office, today’s action more than doubled the number of pardons granted in the previous seven years. In addition, today’s commutations brought Obama’s total to 1,176. The previous one-day record for commutations was 214 in August. Overall, including both pardons and commutations, Obama has granted more acts of clemency than any president since Harry Truman.

read more »

Court Upholds Conviction for Christian-Newsom Murders

The Tennessee Supreme Court today affirmed the convictions and death sentences imposed on Lemaricus Devall Davidson for the 2007 kidnapping, rape and murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. In 2009, a Knox County jury convicted Davidson on multiple counts and imposed two death sentences. In 2015, the Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the jury’s actions. During Supreme Court review, Davidson raised a number of issues, including the legitimacy of an unsigned search warrant. The court agreed that the search warrant was invalid but applied its newly adopted good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule to validate the evidence that led to the convictions. Read more from the court.

read more »