News

Judge Refuses to Share Information Regarding New Trial Request

Judge Alan E. Glenn said that Shelby County Judge Carolyn Wade Blackett's refusal to give more information regarding her decision to grant a new trial to a man sentenced for attempted murder could “’reasonably’ be presumed a violation of the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct and ‘evidencing a personal bias’ against the district attorney general’s office.” The Memphis Daily News reports Blackett ordered a new trial after comments she heard from jurors regarding contact with the prosecution.

read more »

New Trial Ordered Due to Graphic Photos

The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that graphic photos from the crime scene should not have been used during the trial of a Knoxville man convicted in a deadly hit and run. The judges said the photos showing one of the victim’s unborn child likely influenced the jury, WATE reports. “The photographs in this case were, without a doubt, the most grotesque, horrifying, and unnecessary photographs that I have viewed in 17 years on this court,” Judge John Everett Williams said. A new trial has been ordered.

read more »

Knoxville Public Defender Disagrees with DA's New Policy on Shoplifters

Knox County Public Defender Mark Stephens does not agree with District Attorney Charme Allen’s authorization to use felony burglary charges to prosecute petty thieves who return to the scene of their shoplifting crimes. “The DA has almost relegated itself to being a collection agency or a protector of Walmart,” Stephens said in the Knoxville News Sentinel. “It is an overreaction. It is not at all what the legislature intended.”

read more »

Man Wrongly Accused of Murder Speaks at Vanderbilt Law School

Ndume Olatushani, a man who spent nearly 27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, spoke at Vanderbilt Law School on Wednesday with his attorney and Vanderbilt Law School grad Anne-Marie Moyes. The Vanderbilt Hustler reports that Olatushani was accused of murdering a Memphis store owner in an attempted robbery in 1983, despite never having been to the state of Tennessee. “One of the first things I began to read was law books because I wanted to understand this process. I knew I had to understand this process,” Olatushani said.

read more »

Black Caucus Discusses Drug Sentencing Reform

Members of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State legislators said they are considering legislative proposals that would provide alternative sentencing for individuals with drug or mental health problems, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. "We've got to distinguish mental health issues from violent crimes," District Attorney Glenn Funk said. The group also said it is considering legislations that would change the sentencing guidelines for offenders convicted of selling drugs near a school.

read more »

Thousands of Drug Inmates Set for Early Release

More than 4,300 federal inmates serving sentences for drug crimes are set for early release this weekend in an effort to reduce the nation’s prison population, the Associated Press reports. The release comes after a U.S. Sentencing Commission ruling that reduced the potential punishment for drug offenders. More than 1,700 additional inmates who are not U.S. citizens will be turned over to immigration officials.

read more »

Predicting the Impact of Proposed Criminal Justice Reform

The Urban Institute, a Washington-based think tank, developed a calculator to predict how much the federal prison population will drop over the next eight years in light of proposed criminal justice reform. Slate reports that according to the calculator, the overall prison population will be reduced by 18 percent by September 2023 if drug traffickers saw their sentences slashed by 50 percent.

read more »

State Seeks February Retrial for Batey and Vandenberg

WKRN reports that a new hearing for Cory Batey and Brandon Vandenburg, the former Vanderbilt football players accused of rape, has been set for Oct. 29. The hearing will review the district attorney’s request for the trial to begin on Feb. 29, 2016, with jury selection on Feb. 22, and the defense’s response. The trial was delayed earlier this month; the retrial is expected to cost an estimated $74,000.

read more »

Tennessee to Implement Animal Abuse Registry

When the state's animal abuse registry goes live Jan.1, it will be the first one like it in the nation. The registry will include names of people convicted of serious animal abuse for two years, or longer if they are found guilty of a second, similar offense, NewsChannel 5 reports. Up to eight other states are now considering following in Tennessee's footsteps, according to animal advocates.

read more »

Prosecutors Discuss Trafficking, Sexting and More at Fall Meeting

Prosecutors from across the state gathered this week to discuss possible changes to laws at the annual fall Tennessee District Attorneys General conference, the Times Free Press reports. Topics included cyberbullying, human trafficking and sexting, where there isn't always a clear legislative solution, Jennifer Moore Mason said. The problem, she said, is that no specific statute exists for juvenile sexting, where teens exchange sexually explicit photos via email or text. Instead, teenagers can get hit with charges of sexual exploitation of a minor, or harassment. 

read more »

Mental Health, Drug Programs Work Within Justice System

The Manchester Times looks into the Coffee County Mental Health Court program, now in its fourth year. The court helps to keep those with identified mental health issues out of jail, according to Mike Lewis, director of the Coffee County Drug Court, which oversees the program. Coffee County General Sessions, Juvenile and Drug Court Judge Tim Brock presides over the court once a week. Also, the Coffee County Recovery Court program has helped over 70 people since 2005, the Tullahoma News reports. This program is designed to help current and former inmates overcome drug and alcohol addictions, as well as address underlying mental health issues. 

read more »

Stevenson to Speak at Knox County PD Event

The Knox County Public Defender's Community Law Office, in celebration of its 25th Anniversary and in partnership with East Tennessee Foundation, is hosting an evening with New York Times best-selling author Bryan Stevenson. The Nov. 9 event will be at the Crowne Plaza Knoxville. Stevenson wrote the book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, about his work with the Equal Justice Initiative.

read more »

Police Chiefs Form Group to End 'Mass Incarceration'

The police chiefs of Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga are among 130 top law enforcement officials from across the nation calling for an end to "mass incarceration" in the United States while maintaining public safety. The officials have formed a new group, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, whose top leaders announced the group's policy agenda — to push reforms to reduce incarceration and strengthen public safety — Wednesday in Washington. The Commercial Appeal reports.

read more »

