News

Court Upholds Method of Charging Lesser Offenses

The Tennessee Supreme Court has determined that the state legislature did not nullify a practice long used in state courts when it enacted a statute that outlines methods for determining lesser-included offenses for which a defendant can be convicted. The court’s decision means that a defendant can continue to be convicted of a lesser offense if it contains the same elements, but requires a lesser mental state or less risk of harm to others, than the offense being charged. Read more from the court.

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State: Don’t Jail Domestic Violence Victims

At a district attorney general’s conference this week in Pigeon Forge, state officials reminded Tennessee’s grant-funded domestic violence prosecutors that forcing victims to testify against their abusers and jailing those who do not cooperate will not be tolerated. WJHL-TV first reported on Washington County's use of the practice to punish victims who disobeyed subpoenas. It now reveals that the Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice Programs reported the situation to the U.S. Department of Justice in mid-September. The state agency emphasized that it had made the prohibition on use of funds clear in its grant materials and that the county agreed to the conditions in signing to accept the funds.

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Death Row Inmate Gets New Hearing

Nashville Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins has ordered a new hearing to determine if prosecutors discriminated against potential jurors based solely on race in the case of Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman, who has been on death row since 1987. Abdur'Rahman was convicted of first-degree murder and other counts in the robbery, attack and stabbing of Patrick Daniels and Norma Jean Norman. Watkins cited a recent U.S. Supreme Court case, which potentially created a new precedent that warrants an evidentiary hearing. A date for the hearing has not yet been set, the Tennessean reports.

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Knox Court Adopts New Rule on Court Appointments

The Knox County General Sessions Court has adopted a new Rule 27 to govern the appointment of attorneys to represent indigent defendants. Beginning Nov. 30, the court will maintain a list of attorneys approved to accept criminal defense appointments. The list will be maintained by the judicial court administrator and will be revised annually. Each year by Dec. 31, attorneys desiring to remain on the list should provide written or email notice to the administrator. For more information, contact the court at 865-215-2370.

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Judge Sammons Wins Dismissal of 2 Charges

Campbell County General Sessions Court Judge Amanda Sammons may have lied under oath and abused her authority in a contempt case, but she did not commit the crime of which she is accused, Senior Judge Paul G. Summers ruled today. Summers dismissed two of the four counts filed against Sammons after hearing arguments from her defense that she had the authority to issue a contempt petition even if others did not ask her to do so as she claimed. That means she will not face charges for the petition she filed against Campbell County attorney Kristie Anderson. The two remaining charges relate to her handling of the case of Krista Leigh Smith, who alleges that Sammons caused her spend almost 48 hours in jail for a crime for which she was not accused. The Knoxnews has more on the story.

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No Details Yet in Courthouse Server Hack

More than a month after an urgent memo warned all current and former Anderson County employees that their personal information might have been stolen in a system-wide breach of the courthouse server, the county mayor says investigators have not provided information on what hackers may have accessed or how the breach happened. The Aug. 8 memo from County Law Director Jay Yeager warned that Social Security numbers, dates of birth, home addresses, payroll information, bank accounts and routing numbers might have been compromised, Knoxnews reports. Information related to pending court cases appears not to have been affected, officials said, as judicial system records are kept on a separate server.

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Federal Grants Fund DUI Programs in Tennessee

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has awarded $17.1 million to 384 law enforcement agencies in the state to bolster law enforcement programs and fight drunken driving. Some counties will use the funds for DUI prosecutions while others will focus on coordinating prevention efforts with members of their local judicial system, officials tell the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The paper has a breakdown of funding by county and project.

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GPS Monitors Required for Domestic Assailants

Grundy County Sheriff Clint Shrum has been tackling domestic assaults head-on since he took office two years ago, WRCB-TV reports. For the past 18 months, every suspect accused of domestic assault, aggravated domestic assault or stalking has been required to wear a GPS monitor as part of their bond conditions. Since beginning the practice, Shrum said the rate of suspects who are re-offending has dropped significantly. The program has also shed light on how common domestic assaults are in the county. Since it was implemented, the number of annual domestic assault calls has quadrupled according to Shrum.

