News

Man Gets 22 Years for Trafficking in Nashville

Michael Kohlmeyer was sentenced in Nashville Thursday to 22 years in prison for trafficking a person under the age of 15 for a sex act, according to the Tennessean. The case is the first time in Tennessee a customer of sex trafficking has been prosecuted, Assistant District Attorney Antoinette Welch said. Derri Smith, executive director of End Slavery Tennessee, said that 94 minors are trafficked each month in the state.

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Visit Coffee County's New Jail on Saturday

The Coffee County Sheriff’s Department will host an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony at the county's new jail on Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. Opening ceremonies for the state-of-the-art, 400-bed facility are expected to start at 1:15 p.m. and feature a host of current and former officials who took part in the years-long process of planning, financing and constructing the $22 million project.

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Haslam Signs Guns-in-Parks Bill

Gov. Bill Haslam today signed the controversial guns-in-parks bill into law, allowing handgun-carry permit holders to go armed in all parks statewide, regardless of local ordinances. The governor, a former mayor of Knoxville, had expressed concerns about the legislation because it removed the authority of city and county governments over parks under their control, and because the parks often border school properties, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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Drug Task Force Director Fired

The director of the Eighth Judicial District Drug Task Force has been fired following an investigation into the group's practices and protocols, WBIR reports. Eighth Judicial District Attorney General Jared Effler announced Melvin Bayless's termination Thursday. Effler also is requesting that a prosecutor outside his office "determine what, if any, action should be taken in light of these investigations."

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Court Grants Review on Lesser-Included Offenses Case

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted review in a case on the issue of lesser-included offenses. The Raybin-Perky Hotlist reviews it and makes a prediction as to how it may be decided.

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Legislative Session Wraps Up

State lawmakers finished their work for the 2015 legislative session just before 10 p.m. last night, the Tennessean reports. Among the bills passed yesterday, lawmakers approved an additional exemption to the Hall tax on investment income, new rules for ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, and the use of cannabis oil to treat seizures. Among the bills that failed to advance were measures allowing undocumented immigrants’ children who grew up in Tennessee to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities (which lost by one vote), allowing residents of parts of cities to de-annex territory, and banning alcohol sales to people with three or more drunken driving convictions. See a break down of more legislative winners and losers from the Associated Press.

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U.S. Senate Approves Lynch Nomination

The five-month battle to choose President Barack Obama’s next attorney general came to a close today when the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Loretta Lynch, CNN reports. Ten Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, joined Democrats in the 56-43 vote to make Lynch, 55, the first African-American female attorney general in U.S. history. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, was the only senator not to vote. Lynch, a two-time U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, will replace Eric Holder.

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Photos of Homicide Victims OK in Court

An “appropriate photograph” of a homicide victim prior to his or her murder will be able to be shown during trial if Gov. Bill Haslam signs new legislation passed this week, Chattanoogan.com reports. According to 10th Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crum, the action will guarantee that murder victims have the same rights as other victims of crime in Tennessee.

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Book Signing: 'Mass Incarceration, Death Sentences and Racism'

Joseph Ingle will discuss and sign his book, Slouching Toward Tyranny: Mass Incarceration, Death Sentences, and Racism, Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Parnassus Books in Nashville. As a pastor to Death Row inmates across the South, Ingle's book "is part personal experience, part history: the history of systematic destruction of minorities in America, from colonial days to now, by physical slaughter and by legal and judicial means."

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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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