News

TBJ Columns Cover Crime, Books, Court

In the new issue of the Journal, columnist Wade Davies tells you the options for warrantless entry of a residence when an immediate decision must be made. Nick McCall reviews Death in the Baltic: The World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff by Cathryn J. Prince, and editor Suzanne Craig Robertson finds General Sessions Court to be an eye-opening experience.

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CNN Series Explores 'Death Row Stories'

A new CNN Original series, Death Row Stories, will follow a different capital murder case each week and says it will "call into question the myriad of beliefs about the death penalty and the American justice system itself." The eight-week series is a collaboration with Academy Award-winning directors Alex Gibney and Robert Redford. Susan Sarandon, who portrayed Sister Helen Prejean in the movie Dead Man Walking, will narrate. The series debuts March 9. Watch this "Google Hangout" discussion about the show and the issue, hosted by CNN's Ashleigh Banfield and featuring lawyers and law professors on both sides of the issue.

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Veteran Prosecutor Enters DA Race

Veteran prosecutor Jared Effler has qualified to run in the Aug. 7 election for 8th District Attorney General. Encompassing Campbell, Claiborne, Fentress, Scott and Union counties, the 8th District does not have permanent or full time offices in all five counties — a situation Effler says he wants to rectify, the Claiborne Progress reports.

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'Gideon's Army' Screening Reset for March 20

The screening of the award-winning HBO documentary Gideon's Army, which was cancelled Monday because of icy weather in Nashville, has been rescheduled to March 20 at 7:30 p.m. Hosted by the Nashville Public Defender’s Office, it will be at the Carmike Bellevue 8 Cinema. The film, which premiered last year at the Sundance Film Festival, follows the stories of three young public defenders whose struggle against long hours, low pay and staggering caseloads causes them to challenge the assumptions of the current criminal justice system. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased online.

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Crime Group Targets Attorneys With Wire Fraud Scam

Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) groups are targeting attorneys across the United State with a sophisticated debt fraud scheme, the FBI is reporting. The TOC groups hire unwitting attorneys to represent them for a fraudulent legal scenario, solicit them to deposit large counterfeit checks into their client trust accounts, and then persuade them to immediately wire the deposited amount to a foreign bank account controlled by members of the TOC group. The FBI issued an advisory to inform the legal community how the scheme works, how to help mitigate the threat, and how to report incidents to law enforcement.

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High Court Allows Disputed Home Search

The U.S Supreme Court ruled yesterday that police may search a home without a warrant when two occupants disagree about allowing officers to enter if the objecting resident is not present. The court had ruled in 2006 that when the occupants in disagreement are both present, the objecting occupant prevails. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the court's 6-3 decision, WRCBTV reports.

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DAs Support New Approach for Chronic DUI Offenders

Tennessee continues to be plagued by repeat drunken drivers, and now, the state's district attorneys have a new idea for dealing with dangerous offenders, WSMV reports. Prosecutors in the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference say they want to attack the problem by getting chronic offenders into a intensive, strict treatment program rather than a cycle of repeat jail sentences. The proposal, which has been drafted into legislation, would include alcohol consumption meters as well as interlocks on offenders’ vehicles so they can get to work and stay employed. The DAs says the bottom line is that graduates from similar programs end up with a recidivism rate of only 10 percent.

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Supreme Court to Hear Memphis Case Next Week

The U.S. Supreme Court next week will hear arguments in a wrongful death suit over a West Memphis, Ark., traffic stop that led to a chase into Memphis, where police gunfire killed an unarmed driver and his girlfriend, the Commercial Appeal reports. On March 4, attorneys representing the city of West Memphis and six officers will try to convince the nation’s highest court that the pursuing officers are shielded from prosecution. Shelby County prosecutors previously charged three of the officers with reckless homicide, but in 2008 they were given two years of diversion, which they completed. All six officers were then sued in the civil action. The U.S. District Court in Memphis and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled that the officers are not shielded by qualified immunity.

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Bills Seek to Tackle Backlog of Rape Evidence

Tennessee is among at least 17 states that are proposing legislation to address the backlogs of untested rape kits dating as far back as the 1980s, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. State Sen. Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, is the sponsor of one bill requiring law enforcement agencies to inventory their rape kits. Another proposal, sponsored by Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, would require law enforcement agencies to submit rape kits to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation within 10 days and require they be analyzed within six months.

