News

State Agency Withdraws from Execution Lawsuit

Facing objections from legislators and a Senate Government Operations Committee hearing set for August, the Office of Post-Conviction Defender has decided to abandon its role in a lawsuit seeking information about executions, Knoxnews reports. The office, which is tasked with representing death row inmates in appeals, was representing a group of inmates suing the state for information about the people and drugs involved in executions. Nashville attorney Kathleen G. Morris now will provide pro bono representation to the death row inmates.

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Judge's Ruling Could Affect Up to 80 Cases

Law enforcement in Sullivan County has not been in compliance with Rule 3 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure for at least two decades, putting 75 or 80 pending cases in jeopardy, according to a local judge. Rule 3, which requires a written and sworn statement of the arresting officer before a magistrate, apparently was not being followed during after-hours arrests. Local law enforcement has been scrambling to re-file thousands of affidavits of arrest but the ruling has caused defendants in pending cases to file dismissal motions, the Kingsport Times-News reports.

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Judge Hears Vandy Rape Mistrial Motion

Nashville Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins heard more than four hours of testimony and arguments yesterday related to requests for a mistrial in the Vanderbilt rape case. Defense attorneys for Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey, who were convicted in January of raping an unconscious student in a dorm, say a juror heard 104 questions during jury selection that should have prompted him to disclose he was a victim of statutory rape as a teen. Watkins is expected to rule on the motions next week. The Tennessean has more.

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Public Defender to Host Session on Expungement

Richard Hughes, public defender for the 10th Judicial District, will host an educational program on June 30 to explain the process by which certain offenders may have the chance to expunge their criminal records. The session is scheduled to run from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Hughes’ office located at 85 Central Ave. in Cleveland. For more information, contact the public defender’s office at (423) 478-0329. The Cleveland Banner has more.

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New Website Presents Database of Collateral Consequences of Conviction

A new National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction is now available through a website produced by the National Institute of Justice and the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section. The interactive site lets attorneys select one or more jurisdiction in the database, then identify legal sanctions and restrictions imposed. The work is part of the ABA’s efforts to reform collateral consequences so that they serve public safety goals, but do not impose high social and economic costs.

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Former Public Defender Questions Treatment of Inmates

Policies that send non-violent offenders to jail and require fees for many services and products should be reconsidered, a former public defender contends. Bill Shulman, a 25-year associate professor of criminal justice at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro and former elected public defender for Davidson County, told the Daily News Journal he thinks the solution is to quit locking up so many people who are not a threat physically to society and allow more to serve punishments in other ways. 

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TBI Releases New Data on Domestic Violence

A recent study by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation shows domestic violence resulted in 270 murder victims in Tennessee from 2012 to 2014. The review also found that simple assault accounted for more than 68 percent of all domestic violence offenses, that females were three times more likely to be victimized than males and that victims were six times more likely to be abused by a spouse than an ex-spouse. Read more in the Memphis Daily News.

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DA’s Conference Issues New Training Resources

The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference’s Justice and Professionalism Committee has released the first installment in a series of training resources to be provided to all Tennessee prosecutors, Chattanoogan.com reports. The DVD-based training focuses on the responsibilities of prosecutors during constitutional discovery. Additional resources will review advances in DNA, forensic science and digital evidence in cases involving children, the elderly and victims of sex crimes, human trafficking and domestic violence.

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Inmate Wants to Donate Organs to Ailing Parents

Kenneth Thomas, an inmate housed at the Turney Center in Only, is asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to allow him the right to die in prison so his organs can be harvested for his ailing parents. Thomas, 37, was convicted of a 1999 murder and sentenced to life in prison. He is eligible for parole in 2063, but believes he will never be released, WKRN News 2 reports. 

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Developer in Assault Case Sues Nashville Government

Nashville real estate developer David Chase has filed suit against Metro government and its police department, the Business Journal reports. In the complaint, Chase claims police violated his civil rights, failed to follow proper procedure, used excessive force and subjected him to false arrest. He also alleges that his former girlfriend was friends with at least one of the officers who arrested him. Chase’s arrest made news when reports surfaced that a judge waived the required 12-hour cooling off period, which allowed Chase to leave the county jail and allegedly assault the woman a second time.

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Court Rules on Passport Issue, Grants 3 Cases for Fall

The U.S. Supreme Court issued three opinions today, including one favoring the White House in a foreign-policy power struggle with Congress over whether Jerusalem-born Americans may list Israel as the place of birth on their U.S. passports. The court also agreed to hear three cases in the fall: when a three-judge panel must be convened to consider challenges to redistricting plans, how workers prove class action damages, and whether a defendant facing asset forfeiture can use funds not obtained from the crime to pay for legal representation. Finally, the court declined to hear four cases, including another challenge to the Affordable Care Act and a question of whether local governments may require handguns be disabled or locked up when they are not being carried. Read a wrap-up from SCOTUSblog.

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UT Law Students Work on Hair Analysis Project

University of Tennessee College of Law students will play a key role in the federal government’s efforts to identify cases in which forensic hair samples may have resulted in wrongful convictions, Knoxnews reports. The FBI has publicly conceded that hair analysis is little more than guess work and “experts” who testified otherwise were wrong. The FBI Crime Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Justice have teamed up with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to identify cases where hair analysis was key to a conviction and the defendant is still incarcerated. Students will be researching cases in Tennessee.

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Dean to Reconsider Police HQ Move

Mayor Karl Dean is now promising additional community meetings before deciding whether to pursue a controversial relocation of the Metro police headquarters to Jefferson St., the Tennessean reports. North Nashville residents oppose the relocation, which many said would bring added police patrol and racial profiling to the predominantly black area. The headquarters — which includes only administrative offices — would relocate from the aging downtown Criminal Justice Center. The mayor and Sheriff Daron Hall also want to move the downtown jail to a new $110 million facility in southeast Nashville.

