News

3 Finalists Selected for Vacancy in 11th Judicial District

Mike A. Little, Leslie Anne Longshore and Boyd M. Patterson Jr. of Chattanooga are finalists to fill the upcoming criminal court vacancy in the 11th Judicial District, which serves Hamilton County. The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments today submitted the names to Gov. Bill Haslam to fill the post now held by Judge Rebecca Stern, who is retiring June 1. The Administrative Office of the Courts has more.

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Supreme Court: Bail Not an Absolute Right

The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that the state constitution guarantees the right to bail, but it is not absolute. In a unanimous opinion released yesterday, the state's highest court said the right to pretrial bail can be revoked if someone is alleged to have committed a crime after bailing out of jail. The court, however, said that a defendant is entitled to a hearing before bail can be revoked. WSMV reports from the Associated Press.

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Prosecutors Get 1st Conviction for Revenge Porn

Kevin Christopher Bollaert, the operator of a “revenge porn” website that posted nude photos of people along with personal identifying information without their consent, was sentenced to 18 years in prison last Friday. Prosecutors say it was the first criminal prosecution of a cyber-exploitation website operator in the country. In addition to allowing the posting of unauthorized images by ex-spouses and ex-lovers, Bollaert extorted money from many victims who paid to have photos removed from the site. Read more in the Business Journal.

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Loudon County to Seek Approval for 2nd Judge

Loudon County commissioners passed a resolution yesterday asking the state legislature to create a second judgeship in the county’s General Sessions Court, Knoxnews reports. Current Sessions Judge Rex Dale told commissioners that since the court was created in 1959, the county population has more than doubled and is among the top 10 fastest growing in the state. The second judicial position would be filled by current Magistrate Hank Sledge, while two magistrates would be hired in his place.

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Circuit Judge Hears Criminal Cases Due to Heavy Docket

At any given time, hundreds of criminal cases are pending in the Third Judicial District, so Circuit Court Judge Alex Pearson is doing his part to make the docket a little more manageable, the Greeneville Sun reports. Pearson will spend two weeks this month hearing criminal court cases in Greene County. Criminal Court Judge John F. Dugger Jr. has seen has caseload grow from 1,500 cases nine years ago to 2,239 cases last year, mostly due to prescription drug abuse which drives property crimes, impaired driving and other drug crimes.

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DA to Discuss ‘Victim Photo Life Bill’ Thursday

Twenty-first Judicial District Attorney Kim Helper will discuss legislation known as the “victim photo life bill” at the Williamson County Republican Career Woman’s Club meeting on Thursday, the Brentwood Home Page reports. The bill, HB1342, sponsored by Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, would allow a photo of a dead victim while still living to be shown during a trial. Victim photos are not currently shown during trial because the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled such photos could potentially influence a jury. The group meets at 7 p.m. at the Brentwood Pointe II clubhouse.

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Court Affirms Inclusion of Lesser Offenses

The Tennessee Supreme Court has held that a jury can be instructed to consider – and a defendant can be convicted of – the less serious crime of criminal attempt, even if there is evidence that the charged crime was not only attempted but also completed. The decision came in the case of Jeremy Thorpe, who was convicted on one count of criminal attempt to commit sexual battery. The appeals court upheld the conviction, and the Supreme Court also found that lesser-included charges are allowable and a jury is free to find a defendant guilty of those offenses, whether or not they find him guilty of the actual crime. Chattanoogan.com has the story.

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New Law Would Let Memphis Open Curfew Centers

The state Senate approved a bill Monday to let Memphis set up juvenile safety centers around the city for minors who violate curfew. The measure could receive approval in the House before the end of the legislative session, according to Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis. Modeled after a program in Baltimore, the bill would give police officers the option to take curfew-violating juveniles to city-operated safety centers where they would receive counseling. Currently, officers can only take them home or to juvenile detention. The Commercial Appeal has the story.

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Supreme Court Cites Error in Jury Selection, Grants New Trial

The Tennessee Supreme Court has ordered a new trial in a Union County sexual battery case because the jury was not selected in the manner prescribed by the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure. The court determined that the deviations from the jury selection procedure deprived the parties of their opportunity to properly exercise their peremptory challenges and resulted in prejudice to the judicial process. The AOC has more.

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Tour Reveals Problems in Davidson County Jail

$100 million is needed to renovate the Metro Justice Center, Sheriff Daron Hall told News Channel 5 during a behind-the-scenes tour of the 32-year-old jail. From leaky, rusty water pipes to defective smoke detectors, Hall said the options are to repair the existing building or build a new facility for a comparable price tag.

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DA’s Office Finds Backlog of Abuse Cases

Longtime Nashville child abuse prosecutor Brian Holmgren is no longer with the District Attorney's Office, D.A. Glenn Funk confirmed today. Funk did not specify why Holmgren left the office, but he did announce that he has discovered a backlog of more than 130 child abuse and child sexual abuse cases in Holmgren's division in which no action had been taken. As a result of the discovery, Funk said he has instituted new protocols, including monthly reviews of those types of cases. The Tennessean has more.

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Georgetown Law Prof to Deliver Annual UT Lecture

Paul Butler, a nationally recognized expert on issues of race and criminal justice, will deliver the 2015 Charles H. Miller Lecture in Professional Responsibility at the University of Tennessee College of Law on April 13. The lecture, “Criminal Justice after Ferguson: Five Amazing Facts about Race and Crime, with Complete Proof,” will take place at noon in Room 132.

