News

Madison County Closer to Jail Expansion Project

The Madison County Correction Partnership Committee unanimously approved the beginning stages of collecting bids for a future expansion of the county jail, The Jackson Sun reports. The request for qualifications will allow architecture firms to submit plans for expanding the Jackson-Madison County Criminal Justice Complex.

read more »

Decreased Executions Reflect Lack of Support for Death Penalty

Executions in the United States have dropped to the lowest level since 1991, the Associated Press reports. The Death Penalty Information Center said 28 inmates were executed as of Dec. 15, far below the peak of 98 in 1999. “What we’re seeing is the cumulative effect of falling public support for the death penalty,” Robert Dunham, the group’s executive director, said.

read more »

Judge Binkley Defends Rep. Durham on Facebook

Circuit Court Judge Michael W. Binkley is defending a request by Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, in which he asked for leniency for a former pastor convicted of child porn possession, The Tennessean reports. Binkley said in a Facebook post that the decision showed “moral courage” and “guts.” The post has since been deleted.

read more »

Report: Small Counties Increasing Jail Population

The Daily Times asserts overcrowding issues in big city jails highlighted Tuesday by the Associated Press are plaguing Blount County. The story said small counties are driving up the country's jail population based on incarceration trends from the Vera Institute of Justice. The AP reported U.S. jails now hold nearly 700,000 inmates on any given day, up from 157,000 in 1970.

read more »

Former Clarksville Teen Convicted in Murder, Rape of Teacher

A former Clarksville teen was convicted today in Massachusetts of raping and killing his high school teacher, the Associated Press reports. Philip Chism, now 16, was tried as an adult and faces life in prison on the first-degree murder charge. As a juvenile, he cannot by law receive a life sentence without parole. A status hearing is set for Dec. 22 to discuss sentencing.

read more »

Family of Murdered Woman Receives $33M in Judgment

An order from Eight Judicial District Circuit Court Judge John McAfee awarded $33 million to the children of Jean Johnson, a Scott County woman who was murdered by her ex-husband in 2007. Douglas V. Whisnant, who pled guilty to murder charges in 2010, refused to answer questions during a video disposition last month. The refusal resulted in the cancellation of a jury trial in the case, the Independent Herald reports. “We have sent a message that domestic violence will absolutely not be tolerated,” Campbell County attorney Kathy Parrott said.

read more »

Legislation Would Increase Time for Especially Aggravated Burglary

Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, introduced on Monday legislation to increase the amount of time served for those convicted of especially aggravated burglary. Those convicted of the crime would be ineligible for parole to ensure no less than 85 percent of the sentence is served. “This is when someone breaks into your home and beats you," Kelsey said. "The idea that these violent offenders could be eligible for release after a few years for a crime that will affect his or her victims for the rest of their lives is astounding." Read more from The Chattanoogan.

read more »

Dept. of Justice to Review Darrius Stewart Case

A team of FBI agents, federal prosecutors and attorneys from the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division in Washington D.C. will conduct a review of the shooting of Darrius Stewart by Memphis police officer Connor Schilling. Federal authorities announced Monday the review will be “independent, impartial and thorough,” The Commerical Appeal reports. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file of the case was posted yesterday for public review at the website of Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich. 

read more »

Couple Files $7.5M Suit After Death of Son

Attorney T. Scott Jones filed a lawsuit on behalf of John and Candi Hall that seeks $7.5 million in damages following the 2014 shooting death of the couple’s son, Evan Hall, in West Knox County.  WBIR reports that the suit accuses Bailey's Sports Grille of illegally serving alcohol to the 19-year-old. The suit also names shooting suspect Jack Bush and his parents.

read more »

Just City to Hold Fundraiser Tonight for Clean Slate Fund

Just City will hold a fundraising event tonight in Memphis for the nonprofit’s Clean Slate Fund, which helps nonviolent ex-offenders expunge their criminal records. “Wonder” is free and open to the public. Doors will open at 6 p.m. at Amurica, 410 N. Cleveland. Read more from The Commercial Appeal.

read more »

State Rep. Requested Leniency in Child Porn Case

House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, asked a federal judge for a lenient sentence for a former youth pastor convicted of possessing child porn. The Associated Press reports that Joseph Todd Neill, who previously worked at North Fork Baptist Church in Shelbyville, was sentenced to more than three years in prison. A grand jury last week declined to indict Durham on prescription fraud charges.

read more »

High Court to Review Blood-Alcohol Test Laws

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday it will review state laws that make it a crime to refuse to take a blood alcohol test if the officer does not have a warrant, The Washington Post reports. Challengers in the case from North Dakota say the laws violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches. The court also announced it will review a challenge to the federal government’s ability to define wetlands.

read more »

Rutherford County Inmates' Families Attend Christmas Event

Inmates at the Rutherford County Detention Center were able to spend time with their families Saturday at New Vision Baptist Church’s annual Christmas event. The Tennessean reports more than 300 children and families were in attendance. The event was coordinated by Prison Fellowship, an organization that helps facilitate similar gatherings across the country.

read more »

Tennessee DAs Release Legislative Agenda

The legislative agenda for Tennessee’s district attorneys includes increasing the punishment for child porn videos, Kingsport Times-News reports. "We can enhance punishment depending on how many images you have," Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said. "Currently, one photo and one video (of child porn) are the same. We want to propose that one video, which is made up of multiple images, be counted as 51 photos." The agenda also includes toughening laws for school bus drivers who use electronic devices while operating a bus and establishing aggravated sexual battery as a lesser offense.

