News

Commission OKs Early Release for Drug Felons

Tens of thousands of federal inmates serving time for drug crimes may be eligible for early release under a cost-cutting proposal adopted Friday by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The panel, which earlier this year voted to substantially lower recommended sentences for drug-dealing felons, voted unanimously to retroactively apply that change to prisoners now behind bars. That could affect more than 46,000 inmates, the Associated Press reports. Under the proposed process, a judge would review the case of each prisoner to decide if release would jeopardize public safety. Releases would start in November 2015 and be phased in over a period of years. Congress has until this November to voice opposition to the plan. WATE has the story.

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Families of Victims Meet to Discuss Justices' Opinions

Several family members of murder victims gathered in Knoxville yesterday to discuss opinions issued by the three State Supreme Court Justices up for a retention vote. The group is pushing for more rights for crime victims, and one woman said she was upset that justices weren't in support of showing a photo of a murder victim during a trial and felt that their decisions limited victim impact statements. WATE has the story.

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Federal Judge Rules California Death Penalty Unconstitutional

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled yesterday that California’s death penalty violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the LA Times reports. Carney called the California death penalty system “dysfunctional," with the result being an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding an actual execution.

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First Mom Charged Under Prenatal Drug Law

A 26-year-old Tennessee woman has become the first mother to be charged under a state law that criminalizes drug use by pregnant women, MSNBC reports. Mallory Loyola was arrested and charged Tuesday with simple assault after she and the baby girl she gave birth to on July 6 both tested positive for methamphetamine, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said. Loyola told police she smoked the drug a few days before she gave birth. The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum sentence of one year. Tennessee is the first state in the nation to allow such charges.

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Prosecutors Counter Claims Justices Are ‘Soft on Crime’

A bipartisan group of 13 district attorneys has come forward in support of Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Connie Clark and Sharon Lee, saying they have “outstanding records and deserve to be retained.” The spokesperson for the group, 15th Judicial District Tom P. Thompson Jr., said though “prosecutors may not agree with every decision made by this court...the fact is these justices…have upheld almost 90 percent of death penalty cases. They are not soft on crime.” Thompson also said the three are fair and impartial, and protect Tennesseans’ rights under the state and federal constitutions.

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Pilot to Pay $92M, Avoid Prosecution

Pilot Flying J has reached a deal with federal prosecutors to avoid criminal charges against the company, Knoxnews reports. Under the deal made public today, Pilot must pay a $92 million penalty over two years and cooperate with an ongoing criminal investigation into diesel fuel rebate fraud. Federal prosecutors said in a news release that the Criminal Enforcement Agreement “expressly states that it provides no protection from prosecution to any individual” in connection with the case. A criminal investigation against individual employees is ongoing with 10 already pleading guilty to charges.

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Senators File Complaint Against Judge Moreland

Three state senators have filed a complaint with the Board of Judicial Conduct against Davidson County Judge Casey Moreland in the wake of his decision to waive a 12-hour "cooling-off" period and release a man accused of abusing his girlfriend. In the complaint, Sens. Mike Bell, Randy McNally and Brian Kelsey say Moreland's actions promoted “distrust, suspicion and a belief that the 'good ole boy' system pervades the judiciary” and he should be “severely sanctioned.” Moreland told The Tennessean he regrets his actions, but did what he thought was right at the time. “I regret it. I apologize for it, and I will make sure to get more information next time."

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Mergers, 'Kaley' Ruling, Seersucker and More Covered in July TBJ

Kathryn Reed Edge gives the details of what a merger entails in the July issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal. Enjoy TBA Convention photos and stories in the printed version -- and read new TBA President Jonathan Steen's column, "If Not Us, Then Who?" Wade Davies explains the recent Kaley ruling about criminal defendants using their earnings to retain counsel (spoiler: they can't). And if you are wavering about buying a Seersucker suit this summer, read Bill Haltom's column for a nudge in favor of the cool, cotton ensemble.

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Obama Seeks $3.7 Billion to Deal with Border Crisis

Calling the situation a humanitarian crisis, President Barack Obama today asked Congress to provide $3.7 billion to cope with a tide of minors from Central America who are crossing illegally into the United States. The funds would be used to provide shelter and medical care for unaccompanied children, hire additional immigration judges, increase prosecution of smugglers, increase surveillance along the border and help countries repatriate those sent home. The president also said he wants to provide the secretary of homeland security additional authority to speed up the removal of the children though he did not include that policy change in his request. Obama plans to discuss the crisis with faith and local leaders during a visit to Texas on Wednesday, the Associated Press reports. More than 50,000 children have arrived in the United States since October. WRCB has the AP story.

