News

Defense Seeks Mistrial in Vanderbilt Rape Case

Attorneys for a former football player convicted of raping an unconscious Vanderbilt University student in 2013 have asked the judge to declare a mistrial, the Tennessean reports. The motion claims that a juror who heard Brandon Vandenburg's trial in January had intentionally withheld information during the jury selection process. The attorneys say the juror is a victim of statutory rape and could not have been an unbiased juror.

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TBI to Apply for Grant to Tackle Backlogged Rape Kits

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) says it is applying for a $2 million grant to help analyze backlogged rape kits, News Channel 9 reports. The pool of funds is part of a $35 million initiative from the New York County District Attorney’s Office. The TBI said 18 police departments in Tennessee will submit kits for testing.

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FBI Chief of Staff Named Acting DEA Administrator

Chuck Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney and current chief of staff to FBI Director James Comey, has been named acting director for the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Associated Press reports. He will replace ousted DEA chief Michele Leonhart, who retired last month amid allegations of misconduct by agents and reports that they received lenient punishments. WRCB has the AP story.

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Cohen: Independent Prosecutors Should Probe Deadly Force

Cases involving police use of deadly force should be investigated by independent prosecutors rather than local prosecutors who often work closely with law-enforcement officers, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen told the Commercial Appeal on Wednesday. The Memphis Democrat’s comments came after he filed legislation conditioning federal criminal justice funding on whether state and local governments enact laws requiring that independent prosecutors handle allegations of deadly police force. Read more from the congressman's press release.

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Yates Confirmed as U.S. Deputy Attorney General

Sally Quillian Yates, most recently the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, was confirmed yesterday as deputy attorney general. The Senate vote was 84-12. Yates spent 25 years as the lead prosecutor in the Northern District of Georgia. She will join the U.S. Department of Justice as Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch’s second-in-command. The Atlanta Business Journal has the story.

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UT, LMU Team Up for 'Body Farm' Research

Finding the precise time of a victim’s death is a challenge that the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee is taking on with support from new National Institute of Justice grants and a partnership with Lincoln Memorial University, Knoxnews reports. Researchers there say the work is crucial to serving the criminal justice system. “If the courts don’t accept what we do, then we’re done,” program director Dawnie Steadman said. “There’s too much at stake.”

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Domestic Violence Now More than Half of Crimes

Domestic violence arrests spiked in Chattanooga over the weekend, WDEF reports. According to Family Justice Center director Dr. Valerie Radu new statistics show that more than 50 percent of all crimes in Tennessee are domestic violence. Radu anticipates the number of reported cases will increase in July when the Family Justice Center officially opens — an increase is considered good by experts because it means more victims are choosing to not stay silent about the abuse they encounter.

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Attorney Extortion Case Goes to Jury

The state wrapped up its case Friday against Clarksville attorney Carrie Gasaway and Adams attorney Fletcher Long, who are each facing one count of extortion. Prosecutors allege that the former law partners pressured a client to pay them $50,000 because they had wrongfully taken money from another client’s account to buy a building. The defense wrapped up its case this morning with only one witness, a former judicial commissioner who the duo approached about an arrest warrant for the client who refused to pay. The Leaf Chronicle has the latest developments.

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Lawyers Urge Court to Consider Electric Chair Claim

Lawyers at some of the state's most prominent law firms are urging the state Supreme Court to allow inmates to move forward with a claim the electric chair is an unconstitutional method of execution, the Tennessean reports. Twenty-two attorneys filed a brief with the Tennessee Supreme Court last week citing "a common calling to promote justice and public good." The court heard oral arguments in the case Wednesday in Knoxville.

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TBJ Includes Fiduciaries, Constitutional Convention of 1870

In the May issue, Nashville lawyer Scott Pilkinton examines the question of whether or not a felon can be a fiduciary. Turns out, it’s not an easy answer. Chattanooga lawyer and former TBA President Sam Elliott looks at "the two great issues" of the state's Constitutional Convention of 1870 and how it is still relevant today.

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ACLU Developing App for Videotaping Police

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is developing state-specific mobile phone applications that will allow users to record police officers in action and save the video to an external computer, WSMV reports. The new “Social Justice” app has been released in California, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska and Oregon. Apps for Michigan and North Carolina will be out within the next week. Other states, including New York and New Jersey, have similar products.

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49 Juvenile Court Officers Injured on the Job

Larry Scroggs, chief administrator of the Shelby County Juvenile Court, revealed this week that 49 detention and security officers were injured on the job, and two had to undergo surgery, during the last year. All injuries stemmed from efforts to break up inmate fights, WMCA News 5 reports. The information comes as the sheriff's office is about to implement a Department of Justice mandate to convert all juvenile court officers to deputies. Scroggs says that complying with the requirement will cost about $2 million.

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Haslam Signs Statewide Profiling Ban

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed legislation that requires all of Tennessee’s law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies to ban racial profiling, the Associated Press reports. The measure unanimously passed the House and Senate during the recent legislative session. WATE News 6 has the story.