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DOJ to Help Memphis Reform Policing

The U.S. Department of Justice will begin working with the city of Memphis to review police policies – a task that could take between five and 15 years, according to Joe Brann who has overseen similar collaborative reform processes in other cities. The goal of the collaboration is to create a “cultural transformation” within the force that will benefit the department and rebuild community trust. A number of lawmakers and officials from Memphis, as well as U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton, had asked the department to help the city undertake a reform process. Local Memphis.com has more on the story.

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Country Stars to Host Drug Court Fundraiser

Country music stars Clint Black and John Rich will headline a benefit concert Oct. 25 from 7 to 10 p.m. for the Davidson County Drug Court, Cherished H.E.A.R.T.S. (which provides counseling, housing and drug treatment for trafficking victims) and Grace Empowered (a court-ordered prostitution intervention program run by the Nashville District Attorney General’s office). The event and music showcase will be held at Mt. Richmore, the home of John and Joan Rich, the Administrative Office of the Courts announced today. Heavy hors d’oeuvres, drinks and valet service will be provided. Dress is country glam. Tickets are $500 and are tax-deductible.

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Innocent Man Released After Serving 24 Years in Prison

A Wisconsin man who served 24 years in prison for a crime he did not commit is now free. A judge vacated Darryl Holloway's sexual assault conviction Tuesday, after new DNA ruled him out as a suspect. "Make better choices before convicting people," Holloway said in addressing the crowd upon his release. "Make sure you got the right evidence. Because when you do this, people lose, everybody loses." Holloway's release came about thanks to the help of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which worked to overturn his conviction. Watch the video from WMCActionNews5.

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Justices Hear Arguments on Lethal Injection Protocol

The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning over whether Tennessee's lethal injection protocol constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Justices challenged lawyers trying to block the protocol, Knoxnews reports, and asked the plaintiffs' lawyers to suggest another execution method they would consider acceptable under the law. Lawyers representing the death row inmates argued that they shouldn't have to suggest alternatives as part of their legal challenge. Thirty-three death row inmates sued after the state moved from a three-drug lethal injection method to a one-drug method that their attorneys argue is likely to cause a condemned inmate to suffer extreme pain and can cause a lingering death. The Tennessee Supreme Court heard six cases on various subjects yesterday and today in Nashville.

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New Marijuana Law Should Not Strain Court, Clerk Says

Memphis Court Clerk Kay Robilio tells the Commercial Appeal that she does not expect to need additional staffing or budget to implement the marijuana decriminalization ordinance approved Tuesday by City Council. The ordinance allows police officers to issue City Court citations for possession of a half-ounce or less of marijuana, punishable by a $50 fine or community service. Robilio said she and judges will discuss possible changes to court procedures Thursday.

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Nashville Criminal Justice Center Coming Down

Demolition is underway at Nashville’s Criminal Justice Center, which will pave the way for a new facility to be built at that site. WSMV has videos from Sheriff Daron Hall.

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Suit Challenges How Nashville PD Responds to Complaints Against Officers

The Nashville Scene looks at a civil rights lawsuit filed by a man who claims he was falsely arrested for driving under the influence after a traffic accident in Nashville. David Shearon of Christiana was later cleared of the charges by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The Scene reports that Shearon’s suit uses his incident to examine the Metro Nashville Police Department as a whole and how it responds to citizen complaints. It says that from 2011 to 2015 citizens initiated 249 complaints against MNPD officers for “obstruction of rights,” but that 98 percent of those complaints “resulted in no finding or repercussions against the officer.”
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Rutherford Deputy Seeks 2 Court-Appointed Lawyers

Joe Russell, an administrative deputy at the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department, has requested two court-appointed attorneys to prepare his defense after being indicted alongside Sheriff Robert Arnold on federal fraud charges in May. WSMV reports that a federal judge has scheduled a hearing to determine if Russell may receive taxpayer-funded legal defense. Russell claims he needs two attorneys due to the large amount of witness interviews and evidence that must be reviewed.
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Memphis City Council to Vote on Decriminalization Tomorrow

Memphis City Council members will vote tomorrow on whether to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, the Commercial Appeal reports. The vote comes two weeks after the Nashville Metro Council voted to approve a similar measure. If it passes, the ordinance would give police officers the option to issue a misdemeanor citation, punishable by $50 or community service, for possession of a half-ounce or less of marijuana. Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings and Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich are among those that oppose the measure, while the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators and many criminal justice reform advocates are in support of it.

