News

Assistant DA Closes Hospital Rape Case in Bradley County

Bradley County Assistant District Attorney Cynthia LeCroy-Schemel closed a Cleveland hospital rape case, citing insignificant evidence from a rape kit results, the Times Free Press reports. Stacey Cordell claimed that she was raped while she was unconscious at SkyRidge Medical Center on Jan. 25. "Based on (the results), we don't believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it happened in Bradley County," LeCroy-Schemel said.

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Drugs, Pro Bono and Other Legal Topics Covered in This Issue

Jason R. Smith writes in this issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal about controlled drug purchases and the probable cause necessary to issue a search warrant. TBA President Bill Harbison tells about some of his pro bono heroes and -- thanks everyone who gives of their time to ensure access to justice for all. Columnist Monica Franklin covers changes in the CHOICES Group 3 Program, and Ward Phillips and Brandon Morrow write about a recent win for the Employment-at-Will doctrine. Humor columnist Bill Haltom warns about the “para-lawyers” who might be coming to a courtroom near you. Read the October issue.

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Execution Drug Issues Result in Delays

The New York Times highlights several states that are having a difficult time carrying out executions due to problems obtaining and using the limited supplies of suitable drugs. “Over time lethal injection has become only more problematic and chaotic,” said Deborah W. Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School and an expert on lethal injections.

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6,000 Federal Prisoners Set for Early Release

The Justice Department will hold the largest one-time release of federal prisoners – about 6,000 inmates – between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2 in an effort to reduce overcrowding and free drug offenders who now qualify for early release, The Washington Post reports. The announcement follows a U.S. Sentencing Commission ruling that reduced the potential punishment for future drug offenders last year and made the change retroactive. The commission estimates the change could eventually result in 46,000 of the country’s drug offenders qualifying for early release.

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Franklin Fundraiser Benefits DUI Court

The second annual “Take the Cake” fundraiser for the Williamson County DUI Court will take place Oct. 29 at 5:30 p.m. at the historic Williamson County Courthouse in downtown Franklin. The Franklin Home Page reports that Mike Wolfe, creator and co-star of “American Pickers” on the History Channel, will serve as master of ceremonies. For more information contact Judy Oxford, (615) 791-8511 or visit the court’s website.

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Virginia Execution Proceeds after Judge Approves Drug

A Virginia inmate was executed yesterday after a judge rejected his claims about the efficacy of one of his execution drugs, the ABA Journal reports. Alfredo Prieto, who was convicted of three murders and linked to six others, had raised questions about the use of pentobarbital, which was provided by Texas officials after Virginia’s supply of midazolam expired. Lawyers had also argued that he should not be executed because he was intellectually disabled.

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ABA Group Releases Report on ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws

The ABA National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws officially released its final report and recommendations today, urging federal, state and local legislative agencies to significantly modify or refrain from enacting laws that eliminate the duty to retreat before using force in self-defense in public places. The task force was convened in 2013 to review and analyze state Stand Your Ground laws and their impact on public safety and the criminal justice system.

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14 Graduate from Nashville Drug Treatment Program

Fourteen men and women were recognized on Wednesday for successfully completing a Davidson County drug treatment program, WKRN reports. The room at the downtown Justice A.A. Birch Building was standing room only as friends and family gathered to congratulate the graduates. District Attorney Glenn Funk gave the keynote address.

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Oklahoma Governor Halts Execution Over Drug Issue

For the second time this month, the scheduled execution of Richard Glossip has been canceled. This time it was Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin who unexpectedly issued the reprieve, the ABA Journal reports. Fallin said she did so because there was a question about the legality of one of the drugs that was to be used. Her decision came after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a last-minute appeal from Glossip’s lawyers. The 37-day stay of execution will allow the state to ensure it is “complying fully with the protocols approved by federal courts,” Fallin said.

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Senators Unveil Criminal Justice Reform Bill

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators unveiled a major criminal justice reform bill today that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain non-violent drug offenses; make crack-cocaine sentencing reductions retroactive; give judges more discretion in sentencing for gun-related crimes; eliminate the so-called "three strikes" law; enhance prisoner rehabilitation and anti-recidivism programs; and largely ban solitary confinement of juveniles. The measure would also create two new mandatory minimums for crimes involving interstate domestic violence and providing weapons to terrorists. The Washington Post reports on the outlook for the bill.

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Knox Sheriff: Jail Overcrowding at ‘All-time’ High

As the Knox County jail population reaches “an all-time high,” jailers are left double-bunking inmates, and top officials are again pushing for a public safety center designed to house and treat the mentally ill who are arrested for nonviolent crimes. Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones says that could ease overcrowding and stave off potential lawsuits. He also suggested another option: a new multi-million dollar jail pod. WBIR has more on the situation.

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Georgia Executes Only Woman on Death Row

The only woman on Georgia’s death row was executed early today, making her the first woman put to death by the state in seven decades, the Johnson City Press reports. Kelly Renee Gissendaner was pronounced dead by injection of pentobarbital at 12:21 a.m. at the state prison in Jackson. She was convicted of murder in the February 1997 slaying of her husband after she conspired with her lover, who stabbed Douglas Gissendaner to death. 

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Former Drug Task Force Director Sentenced

Melvin Bayless, former director of the Eighth Judicial District Drug Task Force, was sentenced to five years of probation after being convicted of two counts of official misconduct and one count of theft over $10,000, Claiborne Progress reports. District Attorney General Jared Effler terminated the employment of Bayless on April 23. Bayless was ordered to pay $21,872.91 in restitution to the drug task force, which consists of law enforcement agencies from Campbell, Claiborne, Fentress, Scott and Union counties.

