News

20-Year Incumbent Challenged in Hamilton County Primary

Twenty-year incumbent Criminal Court Clerk Gwen Tidwell is facing opposition in the May 6 primary from fellow Democrat Brian White of East Ridge. The winner of that race will face State Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, who is leaving his District 30 seat to seek the court clerk post. He does not have Republican opposition. The Chattanooga Times Free Press has more as part of its series on contested races in the May 6 Hamilton County primary.

read more »

Senate OKs End to Statute of Limitations for Rape Cases

The Tennessee Senate yesterday unanimously approved a bill by Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, to end the statute of limitation on rape cases, WREG reports. Rape cases currently must be prosecuted within eight years; aggravated rape within 15 years. If the House approves the bill and the governor signs it into law, it will go into effect July 1. An amendment to the bill requires victims to report rapes within three years.

read more »

Lawyer Suicide Addressed, 'Paine on Procedure' Continues

In her latest Journal column, Tennessee Bar Association President Cindy Wyrick addresses the subject of lawyer suicide and offers tips about what to say to a colleague who you suspect is suicidal, and what you can do if you find yourself feeling that way. And "Paine on Procedure" continues with another column Don Paine wrote before his death, this one about aggravated rape of a dead victim.

read more »

Lawmakers to Consider Allowing Victims’ Photos Shown in Murder Trials

The face of missing nursing student Holly Bobo might not be shown in the courtroom during the potential murder trial of Zachary Adams due to a prior Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that said photographs of murder victims, "have the potential to undermine and place in jeopardy the outcome of the entire judicial proceedings.” The state legislature next week is set to consider a bill that would allow victim’s photos to be shown in murder trials, WMCTV reports.

read more »

States' Search for Execution Drugs Gets Creative

Shortages of drugs used in the "three-drug protocol" used in executions is causing some states to scramble, sometimes in creative and unorthodox ways. Some manufacturers and pharmacies — particularly in Europe, where capital punishment is almost nonexistent — have cut off the supply of drugs used for executions because of opposition to the death penalty. As a result, prison officials in death-penalty states have resorted to sharing drugs, buying them from underregulated pharmacies or using drug combinations never previously used to put people to death, USA Today reports. This story also takes a look at other ways to carry out the death penalty, including bringing back the gas chamber, firing squad and electric chair.

read more »

Supreme Court Reinstates Murder Conviction, Clarifies Law

The Tennessee Supreme Court has reinstated a Memphis man’s conviction for first-degree felony murder while clarifying Tennessee law regarding the requirements to make an arrest and when a confession can be a basis for a conviction. The court also clarified the longstanding Tennessee rule that a person cannot be convicted based entirely on a confession that has not been corroborated by other evidence, unless that confession is given under oath in court, as was the case in State of Tennessee v. Courtney Bishop.

read more »

Boy Pleads Guilty in Shooting Death

The mother of a Nashville boy who was shot and killed earlier this year stood with the grandmother of the 17-year-old who on Monday pled guilty to reckless homicide in the death. Kaemon Robinson shot 15-year-old Kevin Barbee when, witnesses told police, a handgun Robinson was holding accidentally fired. The victim's mother had originally requested Robinson to be tried as an adult, but has since forgiven him. Had he been tried and convicted as an adult, he would have faced up to 51 years in prison, according to Fox 17. As a juvenile, he will likely be out of jail in less than two years.

read more »

Drug Courts See Successes

Cookeville area lawyers, judges and others involved in the 13th Judicial District Drug Court celebrated the graduation of the four members of its first class last week, according to the Herald-Citizen. So far, there have been 31 people recommended by the District Attorney’s office in the district to go into treatment. There are 17 in the treatment facility and 10 in outpatient status. Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Seth Norman oversees the Drug Court. Nearby in Coffee County, drug court executive director Mike Lewis and other drug court officials run “Recovery Academy” -- an outlet for youth who have slipped off the educational tracks and are in danger of not getting a high school diploma. Judge Tim Brock serves as the drug court judge and often refers youth to the Recovery Academy, which began last November. The Tullahoma News has this story.

read more »

Child Abuse Prevention Month Events

CASA agencies across Tennessee will mark Child Abuse Prevention Month with events, fundraisers and educational programs throughout the month of April. To get involved contact the appropriate invidual below. Don't see your area listed? Find a CASA agency near you at the Tennessee CASA website.