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Volunteers Needed for Saturday Expungement Clinic

One of the first events of the 2016 Celebrate Pro Bono Month is an expungement clinic planned for Saturday at Watson Grove Baptist Church in Nashville. From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., members of the TBA Young Lawyers Division will join with several community partners to offer legal advice to those seeking to expunge their records. For more information visit the event’s Facebook page or contact organizer and Memphis lawyer Amber Floyd.

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Shelby County Launches 2nd Phase of Anti-Violence Program

Shelby County this week launched the second phase of a multi-partner public education campaign to aid children who are exposed to violence, the Commercial Appeal reports. The county is one of eight that was selected by the U.S. Department of Justice for the Defending Childhood Initiative, known locally as the Network for Overcoming Violence and Abuse. The program seeks to address the impact violence has on children through counseling, mentoring and training for law enforcement. The initiative is a continuation of work that began in 2011 with a $2 million federal grant from the department. The initial project set up networks for training and education.

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Scott County Judge Ends Use of Electronic Monitoring

Scott County General Sessions Court Judge James L. Cotton Jr. has stopped using electronic monitoring devices in the wake of a newspaper investigation into the practice, Knoxnews reports. Cotton said he ended the program and terminated the services of Howard Barnett, who had been providing the electronic monitoring devices. He said he had no financial stake in Barnett’s firm and used the service as an alternative to bonds and jail for the poor. He expressed regret for any misuse and said he “self-reported” the newspaper's findings to the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct.

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Lipscomb Hosts Panel After Screening Law Enforcement Film

Lipscomb University’s HumanDocs Film Series will feature “Do Not Resist” – a film that examines the militarization of law enforcement – Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the university's Shamblin Theater. The documentary analyzes events in Ferguson, Missouri, follows a South Carolina SWAT team and explores controversial surveillance technologies. Following the screening, Metro Nashville Public Defender Dawn Deaner, retired Metro Police commander Bob Nash and former prosecutor Preston Shipp will discuss the issues raised by the film. The screening is free and open to the public.

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Event Honors Domestic Violence Victims, Advocates

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands and the Nashville Coalition Against Domestic Violence will hold the annual “Meet Us at the Bridge” event Saturday at 1 p.m. in Nashville to kick-off Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The event, held on the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, honors those who have lost their lives to domestic violence in the last year. Awards also will be presented to those who have done outstanding work in the fight to end domestic violence. The Waller law firm will be recognized for its work with the Civil-Legal Advocate Program (CLAP), a partnership between Legal Aid and the Metro Office of Family Safety that provides free legal representation to domestic violence victims.

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Domestic Violence Prosecutor to Speak at Luncheon

The Women's Fund of Greater Chattanooga is hosting the Fourth Annual Voices Luncheon Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Stratton Hall to mark the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Cindy Dyer, a former domestic and sexual violence prosecutor internationally known for her work on gender-based violence, will give the keynote address. Dyer served as director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women under President George W. Bush. Purchase tickets online or contact Katie Jackson at 423-752-4820. Chattanoogan.com has more.

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Lawmaker May Seek to Amend Exoneration Law

Lawrence McKinney’s legal team is getting help from State Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, who has offered to meet with Gov. Bill Haslam about McKinney’s application of exoneration, the Tennessean reports. Pody also said he will consider asking Haslam to hold off on a decision about McKinney while he drafts legislation that addresses the exoneration process. Pody says he felt Tuesday’s Parole Board hearing was “looking to retry the case” rather than considering the exoneration request. McKinney’s 1978 rape and burglary conviction was overturned and his record was judicially expunged, but he needs an executive exoneration to be able to seek compensation for his wrongful imprisonment.

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White House Official Discusses Policing in Memphis

Roy L. Austin Jr., deputy assistant to President Obama and director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity, was in Memphis yesterday to discuss community policing, body cameras and more during the 2016 Law School for Journalists, the Commercial Appeal reports. Austin expressed support for body cameras but raised questions about when video should be made public and where it should be stored. He urged Memphis residents to reach out to police and city leaders to start a dialog about race, called on police to examine implicit bias and challenged reporters to put crime stories in context to avoid erroneous perceptions.

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