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Knox County DA Challenges Probation for Rapists

WATE reports that the Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen is calling for changes to a law that allows convicted rapists to be approved for probation while she also appeals the ruling in a case involving a man convicted of rape and incest of a 13-year-old relative. The defendant, William Cole, was sentenced to eight years of probation with no jail time. Allen says imprisonment is the “only way to make sure that that particular child and any other child in our community is safe from that individual...”

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Judge Skahan to Preside over Shelby County Mental Health Court

General Sessions Judge Gerald Skahan will preside over Shelby County’s new mental health court, scheduled to open in January, The Commercial Appeal reports. Skahan’s mission will include preventing repeat incarcerations by providing access to medical care, housing and food. "It's cruel what happens to people suffering from mental health issues," Skahan said. "The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishments. I think jailing people because they're mentally ill is cruel."

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3 Applicants for Criminal Court Judge Go To Haslam

The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments met today to consider three applicants – Walter B. Johnson II of Lenoir City, Porsche Lyn Shantz of Lenoir City and Jeffery H. Wicks of Rockwood – for the impending criminal court vacancy in the Ninth Judicial District, which serves Loudon, Meigs, Morgan, and Roane counties. The seat will become vacant Dec. 31 when Judge E. Eugene Eblen retires. The council recommended all of the candidates to Gov. Bill Haslam for his consideration.  

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Expungement Screenings Available in Knox County

Knox County Expungement Court employees are now offering expungement screenings of eligible criminal cases every Monday and Thursday, 3 – 4:15 p.m. in the Fourth Sessions Courtroom on the Main Floor of the City-County Building. The program is a joint effort between District Attorney General Charme P. Allen and Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond. "We looked at the expungement process, and we realized that it was more complicated than it needed to be," Allen said. 

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Madison Sheriff Applies for Grant to Relieve Jail Overcrowding

Madison County Sheriff John Mehr applied for a $325,000 grant to implement a risk assessment program that could help reduce the county jail’s overcrowding problem. The Jackson Sun reports that the overcrowding is due in-part to a large pre-trial population that sometimes waits months before being brought into court. “If it is done properly and (the program) provides relevant information (it is) something the court might use to set bonds that are appropriate, and more importantly, set conditions of bonds that are more appropriate,” Judge Don Allen said.

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Knox County Jail Accused of Using Restraint Chair as 'Torture Tactics'

Attorney Troy L. Bowlin II has filed two lawsuits – one in the U.S. District Court and one in Knox County Circuit Court – accusing the Knox County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) of inappropriately using a restraint chair to punish an inmate, The Knoxville News Sentinel reports. The lawsuit named as defendants the KCSO, Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones, two jail supervisors and other jail staff including 10 nurses.

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Cold Case Task Force Compiling Files

Tenth Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crump said the Cold Case Task Force is in the process of compiling files on all of unsolved homicides across the district in hopes of determining cases that can be realistically solved, the Advocate and Democrat reports. The Judicial Task Force is made up of Monroe, McMinn, Polk and Bradley counties. 

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Public Defender Steve Smith Adds Bond Costs to His Agenda

Public defender Steve Smith said that his office's future efforts will include how the state might better address the bonding process, The Chattanoogan reports. “I think that if we took a look at the bond numbers, we would be shocked by the number of people who don’t need to be there,” Smith said in speech to the Hamilton County Pachyderm Club. 

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Nashville Attorney Seeks to Expunge Court Records

Anyone who has had a criminal charge dismissed with no costs has a right to have his or her name cleared and records expunged, Nashville attorney Daniel Horwitz tells WMC Action News 5. To help them achieve that, Horwitz has filed a class-action motion to expunge records for more than 128,000 Davidson County residents who are currently eligible for expungement but have not gone through the process. “In a lot of cases, people assume wrongly that their dismissed offenses have been expunged automatically when they haven’t,” Horwitz says. 

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Chattanooga's Patterson to Run for Criminal Court Judge

Boyd Patterson, a Chattanooga assistant district attorney and former director of the city’s Gang Task Force, submitted papers to run for criminal court judge in in the upcoming March election, The Chattanoogan reports. Patterson will run as a Republican. "I look forward to applying on the bench that experience and the knowledge I gained while working with the Gang Task Force,” he said. Patterson was among three initial finalists for the vacancy created by Judge Rebecca Stern’s retirement in Division Two, but Gov. Haslam later requested three more names to be presented by a judicial selection panel and has yet to make a selection.

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Attorneys in Vanderbilt Rape Case to Ask for Change of Venue

Lawyers for Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey, two former Vanderbilt football players accused of raping a female student inside a dorm room, were in court today for a status hearing. WSMV reports no formal motions were filed, but defense attorneys said they plan to file a change of venue motion and outined dates for future motions. The new indictments were released in July after the rape case was declared a mistrial in June and exclude a charge against Vandenburg handed down in the 2013 indictment of tampering with evidence. No new charges were issued against Vandenburg or the three other men accused in the case.

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Judicial Errors Result in New Trial

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals ordered a new trial for Benjamin Foust on trial for a 2011 double murder, after the court said Knox County Criminal Court Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz made mistakes, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Judge D. Kelly Thomas Jr. issued an opinion stating Judge Leibowitz allowed jurors to hear a police interrogation containing irrelevant information about co-defendant Teddie Jones without listening to it first or holding a hearing outside the jury’s presence about it. “The trial court utterly failed in its gatekeeping function as outlined in (court rules),” Thomas wrote. The case now goes back to Knox County Criminal Court.

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