News

Nashville Mayor Wants to Move Criminal Justice Center Operations

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean today proposed a new $110 million Davidson County Sheriff's Office complex at 5115 Harding Place that would consolidate all sheriff operations, including the 800-inmate downtown detention center. The new complex would be located on 163 Metro-owned acres where the current South Precinct operates alongside three other detention facilities. The undertaking would be the most expensive public safety investment in Metro's history. Dean is also seeking to relocate the Metro Nashville Police Department headquarters from the 33-year-old Criminal Justice Center to a new $23 million facility on Jefferson Street in North Nashville at the corner of 14th Avenue North near Interstate 40. The Tennessean has more.

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Legislators Approve Rape-Kit Testing and Cannabis Oil Bills

Legislators approved and sent to Gov. Bill Haslam a bill that would create a protocol for the collection of sexual assault evidence kits. Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis, the bill should go a long way in alleviating the kind of situation that resulted in a backlog of untested rape kits in Memphis and other parts of the state, the Citizen Tribune reports. Lawmakers also approved a bill allowing a person to possess cannabis oil under certain conditions. If it becomes law, certain amounts of cannabis oil can be used for the treatment of intractable seizures, especially in the case of children.

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Flawed FBI Testimony Found in Death Penalty Cases

FBI examiners gave flawed forensic testimony in 16 Tennessee cases that led to convictions, including four that sent defendants to death row, according to a report from The Washington Post this weekend. The Post reports that "[t]he Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000." None of the defendants in Tennessee have been executed yet, although Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas have all executed at least one person convicted in a case now identified as having included flawed forensic testimony, the Nashville Scene reports.

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Knox County Prosecutor Fired Over Alleged Sexual Assault

Knox County prosecutor Frederico Flores has been fired and is under investigation for an alleged sexual assault. Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen dismissed Flores on Wednesday after an internal investigation into the alleged attack on a female attorney. Allen has asked for an investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Because the TBI works at the direction of the prosecutor’s office, Allen filed an order recusing her office from the case, Knoxnews reports.

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Frankenberg Named New Knox Magistrate

The Knox County Commission appointed Sharon Frankenberg as a new judicial magistrate yesterday, Knoxnews reports. She replaces Mark Brown, who resigned in January. Frankenberg, who held the same post from 1994 to 1996, was nominated after three rounds of voting by commissioners.

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TBI Investigating Nashville DA Glenn Funk

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has joined in an investigation of Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk, reviewing actions he took just prior to taking office, the Tennessean reports. The action in question came to light when NewsChannel 5 broke a story that Funk arranged to have a part-time state job created for himself two months prior to taking over as DA, with the alleged goal of improving his pension and benefits. Funk has since said he would repay any benefits he received.

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Legislators Pass Protocol for Rape Exam Kits

Lawmakers approved and sent to the governor a bill that would create a statewide protocol for the collection of sexual assault evidence kits, the Commercial Appeal reports. The bill would require that evidence be tested within 60 days of healthcare providers turning them over to law enforcement agencies. The measure also directs the state’s Domestic Violence Coordinating Council to create a model policy for responding to reports of sexual offenses, and requires law enforcement agencies to establish written procedures with the same or higher standards.

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UT Law Prof, Grad Featured in Column on 'Overcriminalization'

A column published last week in The Washington Post by longstanding contributor and Pulitzer Prize-winner George F. Will features law review articles by University of Tennessee College of Law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds and recent graduate Michael Anthony Cottone, now a federal judicial clerk. Will’s column, “When Everything is a Crime,” discusses the overcriminalization of American life and builds on ideas Reynolds and Cottone previously presented in law review articles. Read more from the law school.

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Bill Authorizing Criminal Court Fee Increase Clears Senate

A new $5 fee for Knox County Criminal Court cases won approval from the state Senate and is expected to go to a vote in the state House this week, Knoxnews reports. If signed by the governor, then the Knox County Commission would have to vote whether to implement the fee. Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond proposed the fee to help pay the costs of operating the Fourth Circuit Court. Those opposed to the idea say it would disproportionately hurt the poor in Knox County.

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Former Knox County Trustee Reports to Jail

Former Knox County Trustee Mike Lowe was scheduled to begin serving a one-year sentence at the Knox County jail on Saturday. Criminal Court Judge Steve Sword also ordered Lowe to pay $200,000 in restitution and serve another 10 years on probation, Knoxnews reports. A hearing on May 1 will determine whether the restitution is paid to the court or the county. Lowe, 57, pleaded guilty to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds while in office.

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Court Postpones All Scheduled Execution Dates

The Tennessee Supreme Court has postponed execution dates for four inmates, effectively halting all executions until legal questions about current protocols are settled, the Associated Press reports. Tennessee last executed a prisoner in 2009. Since then, legal challenges and problems obtaining lethal injection drugs have stalled new executions. The court said Friday it would set new dates after the questions are resolved. The Nashville Ledger has the story.

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Dickson Judge Accused of Misconduct Speaks Out

A heated judicial squabble between a public defender and a city judge escalated Thursday evening with more motions and more fiery rhetoric. Now Dickson City Judge Reese Holley, who has been accused of judicial misconduct, is speaking out. “I do think I am a good judge. I think I am a fair judge,” Holley told News 2. He also said the situation is frustrating because he cannot speak about the allegations. The local public defender, Jake Locker, has accused Holley of not appointing public defenders to defendants who qualify.

