News

'Justice System Fails Victims in Tennessee,' Author Writes

Verna Wyatt, executive director of Tennessee Voices for Victims, explains in The Tennessean how she believes the justice system fails victims in Tennessee. Wyatt references “the sensational trial of the former Vanderbilt football players accused of raping a Vanderbilt coed.” The article is published during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, April 10-16.

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Sentencing Reform Measures Advance in U.S. Senate, House

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act and the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015 passed out of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees respectively. The measures, according to Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), address “legitimate over-incarceration concerns while targeting violent criminals and masterminds in the drug trade.” Brookings shares data on the U.S. prison population in areas the bill would impact.

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Knox Cases Prosecuted Under Gang Law Now Ruled Unconstitutional

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports at least 60 cases have been prosecuted in Knox County under the state’s “gang enhancement statute,” now deemed unconstitutional. The Tennessee Court of Appeals last week struck down the 2012 law that enabled harsher penalties for crime-committing gang members; the court said the measure's language was overly broad. Attorneys said the court’s decision could lead to new sentencing hearings for defendants whose penalties were enhanced. 

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Former Nashville Airport Official Sentenced in Fraud Case

The Tennessean reports former Metro Nashville Airport Authority official John T. Howard was sentenced today to two years in federal prison stemming from charges of money laundering, wire fraud and accepting a bribe. Howard was also ordered to pay $1.4 million in restitution. According to the information filed by the government, Howard filed work orders and approved payments for airport contractors to do work that was never performed. The U.S. Attorney’s Office sought between 57 and 71 years in prison for Howard based on the federal sentencing guidelines.

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Jury Finds Batey Guilty of Most Serious Charge

A jury late Friday found former Vanderbilt football player Cory Batey guilty as charged of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. Defense attorney Courtney Teasley said she believes there is grounds to appeal the verdict, The Tennessean reports. Batey, along with Brandon Vandenburg, were both found guilty of charges against them after a trial in 2015; a mistrial led to a second trial. The jury in the mistrial found Batey and Vandenburg guilty of more severe charges. Vandenburg’s trial is scheduled for June. 

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Court Denies Hearing Request from Death Row Inmate

The Tennessee Supreme Court today denied a request by death row inmate Pervis Tyrone Payne for a hearing to determine whether he is eligible to be executed because he is intellectually disabled. In a unanimous decision, the court concluded that the procedural avenues he sought to use do not entitle him to such a hearing. Read the full opinion

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Committee Releases Plan to Handle Unprocessed Evidence

A committee of former prosecutors, assembled by District Attorney General Neal Pinkston, released its protocol today on how to handle years of unprocessed evidence discovered in the Medical Examiner’s Office. The Times Free Press shares the multi-step plan, which involves examining every autopsy envelop between 1986 and 2002. The process should be completed by the end of 2016. 

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Cory Batey Retrial Underway in Nashville

The retrial of former Vanderbilt football player Cory Batey began today in Nashville, WSMV reports. Batey’s trial has been severed from Brandon Vandenburg, who is also facing charges for an alleged rape inside a campus dorm room in 2013. Courtney Teasley, a new member of Batey’s defense team, told the jury that Batey was drunk and acted “as a puppet following commands from his teammates” during the incident. Batey and Vandenburg were found guilty in 2014 on multiple charges including aggravated rape. 

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Sen. Dickerson Writes About Evidence Preservation Bill

Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville wrote an op-ed for The Tennessean about his bill, SB 2342, which would preserve biologic evidence until the defendant is executed, dies or is released from prison. “…The cost and effort to maintain biologic evidence is minimal when compared with our duty to ensure that our criminal justice system provides every possible safeguard when dealing with issues of life and death," he writes. 

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UT Files More Reasons to Dimiss Title IX Suit

WATE reports a judge allowed the University of Tennessee to file additional documents on a motion to dismiss a sweeping federal lawsuit against the school. The university says the plaintiffs have failed to articulate any “official policy” leading to the sexual assault cases. The move is in response to the plaintiffs citing a sexual assault case against the University of Colorado that claims the university had an “official policy” to provide women and alcohol to the high school football recruits. The UT filings also request that the university is not required to answer to “the nearly 100 paragraphs accusing unrelated individuals of crimes and other misconduct over a period of more than twenty years.” UT President Joe DiPietro today defended the safety of the campus during a board meeting, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports

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Register Today for the 135th Annual TBA Convention

Join us on June 15-18 in Nashville for the 135th Annual Convention! Registration for the 2016 TBA Convention includes:

  • free access to all TBA CLE programming;
  • the Opening Reception;
  • the Bench Bar Programming and Luncheon;
  • Law School and general breakfasts;
  • the Lawyers Luncheon;
  • the Thursday evening Joint (TBA/TLAW/TABL) Reception;
  • the Thursday night dinner and entertainment at the George Jones Museum;
  • and the Friday night Dance Party.

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House Approves Changes to Drug, DUI Penalties

The state House yesterday approved a measure (HB 1478) that would lower the legal penalties for repeated drug possession, WPLN reports. Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. William Lambert, R-Cottontown, drug possession would become a misdemeanor. The legislation also heightens the penalties for driving drunk in an effort to make people with numerous DUIs serve more time behind bars. The state Senate could vote on the proposal next week.

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Court Rules Feds Cannot Seize Assets Not Tied to Crimes

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday ruled the government cannot, before trial, freeze assets needed to pay criminal defense lawyers if the assets are not linked to a crime. NPR reports the 5-3 ruling came in a Miami case where prosecutors received a court order to freeze assets of a woman who had fraudulently obtained $45 million. The woman challenged the asset-seizure order on grounds that she needed the untainted assets to hire a lawyer for trial.