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Legal Aid Lawyer Sought for Domestic, Sexual Abuse Cases

West Tennessee Legal Services is seeking a staff attorney with a strong commitment to the delivery of quality civil legal assistance to victims of domestic and sexual violence and stalking in rural west Tennessee. Experience representing domestic violence victims is preferred and proficiency in Spanish is a plus. Applicants must possess a Tennessee law license as well as excellent writing and oral communication skills and the ability to manage multiple tasks, build collaborative relationships, travel as necessary and use case management software. Interested candidates should send a cover letter, resume, writing sample and references to Hiring Committee, West Tennessee Legal Services Inc., P.O. Box 2066, Jackson, TN 38302 or by email to jane@wtls.org.

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Prescription Drug Summit Thursday in Chattanooga

Top state substance abuse officials will meet in Chattanooga this Thursday to discuss the problem of prescription drug abuse in Tennessee, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. E. Douglas Varney, commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, will join Criminal Court Judge Caroll Ross of the 10th Judicial District Recovery Court, Paul Fuchcar of the Council for Alcohol & Drug Abuse Services and others at the event, set for 2 p.m. at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga’s University Center, 642 E. Fifth St. In announcing the summit, which is open to the public, Varney said, “The abuse of prescription drugs, specifically opioids, is an epidemic in Tennessee, with disastrous and severe consequences to Tennesseans of every age.”

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UT Health Science Center to Operate Forensic Center

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center has been awarded a one-year $3.1 million contract to operate the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center and the Shelby County Medical Examiner’s Office, Memphis Daily News reports. Under the contract, the university will oversee medico-legal death investigation services for 20 counties that send autopsies to the facility. It also will provide staffing and management of the forensic center, including supplying forensic pathologists and technicians, support staff and a physician eligible for appointment as the Shelby County medical examiner. Read more about the history of the forensic center and the role the university will play in this Memphis Daily News article.

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Gideon’s Promise Recruits 2 Vanderbilt Law Grads

Gideon’s Promise has signed two Vanderbilt University Law School graduates to participate in its Law School Partnership Program. Jose Costales and William Howell join 13 other recent graduates who will work in underserved public defender offices with the promise of a full-time position after one year. The program is a partnership between Gideon’s Promise, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, participating law schools and public defender offices in the southeast. See the full list of participants.

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Public Defenders Conference Elects Middle Tennessee Rep.

The Tennessee District Public Defenders Conference has elected Donna Orr Hargrove to serve as the Middle Tennessee Representative on its Executive Committee. Hargrove is the District Public Defender for the 17th Judicial District, which includes Bedford, Lincoln, Marshall and Moore counties. The Elk Valley Times has more.

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Prosecutors Seek Contempt Charges in Vandy Rape Case

Monday's hearing in the Vanderbilt University rape case was “heavy on bluster, light on results,” the Tennessean reports. In the ongoing battle between prosecutors and attorneys for Brandon Vandenburg, one of four former football players accused of rape, an assistant district attorney “upped the ante” by accusing the defense of “outrageous, egregious" violations of court rules and privacy laws, and calling on the judge to hold all four defense attorneys in criminal contempt.

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New State Laws Take Effect July 1

Beginning on July 1, some 180 new Tennessee laws will take effect, WBIR.com reports. Among them is an anti-meth bill that limits the amount of pseudoephedrine people can buy to less than six grams a month. Two laws named in memory of a Knoxville couple murdered in 2007 will remove the state's 13th juror rule, which requires a judge to sign a unanimous verdict, and prevent attorneys from bringing up allegations of a victim's past that are not related to the case. Another, known as “Amelia's Law,” will allow judges to order offenders and parolees to wear a monitoring device that tests blood every 30 minutes if alcohol or drugs played a role in the underlying crimes. And finally, prosecutors will be allowed to charge mothers caught abusing drugs while pregnant. The Sparta Expositor also offers a list of new laws.

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Training for Advocates Fighting Violence Against Women

The Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence is offering an advocacy training July 9-10 in Memphis. The event, which is free, will take place at The Urban Child Institute, 600 Jefferson Ave., Memphis 38105. The training will focus on the history of violence against women, practical advocacy techniques, prevention, vicarious trauma and more. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. The program will run from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday. Register online to attend.

