News

State Seeks February Retrial for Batey and Vandenberg

WKRN reports that a new hearing for Cory Batey and Brandon Vandenburg, the former Vanderbilt football players accused of rape, has been set for Oct. 29. The hearing will review the district attorney’s request for the trial to begin on Feb. 29, 2016, with jury selection on Feb. 22, and the defense’s response. The trial was delayed earlier this month; the retrial is expected to cost an estimated $74,000.

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Tennessee to Implement Animal Abuse Registry

When the state's animal abuse registry goes live Jan.1, it will be the first one like it in the nation. The registry will include names of people convicted of serious animal abuse for two years, or longer if they are found guilty of a second, similar offense, NewsChannel 5 reports. Up to eight other states are now considering following in Tennessee's footsteps, according to animal advocates.

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Prosecutors Discuss Trafficking, Sexting and More at Fall Meeting

Prosecutors from across the state gathered this week to discuss possible changes to laws at the annual fall Tennessee District Attorneys General conference, the Times Free Press reports. Topics included cyberbullying, human trafficking and sexting, where there isn't always a clear legislative solution, Jennifer Moore Mason said. The problem, she said, is that no specific statute exists for juvenile sexting, where teens exchange sexually explicit photos via email or text. Instead, teenagers can get hit with charges of sexual exploitation of a minor, or harassment. 

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Mental Health, Drug Programs Work Within Justice System

The Manchester Times looks into the Coffee County Mental Health Court program, now in its fourth year. The court helps to keep those with identified mental health issues out of jail, according to Mike Lewis, director of the Coffee County Drug Court, which oversees the program. Coffee County General Sessions, Juvenile and Drug Court Judge Tim Brock presides over the court once a week. Also, the Coffee County Recovery Court program has helped over 70 people since 2005, the Tullahoma News reports. This program is designed to help current and former inmates overcome drug and alcohol addictions, as well as address underlying mental health issues. 

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Stevenson to Speak at Knox County PD Event

The Knox County Public Defender's Community Law Office, in celebration of its 25th Anniversary and in partnership with East Tennessee Foundation, is hosting an evening with New York Times best-selling author Bryan Stevenson. The Nov. 9 event will be at the Crowne Plaza Knoxville. Stevenson wrote the book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, about his work with the Equal Justice Initiative.

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Police Chiefs Form Group to End 'Mass Incarceration'

The police chiefs of Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga are among 130 top law enforcement officials from across the nation calling for an end to "mass incarceration" in the United States while maintaining public safety. The officials have formed a new group, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, whose top leaders announced the group's policy agenda — to push reforms to reduce incarceration and strengthen public safety — Wednesday in Washington. The Commercial Appeal reports.

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Ohio, Arkansas Halt Executions; Scalia Predicts Death of Death Penalty

Ohio and Arkansas have become the latest in a string of states putting the death penalty on hold because of issues with the drugs needed to carry out the lethal injections. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has delayed executions until at least 2017, while prison officials try to secure supplies of lethal injection drugs, The Johnson City Press reports. The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a lower-court judge overstepped his jurisdiction by halting the executions of eight death row inmates, but the high court immediately granted its own stay to give the inmates time to challenge a new state law that bars Arkansas from disclosing its execution-drug supplier, according to an Associated Press report. Meanwhile, in an address at the University of Minnesota Law School, Justice Antonin Scalia said Tuesday it "wouldn't surprise" him to see the U.S. Supreme Court invalidate the death penalty after moving in recent years to restrict its application.

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Rape Retrial Estimated at $74k

The new rape trial for former Vanderbilt football players Cory Batey and Brandon Vandenburg will cost taxpayers an estimated $74,000, WSMV reports. The Davidson County trial courts administrator based that figure on the costs of bringing a jury from Chattanooga and sequestering jurors for two weeks. The new trial was supposed to begin Nov. 30, but Judge Monte Watkins decided earlier this week to move it to March or April.

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Campbell County Judge in Court Over Expungement Issue

Campbell County General Sessions Judge Amanda Sammons found herself in circuit court this week for not signing an expungement order after dismissal of a misdemeanor vandalism charge. Her five-month delay in signing the order resulted in a local teen losing two job opportunities, Knoxnews reports. In court, she pledged to finally sign the order. Sammons promised “a revolution” in Campbell County’s judicial system when she was elected in 2014, but her actions are drawing a series of complaints, the newspaper reports.

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Memphis Now a Leader in Rape Kit Testing, Norris Says

Memphis has made great progress handling its backlog of untested sexual assault kits and has become a model for other cities in dealing with the problem, state Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said during a summit on the issue Monday. Norris, who has sponsored three laws to help ease the backlogs across Tennessee, said, "It's not just a Memphis problem or a Tennessee problem. It's a national one. And they're looking to us for best practices." The Commercial Appeal has more

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Seminar on Human Trafficking Comes to Brentwood

The Brentwood Library will host a program on human trafficking, how to identify it and steps to prevent it on Oct. 29. Co-sponsored by the Brentwood Woman’s Club and You Have the Power, the “No Girl’s Dream” program will be from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Brentwood Library, 8109 Concord Rd. Brentwood Homepage has more.