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Officer in Darrius Stewart Shooting to Receive Disability Pay

Connor Schilling, the Memphis police officer who fatally shot 19-year-old Darrius Stewart last year, will receive line-of-duty disability payments of $1,138.19 twice a month beginning April 1. The Memphis Pension Board today approved the amount, along with 70 percent subsidy of his monthly health care premiums, after Schilling claimed he has post-traumatic stress disorder following the July 2015 incident. The case is now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Read more from The Commercial Appeal.

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Judge Denies UT's Request to Move Suit to Knoxville

U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger this week denied the University of Tennessee’s request to move the Title IX lawsuit to Knoxville. "The entire state has an interest in the resolution of this case that has lodged serious allegations against the state’s premier higher education institution," Trauger said in the ruling. The eight plaintiffs in the suit argued it would be “traumatic” for the case to be considered in Knoxville. Read more from The Tennessean.

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Butch Jones Phone Records Released in Light of Title IX Suit

The Tennessean reports cell phone records released today from University of Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones reveal phone calls to police and players shortly after an alleged rape involving two members of the football team. The records do not reveal the content of the conversations, but do support a timeline outlined by former UT player Drae Bowles as part of a federal sexual assault suit against the school. Bowles said Jones told him he had “betrayed the team” by helping the woman who said she was sexually assaulted. 

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Spanish for Lawyers Series Available Online

The Tennessee Bar Association and the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute offer the Spanish for Lawyers Series, which focuses on communication skills for lawyers with Spanish-speaking clients. The online CLE courses include Basic Skills and Introductions, The Law Office and Client Interview, and Criminal Law. Each course offers one hour of dual credit.

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Obama Acts to Release 3 Tennessee Drug Offenders Early

President Barack Obama has reduced the prison sentences for 61 people serving time for drug-related offenses, the Associated Press reports. Most are non-violent offenders and more than a third of the inmates were serving life sentences. WBIR reports three of the inmates are from Tennessee. The majority of the inmates will be released July 28.

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Cory Batey to Stand Trial Alone, Set for Monday

Judge Monte Watkins today ruled that Corey Batey, one of four men charged with raping an unconscious woman at Vanderbilt University in 2013, will stand trial alone. Worrick Robinson, Batey’s attorney, said today that a judge granted a request to delay Brandon Vandenburg’s trial because of “personal issues.” Robinson then filed an emergency motion to delay the trial for Batey, but Deputy District Attorney General Tom Thurman argued the trial “would not be significantly different for Batey alone.” The Tennessean reports jury selection will begin Wednesday in Chattanooga and Batey’s trial is expected to start Monday. Judge Watkins last year granted a mistrial for Batey and Vandenburg due to a juror’s conduct.

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PD Group Seeks to Fill Retiring Executive Director Position

The Tennessee Public Defender’s Conference announces an upcoming vacancy for executive director. The position is currently held by Jeff Henry, who in February announced his retirement effective at the end of his current term in June. Interested parties should address resumes and any other documents to search committee chair Tom Marshall at 127 N. Main Street, Clinton, TN 37716, and to conference president Jeff Harmon at P.O. Box 220, Jasper, TN 37347. The deadline to apply is April 22.

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Pardon Attorney's Resignation Letter Describes 'Broken System'

Former Pardon Attorney Deborah Leff said the Obama administration instructed Justice Department attorneys to “neglect applications for president pardons to give priority to the Justice Department’s initiative to release low-level offenders from prison.” The information was revealed in Leff’s resignation letter, obtained by USA Today. Leff added the initiative “means that the requests of thousands of petitioners seeking justice will lie unheard.”

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Bill Would Declare 'Moratorium' on Police Bodycam Videos

The House State Government Subcommittee last week approved a bill (HB0876 / SB0910) that would prohibit public disclosure of most body camera recordings made by Tennessee law enforcement officers for at least a year, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, would allow the public release of the recordings after “any investigation” into the case, trial or disciplinary proceeding involving the recordings. Casada said he is currently working on revisions to the bill.

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HIGHway Driving in Tennessee, 1 Hour of CLE

Statistics show Tennessee has four of the top five counties in the United States for most traffic fatalities by depressant drug-impaired drivers. Judge Thomas Wright and District Attorney General Thomas Kimball address drugged driving, non-prescription drugs and DUI investigations in HIGHway Driving in Tennessee. The webcast, available March 30 and also in archived video, is approved for one credit of CLE.

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Attorneys for Erin Andrews Seek Full $55M

Attorneys for TV personality Erin Andrews asked in a new filing that Nashville Circuit Judge Hamilton Gayden require the owners of a Nashville hotel and its management company to award Andrews the full $55 million awarded to her earlier this month. The attorneys say the companies should not split the payment with Michael David Barrett, the man who secretly recorded nude videos of Andrews at the hotel. The Tennessean reports jurors held that Barrett was 51 percent responsible, and that the hotel owner and operator 49 percent responsible for the harm Andrews suffered.

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Ex-Bailiff Says Baumgartner Acted 'Impaired' During Leath Trial

Former court bailiff Meredith Driskell testified yesterday that Former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner appeared to “nod off” during the January 2010 trial of Raynella Dossett Leath. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports attorneys Rebecca Legrand and Joshua Hedrick, who represent Leath, are attempting to win Leath a new trial and claim Baumgartner robbed her of a constitutionally sound trial. Baumgartner was later sentenced to prison for lying to cover up a drug conspiracy in which he was buying pills. 

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