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Newly Elected DA Talks Domestic Violence Culture

When District Attorney Glenn Funk takes office on Sept. 1, one of his tasks will be to change the "culture in the community" surrounding domestic violence. In a statement released yesterday, Funk said he plans to establish a six-attorney Domestic Violence Unit that will meet with both victims and investigating officers prior to court in order to be completely prepared to handle the case. “The DA's office will partner with agencies from across the county to work on this issue, because in order to change the culture in the community, the whole community needs to be involved." Fox 17 News has more from Funk, who will be only the second DA to serve the county in the past 27 years.

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Haslam Backs 'Cooling Off' Period in Domestic Abuse Cases

Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday he supports making a 12-hour “cooling off” period mandatory for people arrested on domestic violence charges, the Memphis Daily News reports. "I think that makes sense," Haslam said. "I'm far from an expert on that, but from what I understand, it just feels like that is a common sense law." The statement comes in the midst of a controversy over a case involving a Nashville judge who released a man from jail a few hours after his arrest on a domestic violence charge. Police say he assaulted his girlfriend a second time shortly after being released.

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Drug Court Graduates Praise Judge Moreland

A controversial domestic violence case has left county officials and editorial writers calling for the resignation of Davidson County General Sessions Judge Casey Moreland. But those who have gone through the misdemeanor drug court run by Moreland say he saved their lives. "If it wasn't for the drug court program, I would not be here today," said Shane Demonbruen, a recovering drug addict. Others echoed that sentiment. Interviewed by WSMV TV, the group did not make excuses for Moreland, but asked that people wait before rushing to judgment – something they say Moreland did for each of them.

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New Reports Find Progress, Work to Do at Juvenile Court

Two new reports released this month largely praised Shelby County Juvenile Court for its continued progress in making reforms ordered by the U.S. Department of Justice, but both highlight shortcomings that need attention, the Commercial Appeal reports. The first report dealt primarily with protecting those detained from harm. Progress was noted in the areas of employee training and performance evaluations as well as availability of medical and mental health services. However, concerns were raised with the lack of adequate staffing. The second report looked at due process for detainees. It found that while compliance rates had increased, none had reached substantial compliance. The report praised the creation of a juvenile unit in the public defender’ office and improvements in administering Miranda rights. Concerns with the transfer of juveniles to adult court and defense attorney access to psychological evaluations, however, continue to be an issue for the court.

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'Justice in Motion' Proceeds Presented to Domestic Violence Shelters

First Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark and Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal presented checks to two local domestic violence shelters yesterday, WJHL reports. Clark and Graybeal presented the proceeds from the April 26 Justice in Motion 5K run/walk to Safe Passage of Johnson City and CHIPS of Erwin. The checks totaled more than $5,000.

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Report: Rape Kit Backlog Not Malicious

A report compiled by former U.S. Attorney Veronica Coleman-Davis says no one maliciously or wantonly allowed for the backlog of 12,000 rape kits that sat untested for years in Memphis. Instead of placing the blame on a single individual, the report, which was released yesterday, attributed the problem to “a general and collective failure to understand the importance of DNA testing as was reflected in common practices in place locally and nationwide,” Knoxnews reports.

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First Inmates Set to Die Since Botched Oklahoma Execution

Convicted killers in three states are facing executions within a 24-hour period beginning tonight, in what could be the first lethal injections in the nation since a botched execution in Oklahoma seven weeks ago. The states planning executions -- Florida, Georgia and Missouri -- refuse to say where they get their drugs, or if they are tested, according to the Associated Press. Lawyers for two of the men have challenged the process used to obtain the drugs. Nine executions have been stayed or postponed since the Oklahoma incident. WATE has the AP story.

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Shots Fired at Murfreesboro Judge’s Home

Murfreesboro Police are on high alert after someone shot at the home of Senior Judge Don Ash, News Channel 5 reports. The shooter put nine holes into a bedroom window and two holes in the garage using a high-powered pellet gun. Fortunately Ash, who previously served as a criminal court judge in Rutherford County, and his family were not home at the time. No one was hurt. Police believe the house was deliberately targeted as no other homes in the neighborhood were attacked. Judge Ash told the paper he would not be intimidated and the incident would not affect his performance as a judge.

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