News

Court Declines to Hear Backpage Lawsuit

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday decided not to hear the case of Jane Doe v. Backpage.com, a civil suit filed by sex-trafficking victims that contends the website helps facilitate sex trafficking of minors. That decision leaves in place a ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals that the company is covered by the Communications Decency Act and protected from claims against third-party content. Despite that win, Backpage.com announced Monday it is shutting down its adult advertising section, the ABA Journal reports. The move appears to be a response to a report from a Senate subcommittee accusing the company of editing ads to remove evidence of child sex trafficking.

read more »

Sessions’ Hearing Hits Hot Button Issues

Attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions went before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee today and mounted a full-scale response to what he has described as character attacks against him and false charges about his past. The hearing, which was interrupted from time to time by protestors, covered a range of “hot button” issues including civil rights, immigration, a border wall, same-sex marriage and abortion, with Sessions saying he will uphold the law even if he does not agree with it. Sessions also said he would recuse himself from any investigation of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation given his past comments on those issues. The hearing continues tomorrow with unprecedented testimony by one sitting senator, Illinois’ Cory Booker, against another. Read Sessions’ opening statement.

read more »

Jury Sentences Charleston Church Shooter to Death

A federal district court jury decided today to sentence Dylann Roof to death for his June 2015 attack on a South Carolina black church that left nine people dead. The jurors took very little time to make their decision after closing arguments, USA Today reports. The jury found that all aggravating factors applied and rejected some mitigating factors. Observers noted that Roof showed little remorse during the proceedings. In writings from his jailhouse cell, Roof said, “I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”

read more »

Nashville Police Offer No Rebuttal to Disparity Claims

Nashville police and the critics of their traffic stops remained at odds during and after a specially called meeting Monday at Metro Council chambers, Nashville Public Radio reports. The session featured testimony by the criminal justice reform group Gideon’s Army, which authored a study showing that Nashville police disproportionately stop and search the vehicles of black drivers. Police representatives offered no direct rebuttal to the findings and made no promises of reform.

read more »

TBJ Covers Immigration, Child Sexual Abuse, Family Law, Humor

Companies’ hiring of employees using work visas is a tedious business, but Nashville lawyer Dan E. White details it in the January Tennessee Bar Journal. Since the printing of the issue, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) increased filing fees by an average of 21 percent. Read the article online, which now includes the specifics on the updated fees. Also in this issue, John Day writes about child sexual abuse victims, and Marlene Eskind Moses and Benjamin Russ explain the doctrine of “inconvenient forum.” Bill Haltom looks at the flip side of “absence of malice.” Read the January TBJ.

read more »

DA Employee Resigns after Release of Rape Report

Ken Whitehouse, the director of research and media relations for the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office, has resigned amid growing pressure from police, who curtailed his access to police databases after he provided a rape incident report to a local television station. Nashville News 2 reports that an internal audit by the police department found that Whitehouse ran several hundred searches in a database that includes incident reports, arrest information, mug shots and court documents. Whitehouse yesterday submitted a resignation letter, in which he admits violating user agreements between the DA’s office and other law enforcement agencies regarding access to data. The Tennessean has a copy of the letter.

read more »

Proposed Bill Would Expedite Death Penalty Appeals

A bill filed Friday in the state House aims to eliminate a step in death penalty appeals, sending cases directly to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Tennessean reports. The legislation, filed by Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, would provide for direct appeal to the state Supreme Court of any death penalty case heard by a trial court. Lamberth notes that Tennessee is just one of a handful of states that requires intermediate appellate courts to hear these cases. He says defendants and victims’ families alike deserve an expedited process.

read more »

Policing Concerns Get Hearing by Metro Council

Gideon’s Army, a group that reviewed racial disparities in local policing and demanded changes to how traffic stops are conducted, will have a chance to make its case to the Metro Nashville Council. Council members have been considering whether to require police to routinely share data on traffic stops. Gideon’s Army said its presentation will include material from researchers and from black drivers who were interviewed for the study. The council also has invited the police department to present its side of the story, Nashville Public Radio reports.

read more »