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NAACP Holds Criminal Justice Seminar Saturday

The Chattanooga NAACP will host its 8th Annual Criminal Justice Seminar this Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Imperial Ballroom. The theme of the event is "Know your Rights." Speakers include NAACP National Director of Criminal Justice Carlton Mayers, Tennessee ACLU Executive Director Hedy Wienberg, District Attorney General Neal Pinkston and the president of Georgia NOBLE, Robert Ford.  The Chattanooga Times Free Press has more.

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Juvenile Court Offers Alternative Detention Program

The Madison County Juvenile Court program opened its new HERO program on Monday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the University of Memphis at Lambuth. The HERO program is an alternative option for youth ages 12 to 17 with nonviolent offenses and will meet every night on the Lambuth campus. Judge Christy Little said she hopes the program will provide a positive influence for the youth involved by seeing students on campus during the school year. The Jackson Sun has the story.

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Supreme Court Denies New Trial After Witness’ Memory Loss During Testimony

The Tennessee Supreme Court rejected a Memphis defendant’s argument that he was entitled to a new trial because a witness on the stand said he was unable to recall his earlier statements about the murder. Marlo Davis was convicted of second degree murder and reckless homicide in the 2006 death of a man working on a rental property. During the investigation, one witness gave a sworn statement to police and then later testified at a preliminary hearing that he saw Davis shoot the victim. At trial, that same witness said he could not recall what happened that day and did not recall what he had said to police or at the hearing. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the court rejected the argument regarding feigned memory loss, saying that the trial court had no way of definitively determining if a witness was being truthful about their lack of memory. The AOC has more.

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Inmate Indicted in Courthouse Powder Scare

A state inmate convicted of a 2013 armed robbery at a Sevier County adult lingerie store has been indicted in connection with the mailing of a suspicious substance to the Sevier County courthouse in February, Knoxnews reports. The white, powdery substance was mailed to the Sevierville offices of 4th Judicial District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn. The package also contained threats targeting an assistant district attorney general who had prosecuted the case against Rhodes, the release states. The substance proved to be benign, although six courthouse staffers were evaluated at a local hospital as a precaution.

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CASA Fundraiser Raises Record-Breaking Amount

Williamson County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) announced this week that the 4th Annual Voices for Children fundraiser raised more than $130,000, money that will serve its mission to find safe and permanent homes for abused and neglected children in the court system. Director of Public Relations and Development Danielle McMorran estimates that nearly $120,000 will go straight toward program support. Williamson Herald has the story.

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22nd Judicial District Brings Back Drug Task Force

District Attorney Brent Cooper is reviving the Drug Task Force in the 22nd Judicial District that includes Maury, Giles, Lawrence and Wayne counties, News Channel 5 reports. According to Cooper, at least 60 percent of the cases he prosecutes has something to do with drugs, from shoplifting to murders. The Drug Task Force specifically benefits the smaller cities by providing more collaborative resources from surrounding areas. The task force is partially funded through a federal grant and will begin operations July 1.

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$4 Million Approved for Rape Kit Testing

Another $4 million in federal money would be available to help Memphis and other cities cut the backlog of untested rape kits under an amendment U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen has successfully pushed through the U.S. House. Lawmakers decided by voice vote yesterday to accept Cohen’s amendment to the House commerce, science and justice appropriations bill for the upcoming fiscal year. The additional money means $45 million will be available for the grant program created last year to focus on reducing the backlog, up from last year’s $41 million budget. The Commercial Appeal has the story.

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Court Rules on Head Scarf, Internet Threats

The U.S. Supreme Court today issued orders from its May 28 conference and four decisions in argued cases. In Mellouli v. Lynch, the court ruled that a lawful permanent resident may not be deported after a misdemeanor state drug paraphernalia conviction. In Bank of America v. Caulkett, the court found that when a mortgage lien is worth more than the market value of the property, courts may not reduce the lien’s value to the property’s market value. In EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, the court found for a job applicant whose faith dictates a personal practice that contradicts the company’s workplace rules, even though the rules are entirely neutral about religion. And in Elonis v. United States, the court overturned a Pennsylvania man’s conviction for making threats over the Internet. SCOTUSblog has more on each of the decisions.

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Upper Cumberland Justice Center to Open in New Space

The Upper Cumberland Family Justice Center has finally found a place to call home and will open its doors this July, the Cookeville Herald Citizen reports. The center, which provides a centralized location of services to assist victims of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault and elder abuse, had been looking for permanent space as a requirement of a three-year state grant. The center will open July 1 at 269 S. Willow Ave., Suite E, Cookeville, TN 38501. A grand opening ceremony will be held that day at 3 p.m.

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Can Insanity Plea Help Colorado Movie Theatre Shooter?

How hard is it to make the case of not guilty by reason of insanity? Christopher Slobogin, director of the criminal justice program at Vanderbilt University Law School and associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, discusses the topic on the public radio show Here & Now. At issue is the trial of James Holmes, who opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012. He’s pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to 166 criminal counts, including first-degree murder.

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Shelby Jail Gets Grant to Study Incarceration Alternatives

The Shelby County Jail has received a $150,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to find ways to reduce the number of people unnecessarily behind bars. The goal of the grants, according to the foundation, is to empower local efforts that “will model effective and safe alternatives to the incarceration status quo for the rest of the country.” The jail is one of 20 to receive a grant. The Memphis Business Journal has more.

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Memphis Criminal Justice Program Ranked in Top 25

The University of Memphis’ online criminal justice program has been named as one of the 25 best in the country, the Memphis Business Journal reports. BestColleges.com, which released the rankings this week, looked at rates of acceptance, retention, graduation and enrollment in determining the placements. 

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