Ohio, Arkansas Halt Executions; Scalia Predicts Death of Death Penalty

Ohio and Arkansas have become the latest in a string of states putting the death penalty on hold because of issues with the drugs needed to carry out the lethal injections. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has delayed executions until at least 2017, while prison officials try to secure supplies of lethal injection drugs, The Johnson City Press reports. The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a lower-court judge overstepped his jurisdiction by halting the executions of eight death row inmates, but the high court immediately granted its own stay to give the inmates time to challenge a new state law that bars Arkansas from disclosing its execution-drug supplier, according to an Associated Press report. Meanwhile, in an address at the University of Minnesota Law School, Justice Antonin Scalia said Tuesday it "wouldn't surprise" him to see the U.S. Supreme Court invalidate the death penalty after moving in recent years to restrict its application.

read more »

Rape Retrial Estimated at $74k

The new rape trial for former Vanderbilt football players Cory Batey and Brandon Vandenburg will cost taxpayers an estimated $74,000, WSMV reports. The Davidson County trial courts administrator based that figure on the costs of bringing a jury from Chattanooga and sequestering jurors for two weeks. The new trial was supposed to begin Nov. 30, but Judge Monte Watkins decided earlier this week to move it to March or April.

read more »

Campbell County Judge in Court Over Expungement Issue

Campbell County General Sessions Judge Amanda Sammons found herself in circuit court this week for not signing an expungement order after dismissal of a misdemeanor vandalism charge. Her five-month delay in signing the order resulted in a local teen losing two job opportunities, Knoxnews reports. In court, she pledged to finally sign the order. Sammons promised “a revolution” in Campbell County’s judicial system when she was elected in 2014, but her actions are drawing a series of complaints, the newspaper reports.

read more »

Memphis Now a Leader in Rape Kit Testing, Norris Says

Memphis has made great progress handling its backlog of untested sexual assault kits and has become a model for other cities in dealing with the problem, state Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said during a summit on the issue Monday. Norris, who has sponsored three laws to help ease the backlogs across Tennessee, said, "It's not just a Memphis problem or a Tennessee problem. It's a national one. And they're looking to us for best practices." The Commercial Appeal has more

read more »

Seminar on Human Trafficking Comes to Brentwood

The Brentwood Library will host a program on human trafficking, how to identify it and steps to prevent it on Oct. 29. Co-sponsored by the Brentwood Woman’s Club and You Have the Power, the “No Girl’s Dream” program will be from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Brentwood Library, 8109 Concord Rd. Brentwood Homepage has more.

read more »

Governor Names Members to Law-Related Bodies

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has announced a series of appointments to state boards and commissions, including several law-related bodies, WRCBTV.com reports. Among the appointments are Chris Hodges of Nashville and Ward Phillips of Knoxville to the Board of Judicial Conduct; Niesha Wolfe of Clarksville and Mary Wagner of Memphis to the Post-Conviction Defender Oversight Commission; and Jason Denton of Lebanon, Lynn Lawyer of Nashville and Jerry Mayo of Brentwood to the Advisory Council on Workers' Compensation.

read more »

Testimony: Longer Sentences 'Not the Panacea' for Crime

Longer sentences do not dissuade individuals from committing crimes, according to testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. "They do not reduce crime, they do not increase public safety, and they cost the state a whole lot of money,” Professor Christopher Slobogin told the committee. The director of the Criminal Justice Program at Vanderbilt University Law School was among those commenting on recent findings from a sentencing task force. The Tennessean has more on the hearing.

read more »

Trial for Former Football Players Pushed to 2016

The second trial of two former Vanderbilt University football players accused of rape will not happen until next year, Nashville Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins ruled today. Watkins heard several motions in the case and “largely ruled in favor of the prosecution” except on the question of the new trial date, the Tennessean reports. On that issue, Watkins granted defense attorneys’ motion that they were hired only four months ago and have not had time to adequately prepare for the case. Watkins said the trial would likely occur in March or April.

read more »

Judge Protects 2 in Rutherford Probation Case

Federal judge Kevin H. Sharp has issued an injunction stopping a private probation company in Rutherford County from jailing two men because they cannot pay court fines and fees, the Tennessean reports. Sharp also ordered the company and county officials not to arrest the pair for any other reason and then hold them on bond. Fred Robinson and Steven Gibbs are two of seven individuals on probation that filed a class action lawsuit against Providence Community Corrections and Rutherford County officials. The suit argues the parties conspired to overcharge people on probation and withhold payments that should have covered court fines and fees.

read more »

Oklahoma Halts Executions Until 2016

No executions will be scheduled in Oklahoma until at least next year while the attorney general’s office investigates why the state used the wrong drug during a lethal injection in January and nearly did so again last month, the Associated Press reports. The latest investigation comes after prison officials discovered they had potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride just hours before Richard Glossip was scheduled to die at the end of September.

read more »

Prisons Chief Vows Changes Amid Review

Appearing before the state Senate Corrections Subcommittee yesterday, Tennessee Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield told lawmakers that he will revise controversial staff schedules and change the legal definitions of inmate-on-guard assaults – two issues that recently have led to concerns among correctional officers. “This is not just a Band-Aid. This is a complete review,” Schofield told the panel. A recent independent review by the American Correctional Association found unrest over guard turnover, violence and understaffing. The Times Free Press has the story.

read more »

Former Vandy Football Players Ask to Separate Cases

Two former Vanderbilt University football players charged with raping a student in 2013 have renewed their request to go to trial separately, according to the Tennessean. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey are set for trial Nov. 30. But their attorneys asked the court yesterday to separate the cases and delay the trials. The pair was found guilty on charges of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery in January but a mistrial was declared after a juror failed to disclose he was a past victim of statutory rape.

read more »