CASA OF THE 9TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT

Contact: Karren Herman, jb020707@yahoo.com

read more »

Media Coalition: Vandy Records Should Be Public

In a new court filing, a media coalition led by the Tennessean argues that text messages and other documents it is seeking in a Vanderbilt University rape case are public records that no law or policy can shield from public view. Metro government, the state attorney general’s office and the alleged victim in the case argued against releasing the records in briefs filed in Davidson County Chancery Court, saying their release would harm the victim and compromise the defendants’ ability to receive a fair trial. Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Russell Perkins has said he intends to hold a final hearing Monday and rule in the case the following day.

read more »

Obama Budget Calls for $35 million to Tackle Rape Kit Backlog

President Barack Obama is calling for $35 million in his proposed budget to help address the backlog of untested rape kits, WMCTV reports. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton says Rep. Steve Cohen is already on board campaigning for Memphis to get a portion of the funding. The city has at least 12,000 victims with untested rape kits.

read more »

Bill Would Allow Judges to Issue Search Warrant by Telephone

Tennessee prosecutors are supporting a bill to allow a magistrate or judge to issue a search warrant by telephone or “other reliable electronic means," the Times News reports. Current law calls for a law enforcement officer to appear before a magistrate or judge who will examine documents and issue a search warrant based on probable cause and supported by an affidavit. Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said the bill originated from his office and is backed by state district attorneys general. He said it is in response to a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that blocked law enforcement from drawing blood without a search warrant in drunken-driving investigations. Staubus said this system moves too slowly when quick decisions need to be made, especially in DUI cases.

read more »

TBJ Columns Cover Crime, Books, Court

In the new issue of the Journal, columnist Wade Davies tells you the options for warrantless entry of a residence when an immediate decision must be made. Nick McCall reviews Death in the Baltic: The World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff by Cathryn J. Prince, and editor Suzanne Craig Robertson finds General Sessions Court to be an eye-opening experience.

read more »

CNN Series Explores 'Death Row Stories'

A new CNN Original series, Death Row Stories, will follow a different capital murder case each week and says it will "call into question the myriad of beliefs about the death penalty and the American justice system itself." The eight-week series is a collaboration with Academy Award-winning directors Alex Gibney and Robert Redford. Susan Sarandon, who portrayed Sister Helen Prejean in the movie Dead Man Walking, will narrate. The series debuts March 9. Watch this "Google Hangout" discussion about the show and the issue, hosted by CNN's Ashleigh Banfield and featuring lawyers and law professors on both sides of the issue.

read more »

Veteran Prosecutor Enters DA Race

Veteran prosecutor Jared Effler has qualified to run in the Aug. 7 election for 8th District Attorney General. Encompassing Campbell, Claiborne, Fentress, Scott and Union counties, the 8th District does not have permanent or full time offices in all five counties — a situation Effler says he wants to rectify, the Claiborne Progress reports.

read more »

'Gideon's Army' Screening Reset for March 20

The screening of the award-winning HBO documentary Gideon's Army, which was cancelled Monday because of icy weather in Nashville, has been rescheduled to March 20 at 7:30 p.m. Hosted by the Nashville Public Defender’s Office, it will be at the Carmike Bellevue 8 Cinema. The film, which premiered last year at the Sundance Film Festival, follows the stories of three young public defenders whose struggle against long hours, low pay and staggering caseloads causes them to challenge the assumptions of the current criminal justice system. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased online.

read more »

Crime Group Targets Attorneys With Wire Fraud Scam

Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) groups are targeting attorneys across the United State with a sophisticated debt fraud scheme, the FBI is reporting. The TOC groups hire unwitting attorneys to represent them for a fraudulent legal scenario, solicit them to deposit large counterfeit checks into their client trust accounts, and then persuade them to immediately wire the deposited amount to a foreign bank account controlled by members of the TOC group. The FBI issued an advisory to inform the legal community how the scheme works, how to help mitigate the threat, and how to report incidents to law enforcement.

read more »

High Court Allows Disputed Home Search

The U.S Supreme Court ruled yesterday that police may search a home without a warrant when two occupants disagree about allowing officers to enter if the objecting resident is not present. The court had ruled in 2006 that when the occupants in disagreement are both present, the objecting occupant prevails. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the court's 6-3 decision, WRCBTV reports.