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Amended 12-Hour Hold Bill Preserves Judicial Discretion

A bill that would place a mandatory 12-hour hold on defendants charged with a domestic violence offense (SB610/HB41) was amended today to preserve judicial discretion in such cases. The original legislation left no opportunity for a judge to waive the hold. The amendment provides that a judge may waive the 12-hour hold under certain circumstances, including if more than 48 hours have elapsed from the time the offense occurred or if the defendant has turned himself or herself in to proper authorities. The measure was amended in the Senate Judiciary Committee and forwarded to the full Senate for consideration.

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Nashville DA Bans Sterilization as Bargaining Tool

Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk has banned his staff from using sterilization of women as part of any future plea negotiations. The option has been offered in at least four cases in the last five years – often in exchange for no prison time – WKRN reports. But for many, the practice evokes a dark time in America when minorities, the poor and those deemed mentally unfit or “deficient” were forced to undergo such procedures. “The bottom line is the government can’t be ordering a forced sterilization,” Funk said in announcing the change.

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Vandy Rape Sentencing Delayed to Mid-June

The sentencing hearing of two former Vanderbilt University football players convicted of raping an unconscious woman has again been pushed back, the Tennessean reports. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey, both 21, are now scheduled to be sentenced June 15. A sentencing set for late April was delayed to give attorneys time to review court transcripts, court officials said.

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State Asks Lower Court to Halt Execution Case Proceedings

The Tennessee Department of Corrections will not say if it has the chemicals needed to execute inmates via lethal injection, WBIR reports. Lawyers for the group were poised to ask prison supervisors about the drug supply at a hearing Friday but did not get a chance to do so after the state asked the presiding judge to halt proceedings related to electrocutions. In related news, Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ordered documents revealing the name of pharmacists supplying lethal injection drugs be returned to the Tennessee Department of Corrections after federal public defenders got the documents, with one of the names poorly redacted, through a public records request.

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Public Defender Seeks Judge’s Recusal

Dickson City Judge Reese Holley, who already is being investigated for questionable judicial practices involving indigent defendants, is being asked to recuse himself from hundreds of cases, WKRN News 2 reports. Jake Lockert, the public defender for the 23rd Judicial District, filed a motion Thursday asking Holley to recuse himself from hundreds of cases represented by the public defender’s office. “I’m asking him to recognize there’s an appearance of bias on his part,” Lockert said.

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Rutherford Veterans' Court to Open Soon

A court tailored to serving veterans who run into trouble with the law could be available in the next few months, Rutherford County officials report. In February, commissioners endorsed the pilot launch of the court, which would begin by serving those participating in the county’s Drug Court and DUI Court. Courts coordinator Trey King and General Sessions Court Judge Ben Hall MacFarlin will lead the effort, the Daily News Journal reports.

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Court: Sex Offender Can Challenge Monitoring

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that a North Carolina sex offender should have a chance to challenge a requirement that he wear a GPS monitoring bracelet for the rest of his life, SCOTUSblog reports. The justices found that North Carolina’s highest court should have considered Torrey Dale Grady’s argument that having to wear the device violated his constitutional rights. It also directed the state court to determined whether the requirement in this case was an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment.

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Shelby County Jericho Project Wins Innovation Award

The Shelby County Jericho Project has been chosen as one of eight recipients of the 2015 “Innovations in Criminal Justice Award.” Winners were selected by the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Center for Court Innovation. The Jericho Project was launched more than a decade ago by the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office to better serve people living with serious mental illness and substance use disorders who were cycling through the criminal justice system. Bartlett Express has the story.

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State High Court Amends Rules Governing Executions

Amendments to Tennessee Supreme Court Rules announced today will establish new procedures for capital cases. The Order amending Rule 12 sets out a number of changes, the most significant involving the setting of execution dates, and, once set, the ability of an inmate to receive a temporary stay of execution. TBA Criminal Justice Section Co-chair Andy Roskind analyzes the changes.

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State High Court Amends Rules Governing Executions

The Court announced earlier today amendments to Rule 12, Rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court, which establish the procedures used in capital cases. Although the amendments cover several items within Rule 12, the most significant changes affect the setting of execution dates, and, once set, the ability of an inmate to receive a temporary stay of execution. Of note, both of these items are additions to the Rule rather than amending prior language.

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Justices to Review Old Sentences for Young Convicts

The Supreme Court is adding a new case to decide whether its 3-year-old ruling throwing out mandatory life in prison without parole for juveniles should apply to older cases. The justices yesterday said they would consider a new Louisiana case involving a man who has been held since 1963 for killing a sheriff's deputy in Baton Rouge. WRCB has more from the Associated Press.

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Attorney Blasts Court Levy Proposal

Legislation proposing a $5 fee for criminal court cases in Knox County is under fire from defense attorney Mike Whalen, who said it hurts the poor. Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond said the fee would generate at least $100,000 a years and cover the cost of court services for which his office can't bill, particularly in the 4th Circuit Court. Knoxnews has more.

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Rutherford Circuit Court Returns to Previous Software System

The Rutherford County Circuit Court has returned to a previous software system after a series of glitches occurred when a new system from New Dawn Technology went live, the Daily News Journal reports. The county extended its agreement for the old court-management system weeks before its 25-year-old agreement was set to expire, though officials say it is not a long-term solution for the court.

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