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Gideon’s Army Screening Set for March 3

The Nashville Public Defender’s Office is hosting a screening of the award-winning HBO documentary Gideon’s Army. The showing will take place next Monday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Carmike Bellevue 8 Cinema. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased online. The film, which premiered last year at the Sundance Film Festival, follows the stories of three young public defenders whose struggle against long hours, low pay and staggering caseloads causes them to challenge the assumptions of the current criminal justice system. The Nashville Public Defender’s Office reports that, like the lawyers featured in the film, it has joined a nationwide movement to reform indigent defense. Download a flyer about the event.

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Memphis Needs $6.5 Million to Process Rape Kits

Memphis Mayor AC Wharton was to ask the city council today for $1 million to pay for testing of backlogged rape kits. But the request, if granted, would cover just a fraction of the costs. Wharton also said he plans to ask the state for $2 million and has been in talks with Gov. Bill Haslam to find other workable solutions. Help also may come from the private sector. Local Memphis.com recently reported that the charity Joyful Heart Foundation is working to find money to help the city. Experts estimate it will cost $6.5 million and take five years to test the thousands of backlogged kits.

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Court Seeks Pro Se/Death Penalty Law Clerk

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee is seeking a combined pro se/death penalty law clerk in Nashville. The closing date for applications is Feb. 26. The clerk will provide legal assistance to the court in connection with pro se/prisoner civil rights complaints, state habeas corpus petitions (including death penalty cases) and motions to vacate sentences in federal habeas corpus petitions. The clerk will perform substantive review of case records and filings, conduct legal research, draft proposed opinions and orders for each of the district judges, and provide information to chambers staff, court staff and pro se filers. Download the job description.

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Shelby PD Now Handling Juvenile Defense

Veteran Memphis defense attorney Donna Armstard is heading up a team of attorneys at the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office that has begun representing juveniles charged with crimes, the Commercial Appeal reports. “We’re basically starting a whole new law firm,” Armstard says of the effort. For decades, minors have been represented by private attorneys appointed to individual cases and paid with public money. But federal findings that black youths are treated more harshly than their white counterparts in the county justice system, have led the public defender’s office to make a number of changes, including gradually taking over the defense of all juveniles. Stephen Bush, the county’s chief public defender in the adult system, eventually will be in charge of representing indigent minors charged with serious crimes. But for now, he is relying on Armstard and her team, who are busy getting up to speed on juvenile law and court procedures.

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Groups to Honor Retiring Sen. Burks

The Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence, in partnership with the Women’s Political Collaborative, will host an advocacy day at the legislature on Feb. 26. The day also will include a breakfast at Waller Law and a luncheon at the Tennessee State Library & Archives honoring state Sen. Charlotte Burks, who is retiring this year. Registration is required. Lunch is $25. Other events are free. See the full schedule and register.

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Opinion: Bill Shielding Rape Information Goes Too Far

In her Sunday piece for The Tennessean, columnist Gail Kerr says a bill intended to shield rape victims’ identity and personal information would turn rape into an "invisible crime" and would hurt public safety. Kerr notes that the bill was filed only days after The Tennessean and other media outlets filed suit seeking information about a Vanderbilt rape case, which the Metro Police Department and the university have refused to turn over. In an earlier article, TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur expressed concern about the proposal saying it could “compromise the right of the accused to confront the accuser and participate in their own defense.” Follow news regarding legislation through TBAImpact.

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U.S. Attorney Killian to Speak at Community Think Tank

William “Bill” Killian, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, will be the guest speaker at the next Community Think Tank hosted by the Hamilton County Coalition and the U.S. Department of JusticeThursday at 5 p.m. on Thursday at the Coalition office in Chattanooga. Topics will include arrest, prosecution and sentencing at the federal level; prescription drug abuse and designer drugs; victims’ rights; and being proactive citizens in the community. Killian will identify community problems that lead to criminal and drug activity, and provide strategies to reduce drug activity and availability. Seating is limited, RSVP by calling (423) 305-1449 or emailing Hugh Reece. The Hamilton County Herald has more.

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Bill Calls for Electric Chair if Lethal Injection Unavailable

A bill filed last week by Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, would require Tennessee to use an electric chair for executions if the drugs needed to carry out lethal injections are unavailable, or if a court strikes down the lethal injection option, Knoxnews reports. Currently, the state is scheduled to execute 10 death row inmates between April 2014 and November 2015.