read more »

DAs Support New Approach for Chronic DUI Offenders

Tennessee continues to be plagued by repeat drunken drivers, and now, the state's district attorneys have a new idea for dealing with dangerous offenders, WSMV reports. Prosecutors in the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference say they want to attack the problem by getting chronic offenders into a intensive, strict treatment program rather than a cycle of repeat jail sentences. The proposal, which has been drafted into legislation, would include alcohol consumption meters as well as interlocks on offenders’ vehicles so they can get to work and stay employed. The DAs says the bottom line is that graduates from similar programs end up with a recidivism rate of only 10 percent.

read more »

Supreme Court to Hear Memphis Case Next Week

The U.S. Supreme Court next week will hear arguments in a wrongful death suit over a West Memphis, Ark., traffic stop that led to a chase into Memphis, where police gunfire killed an unarmed driver and his girlfriend, the Commercial Appeal reports. On March 4, attorneys representing the city of West Memphis and six officers will try to convince the nation’s highest court that the pursuing officers are shielded from prosecution. Shelby County prosecutors previously charged three of the officers with reckless homicide, but in 2008 they were given two years of diversion, which they completed. All six officers were then sued in the civil action. The U.S. District Court in Memphis and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled that the officers are not shielded by qualified immunity.

read more »

Bills Seek to Tackle Backlog of Rape Evidence

Tennessee is among at least 17 states that are proposing legislation to address the backlogs of untested rape kits dating as far back as the 1980s, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. State Sen. Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, is the sponsor of one bill requiring law enforcement agencies to inventory their rape kits. Another proposal, sponsored by Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, would require law enforcement agencies to submit rape kits to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation within 10 days and require they be analyzed within six months.

read more »

Gideon’s Army Screening Set for March 3

The Nashville Public Defender’s Office is hosting a screening of the award-winning HBO documentary Gideon’s Army. The showing will take place next Monday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Carmike Bellevue 8 Cinema. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased online. The film, which premiered last year at the Sundance Film Festival, follows the stories of three young public defenders whose struggle against long hours, low pay and staggering caseloads causes them to challenge the assumptions of the current criminal justice system. The Nashville Public Defender’s Office reports that, like the lawyers featured in the film, it has joined a nationwide movement to reform indigent defense. Download a flyer about the event.

read more »

Memphis Needs $6.5 Million to Process Rape Kits

Memphis Mayor AC Wharton was to ask the city council today for $1 million to pay for testing of backlogged rape kits. But the request, if granted, would cover just a fraction of the costs. Wharton also said he plans to ask the state for $2 million and has been in talks with Gov. Bill Haslam to find other workable solutions. Help also may come from the private sector. Local Memphis.com recently reported that the charity Joyful Heart Foundation is working to find money to help the city. Experts estimate it will cost $6.5 million and take five years to test the thousands of backlogged kits.

read more »

Court Seeks Pro Se/Death Penalty Law Clerk

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee is seeking a combined pro se/death penalty law clerk in Nashville. The closing date for applications is Feb. 26. The clerk will provide legal assistance to the court in connection with pro se/prisoner civil rights complaints, state habeas corpus petitions (including death penalty cases) and motions to vacate sentences in federal habeas corpus petitions. The clerk will perform substantive review of case records and filings, conduct legal research, draft proposed opinions and orders for each of the district judges, and provide information to chambers staff, court staff and pro se filers. Download the job description.

read more »

Shelby PD Now Handling Juvenile Defense

Veteran Memphis defense attorney Donna Armstard is heading up a team of attorneys at the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office that has begun representing juveniles charged with crimes, the Commercial Appeal reports. “We’re basically starting a whole new law firm,” Armstard says of the effort. For decades, minors have been represented by private attorneys appointed to individual cases and paid with public money. But federal findings that black youths are treated more harshly than their white counterparts in the county justice system, have led the public defender’s office to make a number of changes, including gradually taking over the defense of all juveniles. Stephen Bush, the county’s chief public defender in the adult system, eventually will be in charge of representing indigent minors charged with serious crimes. But for now, he is relying on Armstard and her team, who are busy getting up to speed on juvenile law and court procedures.

read more »