Issues, Legislators to Watch as New Session Starts

Tennessee lawmakers are set to return to Nashville tomorrow to officially convene the 110th General Assembly. According to analysts with the the Tennessean, there are several issues likely to dominate the session. They include: increasing the gas tax with a possible offsetting reduction in food tax; tackling criminal justice reform; allowing marijuana for medical conditions but cracking down on cities that try to reduce penalties for possession; pay raises for teachers; and expanded use of school vouchers. The USA Today network reporting also looks at legislators to watch in the new session.

read more »

Texas Sues FDA over Seizure of Lethal Injection Drugs

Texas officials have filed a federal lawsuit to force the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make a decision whether it will return lethal injection drugs the agency confiscated nearly a year and a half ago. “There are only two reasons why the FDA would take 17 months to make a final decision on Texas’ importation of thiopental sodium: gross incompetence or willful obstruction,” state Attorney General Ken Paxton says in the suit. The Washington Post reports that the state had purchased 1,000 vials of sodium thiopental from a foreign distributor, but the drugs were seized by the FDA at the Houston airport in 2015. Texas authorities argue that the drugs do not violate any of the statutes enforced by the FDA.

read more »

Obama Authors Law Review Article on Criminal Justice

President Barack Obama returned to his roots at the Harvard Law Review this week, penning an article about the progress his administration has made in reforming the criminal justice system as well as the challenges that remain. The article, “The President's Role in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform,” addresses how presidents can exert influence over the criminal justice system. With respect to specific policies, Obama argues the country cannot afford to spend $80 billion annually on incarceration, “write off” 70 million Americans with a criminal record, release 600,000 inmates each year without helping them integrate into society, or deny that the legacy of racism drives inequality in the justice system. The Daily Times has more from the Associated Press.

read more »

State Sued over Driver’s License Law

A lawsuit filed in federal court this week alleges that the state’s driver’s license law violates constitutional rights to due process and equal protection, and unfairly deprives the poor of the right to drive because they cannot pay court fees. The suit, brought by the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, the Memphis-based reform group Just City and the Memphis office of Baker Donelson, argues that more than 146,000 Tennesseans have had their driver’s licenses revoked since 2012 for not paying court fines. State law provides for automatic revocation when court fines go unpaid for a year. The suit asks the Nashville-based court to reinstate the revoked licenses and waive reinstatement fees for those impacted, the Tennessean reports.

read more »

Court Sets Oral Arguments for Knoxville Session

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear four cases in Knoxville on Jan. 10. The cases involve issues of whether a person who has been elected judge, but not yet assumed office, may act as a state officer or employee and whether a judicial administrative assistant is an at-will employee whose employment can be terminated by the judge; whether the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in finding that the evidence at trial was insufficient to support a conviction for aggravated stalking; whether the signature of a trustee agreeing to arbitration binds the minor beneficiary; and whether a trial court erred in affirming a BPR decision.

read more »

$2M More Approved for Memphis Police Headquarters

The Memphis City Council approved another $2 million in capital funding for the renovation of a 13-story building that was once the Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building, the Memphis Daily News reports. The city bought the building for $1.5 million and planned to spend $6.2 million to renovate it for the Memphis Police Department’s new headquarters. The price tag is now approaching $8.4 million. The police department plans to occupy the top seven floors, with other city agencies moving into the rest of the building, which is located on Civic Center Plaza with City Hall.

read more »

California Dems Hire Holder to Fight Trump Policies

Democratic leaders in the California legislature have hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to advise them on a legal strategy as they prepare for a fight against President-elect Donald Trump and a number of his policies. The group will pay Holder $25,000 a month plus expenses for three months to develop strategies “regarding potential actions of the federal government that may be of concern to the state of California.” Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders have talked tough since Trump’s election, vowing to confront his campaign promises to repeal “Obamacare” and deport undocumented immigrants. WRCB-TV has the Associated Press story.

read more »

No Probation for Drunk Drivers Who Kill

A new state law that took effect Jan. 1 mandates that drunk drivers who kill someone must get jail time, WRCB-TV reports. The law, championed by Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, was supported by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which said it was important to take probation off the table as a possible sentence for a drunk driving vehicular homicide. Tom Kimball of the Tennessee District Attorney General Conference also praised the law, saying it is good news for victims’ families.