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Governor Names Members to Law-Related Bodies

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has announced a series of appointments to state boards and commissions, including several law-related bodies, WRCBTV.com reports. Among the appointments are Chris Hodges of Nashville and Ward Phillips of Knoxville to the Board of Judicial Conduct; Niesha Wolfe of Clarksville and Mary Wagner of Memphis to the Post-Conviction Defender Oversight Commission; and Jason Denton of Lebanon, Lynn Lawyer of Nashville and Jerry Mayo of Brentwood to the Advisory Council on Workers' Compensation.

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Testimony: Longer Sentences 'Not the Panacea' for Crime

Longer sentences do not dissuade individuals from committing crimes, according to testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. "They do not reduce crime, they do not increase public safety, and they cost the state a whole lot of money,” Professor Christopher Slobogin told the committee. The director of the Criminal Justice Program at Vanderbilt University Law School was among those commenting on recent findings from a sentencing task force. The Tennessean has more on the hearing.

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Trial for Former Football Players Pushed to 2016

The second trial of two former Vanderbilt University football players accused of rape will not happen until next year, Nashville Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins ruled today. Watkins heard several motions in the case and “largely ruled in favor of the prosecution” except on the question of the new trial date, the Tennessean reports. On that issue, Watkins granted defense attorneys’ motion that they were hired only four months ago and have not had time to adequately prepare for the case. Watkins said the trial would likely occur in March or April.

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Judge Protects 2 in Rutherford Probation Case

Federal judge Kevin H. Sharp has issued an injunction stopping a private probation company in Rutherford County from jailing two men because they cannot pay court fines and fees, the Tennessean reports. Sharp also ordered the company and county officials not to arrest the pair for any other reason and then hold them on bond. Fred Robinson and Steven Gibbs are two of seven individuals on probation that filed a class action lawsuit against Providence Community Corrections and Rutherford County officials. The suit argues the parties conspired to overcharge people on probation and withhold payments that should have covered court fines and fees.

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Oklahoma Halts Executions Until 2016

No executions will be scheduled in Oklahoma until at least next year while the attorney general’s office investigates why the state used the wrong drug during a lethal injection in January and nearly did so again last month, the Associated Press reports. The latest investigation comes after prison officials discovered they had potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride just hours before Richard Glossip was scheduled to die at the end of September.

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Prisons Chief Vows Changes Amid Review

Appearing before the state Senate Corrections Subcommittee yesterday, Tennessee Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield told lawmakers that he will revise controversial staff schedules and change the legal definitions of inmate-on-guard assaults – two issues that recently have led to concerns among correctional officers. “This is not just a Band-Aid. This is a complete review,” Schofield told the panel. A recent independent review by the American Correctional Association found unrest over guard turnover, violence and understaffing. The Times Free Press has the story.

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Former Vandy Football Players Ask to Separate Cases

Two former Vanderbilt University football players charged with raping a student in 2013 have renewed their request to go to trial separately, according to the Tennessean. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey are set for trial Nov. 30. But their attorneys asked the court yesterday to separate the cases and delay the trials. The pair was found guilty on charges of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery in January but a mistrial was declared after a juror failed to disclose he was a past victim of statutory rape.

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Justice Department Creates New Post to Fight Domestic Terrorism

The U.S. Justice Department has created a new position to coordinate domestic terrorism cases and identify ways to battle homegrown terrorists, the ABA Journal reports. John Carlin, the assistant attorney general for national security, announced yesterday that the position has been filled. The new person, who is a lawyer, will serve as a main point of contact for U.S. attorneys working on domestic terrorism matters, identify trends to help shape strategy and analyze legal gaps and enhancements to increase effectiveness.

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Judge Williams Honored with UTM Award

Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Judge John Everett Williams recently received the Distinguished Criminal Justice Alumni Award from the Department of Behavioral Sciences at the University of Tennessee at Martin. He is the first recipient of the award, which is sponsored by the campus chapter of the national criminal justice honor society Alpha Phi Sigma. The award recognizes alumni who demonstrate leadership in the criminal justice field, professional excellence in their careers and support for the school’s criminal justice program. Williams earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the school. After graduating from the Cumberland School of Law, he worked in private practice in Huntingdon until he was elected to serve on the court in 1998. Read more from the AOC.

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Court Holds Oral Arguments in 2 Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court issued orders from its Oct. 9 conference yesterday, but did not add any new cases to its docket for this term. The court also heard oral arguments yesterday in the cases of Montgomery v. Louisiana and Hurst v. Florida. In the first case, the court is considering whether states should be forced to retroactively apply a ban on mandatory sentences to juveniles convicted decades ago. The Tennessean reports that the justices appeared skeptical of their standing to decide the matter as well as the merits of the case. SCOTUSblog has more details.

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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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