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DOJ Officials in Nashville for Civil Rights Training

Investigators with the U.S. Justice Department were in Nashville yesterday for a daylong civil rights training session. U.S. Attorney David Rivera, Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk, Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson and several community leaders and clergy heard from investigators who had traveled from Washington, D.C., to shed light on the federal justice process and explain how they investigate criminal, civic and community relations issues, WSMV TV reports.

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House Passes Bill to Arm Constables

The state House has voted to allow constables in Tennessee to be armed if they are certified by the Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission, the Memphis Daily News reports. The chamber voted 92-1 on Thursday to approve HB1094 sponsored by Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville. The companion bill, SB1008, is awaiting a full floor vote in the Senate.

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Brooks Gets Probation For Falsifying Election Papers

Former Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks was sentenced yesterday to two years probation, 80 hours of community service and a mental health assessment for falsifying her address on a petition to run for juvenile court clerk. Criminal Court Judge Paula Skahan said at the end of the hearing that there was “absolutely no excuse” for listing a false address on election documents. Brooks, who served two terms on the county commission, said she plans to appeal, according to the Commercial Appeal.

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Vanderbilt Hosts Re-Visioning Justice Conference

Registration is open for the "Re-Visioning Justice in America” Conference, which will be held April 17 through 19 at Vanderbilt Divinity School. Presentations, panels and key note speeches will address a variety of topics, including racial discrimination in sentencing, the business of mass incarceration, the Cradle to Prison Pipeline and more. Keynote speakers include civil rights lawyer, advocate and legal scholar Michelle Alexander and Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.

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3 Finalists Selected for Vacancy in 11th Judicial District

Mike A. Little, Leslie Anne Longshore and Boyd M. Patterson Jr. of Chattanooga are finalists to fill the upcoming criminal court vacancy in the 11th Judicial District, which serves Hamilton County. The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments today submitted the names to Gov. Bill Haslam to fill the post now held by Judge Rebecca Stern, who is retiring June 1. The Administrative Office of the Courts has more.

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Supreme Court: Bail Not an Absolute Right

The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that the state constitution guarantees the right to bail, but it is not absolute. In a unanimous opinion released yesterday, the state's highest court said the right to pretrial bail can be revoked if someone is alleged to have committed a crime after bailing out of jail. The court, however, said that a defendant is entitled to a hearing before bail can be revoked. WSMV reports from the Associated Press.

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Prosecutors Get 1st Conviction for Revenge Porn

Kevin Christopher Bollaert, the operator of a “revenge porn” website that posted nude photos of people along with personal identifying information without their consent, was sentenced to 18 years in prison last Friday. Prosecutors say it was the first criminal prosecution of a cyber-exploitation website operator in the country. In addition to allowing the posting of unauthorized images by ex-spouses and ex-lovers, Bollaert extorted money from many victims who paid to have photos removed from the site. Read more in the Business Journal.

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Loudon County to Seek Approval for 2nd Judge

Loudon County commissioners passed a resolution yesterday asking the state legislature to create a second judgeship in the county’s General Sessions Court, Knoxnews reports. Current Sessions Judge Rex Dale told commissioners that since the court was created in 1959, the county population has more than doubled and is among the top 10 fastest growing in the state. The second judicial position would be filled by current Magistrate Hank Sledge, while two magistrates would be hired in his place.

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Circuit Judge Hears Criminal Cases Due to Heavy Docket

At any given time, hundreds of criminal cases are pending in the Third Judicial District, so Circuit Court Judge Alex Pearson is doing his part to make the docket a little more manageable, the Greeneville Sun reports. Pearson will spend two weeks this month hearing criminal court cases in Greene County. Criminal Court Judge John F. Dugger Jr. has seen has caseload grow from 1,500 cases nine years ago to 2,239 cases last year, mostly due to prescription drug abuse which drives property crimes, impaired driving and other drug crimes.

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DA to Discuss ‘Victim Photo Life Bill’ Thursday

Twenty-first Judicial District Attorney Kim Helper will discuss legislation known as the “victim photo life bill” at the Williamson County Republican Career Woman’s Club meeting on Thursday, the Brentwood Home Page reports. The bill, HB1342, sponsored by Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, would allow a photo of a dead victim while still living to be shown during a trial. Victim photos are not currently shown during trial because the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled such photos could potentially influence a jury. The group meets at 7 p.m. at the Brentwood Pointe II clubhouse.

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Court Affirms Inclusion of Lesser Offenses

The Tennessee Supreme Court has held that a jury can be instructed to consider – and a defendant can be convicted of – the less serious crime of criminal attempt, even if there is evidence that the charged crime was not only attempted but also completed. The decision came in the case of Jeremy Thorpe, who was convicted on one count of criminal attempt to commit sexual battery. The appeals court upheld the conviction, and the Supreme Court also found that lesser-included charges are allowable and a jury is free to find a defendant guilty of those offenses, whether or not they find him guilty of the actual crime. Chattanoogan.com has the story.

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New Law Would Let Memphis Open Curfew Centers

The state Senate approved a bill Monday to let Memphis set up juvenile safety centers around the city for minors who violate curfew. The measure could receive approval in the House before the end of the legislative session, according to Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis. Modeled after a program in Baltimore, the bill would give police officers the option to take curfew-violating juveniles to city-operated safety centers where they would receive counseling. Currently, officers can only take them home or to juvenile detention. The Commercial Appeal has the story.

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Supreme Court Cites Error in Jury Selection, Grants New Trial

The Tennessee Supreme Court has ordered a new trial in a Union County sexual battery case because the jury was not selected in the manner prescribed by the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure. The court determined that the deviations from the jury selection procedure deprived the parties of their opportunity to properly exercise their peremptory challenges and resulted in prejudice to the judicial process. The AOC has more.

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