read more »

2nd Suit Filed over Shelby County Jail Problems

A new lawsuit filed on Christmas Eve alleges that 10 plaintiffs were held at the Shelby County Jail for an “extended and unlawful” amount of time before their bonds were set, the Commercial Appeal reports. The class action suit claims the county’s handling of a major computer system transition was “an abject failure” and the cause of the delays. The suit is the second one filed relating to problems at the jail. The criminal justice reform group Just City filed the first suit in November.

read more »

Roane County Drug Court Gets National Attention

A series produced by the Association of Independents in Radio and airing on National Public Radio is looking at stories that express the heart and soul of America. Among the features is one on the Roane County Recovery Court, which was formed to get drug addicts into treatment instead of jail. General Sessions Judge Dennis Humphrey works closely with the district attorney’s office to oversee the court, which involves “intensive supervision and treatment” in a county that is experiencing high rates of opiate addiction.

read more »

Nashville Plans Behavioral Health Center for Jail

The Davidson County Sheriff’s Department has announced it will build a $10 million behavioral health center for arrestees with mental health issues as part of its new headquarters. The separate facility will be the first of its kind in the nation, WKRN reports. According to the sheriff’s department, about 30 percent of jail inmates suffer from some type of mental illness. Leaders believe it is time to find a new way to treat these individuals so that they get the help they need. The center is slated to open in late 2018.

read more »

New Law Requires Mandatory Minimum Sentences

A new Tennessee state law means people who are convicted of three or more domestic violence crimes will be charged with a felony instead of a misdemeanor, and those found guilty of a third felony burglary or drug charge will face a mandatory minimum sentence. The law also sets the mandatory minimum period of time to be served to at least 85 percent of time sentenced. With the state prison system at 90 percent capacity, the law may pose challenges for some facilities. News Channel 9 looks at several, however, that claim they will not be affected.

read more »

643 Children Identified as Severe Abuse Victims

A Tennessee committee charged with investigating and issuing recommendations on severe child abuse in the state says 643 children were victims of a second or subsequent incident of severe abuse during the 2014-2015 fiscal year. The Second Look Commission found that sexual abuse is the most prevalent type of abuse and that the “lack of consequences for failing to report child abuse continues to be an issue.” The report is based on data provided by the Department of Children’s Services. Fox 17 has more on the findings.

read more »

Court Clarifies Evidence for Criminal Stalking Convictions

The Tennessee Supreme Court today clarified that the criminal offense of stalking contains both an objective element and a subjective element of significant mental suffering or distress that must be met to sustain a conviction. The court emphasized that the state must present evidence that a victim actually experienced significant mental suffering or distress. The ruling came in a case in which the court concluded that the evidence presented was insufficient to sustain the conviction.

read more »

Memphis Sued for Untested Rape Kits

Rape victims are in fear they may never see justice because of the backlog of rape kits that remain untested, News 5 reports. But now there is a $10 million class-action lawsuit being brought against the city of Memphis and Shelby County for negligence. “We’re suing for the insult to the injury,” attorney Daniel Lofton said. He also said the suit calls for full transparency as to how the backlog occurred.

read more »

Court Overturns Precedent on Ex Post Facto Protections

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that the state constitution’s prohibition against ex post facto laws provides no greater protection than that provided by the U.S. Constitution. The ruling came in a case testing whether application of the exclusionary rule to evidence seized prior to the law’s enactment violates constitutional bans on ex post facto laws. The court found that federal law prohibits retroactive application in four specific scenarios, none of which were involved in this case, and that nothing in the state constitution or history supports a conclusion that the state ex post facto clause is more expansive than its federal counterpart, overturning prior precedent.

read more »

Reentry Center Seeks to Expand Beyond Shelby County

When the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Reentry (MSCOR) opened its doors last year, the mission was to equip Shelby County residents being released from prison with the tools they need to return home. But since the facility opened, many who could benefit are not taking part of the program, says County Mayor Mark Luttrell. To address that gap, the office is working with officials at other state prisons and the state parole board to help direct inmates into pre-release re-entry programs while incarcerated and eventually to MSCOR. The Commercial Appeal looks at plans for the program’s future.

read more »