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If You Did It, Flaunt It With a TBJ Announcement

The Tennessee Bar Journal has a new opportunity for lawyers and firms to promote outstanding achievements, new associates, new partners, mergers, awards and any changes within the firm. Now, Professional Announcements are available at special, lower-rate pricing. You can tell more than 12,000 of your peers about your accomplishments by placing an announcement in the Journal. For information or to place an announcement, contact Debbie Taylor at 503-445-2231 or Debbie@llm.com. To have an announcement placed in the April issue, please contact her before Feb. 18.

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Holder Calls for Restoration of Felons’ Voting Rights

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today called on a group of 11 states, including Tennessee, to restore voting rights to ex-felons as part of a larger push to reduce what he sees as the criminal justice system’s disparate impact on racial minorities. Speaking at a symposium on criminal justice, Holder said an estimated 5.8 million Americans are prohibited from voting because of current or previous felony convictions. He called on the states of Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming to restore rights to felons who have completed their sentences. WRCB-TV has this AP story.

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Judge Departs from Sentencing Guidelines in Meth Case

Calling the War on Drugs a "dismal failure," U.S. District Court Judge Sandy Mattice reduced the sentence of Larry Gertsman, who had been facing a minimum of 121 months in federal prison for his role in obtaining pseudoephedrine for a meth cook. Mattice rejected that sentence noting it was one month longer than what he gave to the cook. "When a conspiracy is charged like this, addicts are being prosecuted the same way as the manufacturer" leading to outrageous and seemingly arbitrary results. Mattice, a federal judge in Chattanooga, gave Gertsman 90 months in prison.

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Former Judge Brown Considers DA Race

Former Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Joe Brown has a qualifying petition out to run in the Democratic primary for district attorney general, the Memphis Daily News reports. His entry into the race would be the only opposition Republican incumbent Amy Weirich has drawn from either party so far. Brown, who has until Feb. 20 to make his decision, said, “I haven’t quite made up my mind if I’m going to do this because I’ve got some business matters that I’ve got to wrap up and get secure. But I would love to do it.” Brown’s syndicated court show, “Judge Joe Brown,” was cancelled by CBS last March ending a 15-year run as the second highest-rated court show on television.

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Paine Column on Thornton Trial, Judge Cotton's Book Reviewed

This issue includes another one of the late Don Paine's final "Paine on Procedure" columns. This month is "Law Student Kills Medical Student: The Trial of James Clark Thornton." Also in February, Chancellor Andrew Tillman reviews Judge James L. Cotton's new book, The Greatest Speech Ever: The Remarkable Story of Abraham Lincoln and His Gettysburg Address. The book includes a foreword by former Sen. Howard Baker Jr.

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Sentencing Reforms Progress in U.S. Senate

The Obama Administration made some headway last week in its effort to reduce what it sees as overly harsh sentences for drug crimes, Associations Now reports. The U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) is looking to commute the sentences of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders still serving prison time due to sentences imposed during the crack cocaine epidemic. The ABA Journal cites a New York Times report that President Barack Obama is looking to grant clemency to offenders as part of the administration's effort to "undo a disparity that flooded the nation’s prison system and disproportionately affected black men."

The Senate Judiciary Committee recently voted to advance the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some drug-related crimes by half. But not everyone at DOJ agrees with the administration's position. The National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys announced its opposition to the proposal last week. And outside groups that have long advocated for mandatory minimum reform expressed concern that an amendment added during committee consideration creates a new new mandatory minimum in cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

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Tennessean Sues Metro Over Vandy Rape Case

The Tennessean and a coalition of other media organizations sued the city of Nashville yesterday over its refusal to release records from a rape investigation that led to charges against four former Vanderbilt University football players. According to the newspaper, an agreement signed by prosecutors and defense attorneys keeps video and photo evidence secret. Metro officials repeatedly have denied the Tennessean’s requests for records, including materials prepared by the university. The lawsuit, filed in Davidson County Chancery Court, says records created by nongovernmental entities and obtained by the Metro Police Department do not fall under any exemptions to the Tennessee Public Records Act. The media groups ask the court to order release of the records and pay their legal fees.

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State Sets Execution Dates for 10

The state of Tennessee is scheduled to execute 10 death row inmates between April 2014 and November 2015 after it changes the drug protocol to be used in lethal injections, the Administrative Office of the Courts confirmed to the Tennessean. In October, state officials asked the Tennessee Supreme Court for execution dates for the inmates but opponents asked a Davidson County judge to halt the executions over questions about the drug the state now plans to use.

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