read more »

Shelby County Mental Health Court to Open in January

The Shelby County Mental Health Court, a voluntary program that will attempt to help nonviolent, mentally ill criminals get help instead of jail time, is set to open next month. WREG reports county departments and state agencies met Thursday to discuss plans for the court. "It'll allow us to divert people with mental illnesses from the prison environment, which is very costly," Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said. Judge Gerald Skahan will preside over the court.

read more »

New FBI System Will Count People Killed by Police

The FBI will overhaul its system for counting the number of deaths caused by police officers in the United States, The Guardian reports. The new system, which will remain voluntary, will publish a wider range of data including information about deadly encounters involving the use of Tasers and fatal shootings.

read more »

Decades of Unprocessed Evidence Discovered in Hamilton County

Eleventh Judicial District Attorney Neal Pinkston is creating a committee to review recently discovered unanalyzed evidence from murders that occurred between 1986 and 2002, The Times Free Press reports. "An initial review of the 1986-1988 autopsy files revealed 35 cases with unanalyzed evidence," according to Pinkston's office. "Of those, 13 are suicides or accidental deaths, two are cold-case murders and the remaining 20 are homicides that have presumably been prosecuted." The unprocessed evidence includes bullets removed from bodies, hair and DNA swabs.

read more »

Prosecutorial Mistakes Result in Mistrial in Blount County

A mistrial was declared today on day five of a Blount County homicide and arson trial, The Daily Times reports. Circuit Court Judge Tammy Harrington, citing multiple prosecutorial mistakes, said she had no choice but to stop the trial. "This was not a decision that was made lightly, and it is with extreme frustration that we did not get this case concluded properly," Harrington said. 

read more »

Judge Orders Release of TBI File in Teenager's Death

Shelby County Chancellor James R. Newsom III ruled Tuesday that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's (TBI) report about the death of Darrius Stewart can be released to the public, The Memphis Flyer reports. Newsom stayed the order until Dec. 15 to give Memphis police officer Connor Schilling, who shot and killed Stewart in July, time to appeal. Attorneys for Stewart requested in November a special attorney to review the TBI's report. 

read more »

Unlikely Alliances Emerge for Prison Reform

Bloomberg View highlights unlikely political pairings committed to a sweeping overhaul the U.S. criminal justice system. The effort is led by the U.S. Justice Action Network, which contains groups of opposite political ideology like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Faith and Freedom Coalition. “This is a once in a generation chance to bring together this coalition,” says Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The network is pushing to reform some of the mandatory sentencing laws enacted in the 1970s.

read more »

TDLA Announces New Board Members, Executive Director

The Tennessee Defense Lawyers Association (TDLA) announced its 2015-16 Board at its Annual Fall Meeting held in Chattanooga. Catherine “Cate” C. Dugan, with AIG in Nashville, will serve as president and Barret S. Albritton with Spears, Moore, Rebman and Williams in Chattanooga, will serve as president-elect. In addition, Mary W. Gadd has been named TDLA’s new executive director; she is located in Lookout Mountain. View the complete list of 2015-2016 Board Members.

read more »

State Investigating Rutherford County Probation Company

The Tennessee Department of Commence and Insurance opened a formal investigation of a complaint against Providence Community Corrections (PCC). The company handles misdemeanor and traffic probation in Rutherford County. The Tennessean reports PCC and Rutherford County are named in a federal racketeering lawsuit that alleges “the probation system punishes people living in poverty by charging fees and creating a never-ending cycle of probation.” PCC, which changed its name in November to Pathways Community Corrections, denies any wrongdoing.

read more »

ADA Barnard Receives President's Award

The Elk Valley Times reports Weakley E. “Eddie” Barnard, assistant district attorney general for the 17th District, received the President’s Award by the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference. The 17th District includes Bedford, Lincoln, Marshall and Moore counties. The President’s Award is presented annually to assistant district attorneys who improve the quality of justice in the state. “I am motivated by the pursuit of justice,” Barnard said. “We have strived to go above and beyond what’s required to serve our community.”

read more »

Criminal Procedure Rule Concerning Illegal Sentences Clarification

The Tennessee Supreme Court today clarified the meaning and purpose of Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedures 36.1, which was adopted in 2011 and outlines a procedure for challenging illegal sentences. The Court said Rule 36.1 does not expand the scope of relief for illegal sentence claims and to obtain relief under the rule, a moving party must show that the challenged sentence is “illegal,” and that the challenged sentence has not expired. Based upon this clarification, the Supreme Court unanimously concluded the defendant in State v. Wooden failed to show that his challenged sentence was an illegal sentence and that the defendant’s sentence in State v. Brown expired several years before he sought relief under Rule 36.1. Read the opinions in State v. Wooden and State v. Brown, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark.

read more »

Criminal Justice Issues on the Forefront of Presidential Race

The Associated Press highlights how criminal justice issues are “intruding” on the 2016 presidential race. Policing, drug crimes, sentencing changes and prison costs are among topics on which candidates are seeking to differentiate themselves. "You don't have everyone saying they're tough on crime," Inimai Chettiar of the Brennan Center for Justice in New York said. "Instead, you have people offering different policy solutions."

read more »