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Public Defender, Mother, Talks About Racism

Ainka Jackson, an assistant public defender in Nashville, spoke last week during a mayoral candidate forum focused on criminal justice policies that have led to mass incarceration, which is disproportionately destructive to minority communities. Jackson, who is black and also a mother, a wife and a sister, spoke just after the riots in Baltimore about what it means to be a black woman, in all those roles, in today's America. Read her speech in the Nashville Scene.

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Suit Claims Commonly-Used Breathalyzer is Inaccurate

Nashville defense attorney Bryan Lewis has accused the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation of shaky science, filing a lawsuit on behalf of 14 DUI defendants. He said the breathalyzer gave them inaccurate results, which were used against them in court. He says the EC/IR II, an instrument used by 132 law enforcement departments in Tennessee, is inaccurate. WRCB-TV reports.

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Memphis to Add Body Cameras to Police

The Memphis Police Department will outfit its first complement of officers with body cameras by Sept. 1, the Commercial Appeal reports. While the cost have not yet been revealed, city officials said Tuesday that early estimates for body and vehicle cameras were about $24 million. WCYB.com also reports that the Department of Justice is launching a $20 million pilot program to fund body cameras for police officers in about 50 police departments. Officials have also allocated $1 million for the Bureau of Justice Statistics to develop a program to study the impact of the cameras.

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High Court Hears Electric Chair Challenge in Knoxville

The Tennessee Supreme Court heard a challenge to a new state law resurrecting electrocution in capital murder cases when it convened today in Knoxville. It was not considering whether the 2014 law passes constitutional muster. Instead, the panel was to hear arguments on whether it is too soon for the 34 death row inmates suing the state over all manner of death penalty protocols to mount a challenge at all. Knoxnews.com has the story. The Associated Press issued this guide to the state's lethal injections protocols.

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Alleged Victim On Stand in Lawyers' Extortion Trial

Defense attorneys for two lawyers charged with extortion began grilling the alleged victim on cross examination in Clarksville Wednesday morning, the Leaf Chronicle reports. Attorneys Carrie Gasaway and Fletcher Long are each charged with one count of extortion after allegedly pressuring a client, Michelle Langlois, to pay money she claims she didn't owe them, and then having her arrested. The lawyers were charged after a two-year review by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

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Drug Courts Emphasize Accountability and Compassion

Bradley County celebrated the success of Tennessee Drug Courts on Tuesday as part of "National Drug Court Month." Joining with courts from across the country, the celebration shows a combination of accountability and compassion is key to rehabilitating drug-addicted people in the criminal justice system, WDEF.com reports. "What we have learned over the years is, just incarcerating people is not the answer," says Richard Hughes, 10th Judicial public defender. The program not only provides treatment to people who need it, he says "it's cheaper than to incarcerate them in the local jail or prison." WTVC has more on two of the graduates.

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Lifetime Carry, Cannabis Oil Bills Signed

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed legislation that allows Tennesseans to get a lifetime handgun-carry permit, Memphis Daily News reports. Prior to the legislature’s action this session, a permit was valid for four years. In other bill signings, WATE News 6 reports that Haslam signed a measure decriminalizes the possession of cannabis oil for treating seizures and epilepsy.

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Bomb Squad Clears Suspicious Package

A metro Nashville bomb squad cleared a suspicious package this morning, just hours after the item was reported at the Criminal Justice Center, the Tennessean reports. The center is located at 200 James Robertson Parkway, across the street from the Justice A.A. Birch Building, home to the city’s criminal courts.

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Court Rules for Police Whistleblower

The Tennessee Supreme Court today reversed a trial court’s ruling against a police officer claiming retaliatory discharge under Tennessee’s Public Protection Act. The court held that the officer had proven that the sole reason he was discharged was retaliation for his refusal to participate in or remain silent about the police chief’s involvement in fixing tickets. The trial court had found in favor of the city, which claimed the officer was fired for a variety of reasons, including violating the police department’s chain-of-command rules by reporting the matter to the mayor. Read more from the court.

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Big Payback: Youth Courts Need Your Support

Help keep the Tennessee Youth Court program alive and growing by giving to The Big Payback Campaign. The Community Foundation fundraiser begins at midnight and runs all day Tuesday. Sponsors have stepped forward to match gifts, so your generosity can have a big impact, even if you donate just $10 or $20. The Youth Courts program is losing a major source of its funding this fall, so your contributions are vital to its future. Learn more about youth courts in Tennessee.

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Criminal Law CLE Connects with Juveniles

Representing juveniles charged with crimes is the focus of this week’s Criminal Law CLE. On Friday, attendees will look at how to handle criminal cases that involve juveniles, as well as cases that involve adult clients charged with abusing and/or neglecting juveniles. Learn more or register for the the program.

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Opinion: Be Smart, Not Soft, on Crime

Leaders across the political spectrum are taking a hard look at the facts behind “over-imprisonment,” commentators Steven and Cokie Roberts write in a piece published by the Daily Herald, going on to say that the “current system of criminal justice is badly broken.” The pair cite innovations from Republican governors, such as Rick Perry in Texas and Nathan Deal in Georgia, as well as Democratic legislators that could make a difference.

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