News

State Lawmakers to Propose New DUI Legislation

Tennessee Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, plans to submit a bill in January that would require each Tennessee municipality to report its DUI arrests and convictions to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), WMCActionNews5 reports. According to Norris, 18 of Tennessee’s 95 counties do not report their DUI arrests or cases to NCIC. Under a second bill to be proposed by Rep. Mark White, R-East Memphis, Tennessee judges would have the authority to order ignition locks and ankle bracelets for first-time DUI offenders as conditions of their bonds.

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Former Gang Members Mentor Teens on Probation

Former gang members are mentoring Nashville teens on probation through a volunteer program known as GANG (Gentleman and not Gangsters), WZTV reports. “They can actually see somebody that has been where they've been and can come out of it and do better,” said Bishop Marcus Campbell of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church. The program is run out of Campbell's church in North Nashville. For more information, contact Campbell at (615) 636-0012.

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No Trial Date Yet for Allison Beaver Burchett

A trial date has yet to be set for Allison Beaver Burchett – the ex-wife of Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett – two months after she was indicted for six counts of identity theft in an effort to influence a divorce battle. Knox County Criminal Court Judge Steve Sword said this recent delay is because defense attorneys have been waiting on Assistant District Attorney General Bill Bright to turn over to them copies of computer evidence. According to The Knoxville News Sentinel, a trial date would have normally been set when Burchett was arraigned in September.

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DA's Attempt to Open TBI Files Revals 'Complex Issues'

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich’s attempt to open Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) files on the shooting of Darrius Stewart involves both issues of public access to records and who can intervene in the case, the Daily News reports. "If the Memphis Police Department had investigated this, the public could have access,” Weirich argues. “The public has the right to know.”

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Victims' Rights Advocate Concerned with Judge's Comments

“Did a judge cross the line with an alleged domestic abuse victim in court?” is the opening line in a WATE news story questioning recent comments from Knox County Judge Chuck Cerny. After an alleged assault victim spent the night with the man accused of attacking her, Cerny threatened the victim with contempt and accused her of using her hormones, not her brain, to think. “No one seems to understand the level of danger that abusers pose," victim's rights advocate Amy Dilworth said after listening to the judge’s comments. "The level of brainwashing that they put in place and that victims can’t just leave."

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Inmate Escape Prompts Scrutiny of Coffee County Courthouse Security

The Coffee County Courthouse Security Committee is looking to improve courthouse safety following an inmate’s escape from his holding cell during a recent appearance in General Sessions Court, Tullahoma News reports. “Our communication is not necessarily the best in this building,” Heather Hinds Duncan, a committee member, said. “For example, when the person escaped on the first floor, we didn’t know it for 15 minutes. Had we known it immediately, the whole building could have gone on lockdown.”

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New Trial Dates Set for Ex-Vols Football Players

The Associated Press reports new trial dates have been set for ex-Vols football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams, who are facing aggravated rape charges. Williams’ trial has been moved to June 27; Johnson’s trial was moved to July 18. Knox County Criminal Court Judge Bob McGee said defense lawyers can still try to obtain social media communications from witnesses and the victim through the service providers. 

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Hack of Inmate Call Records Raises Questions

A security breach at Securus Technologies – which provides phone services at more than 40 correctional facilities across Tennessee and hundreds more across the country – has put the records of millions of phone calls placed by inmates in the public domain, The Intercept reports. The records were leaked via an anonymous hacker, The Intercept reports, who believes the Securus is violating the rights of inmates by recording their conversations. The attack is spurring discussion of the practice, such as the Simple Justice blog posting from New York defense attorney Scott Greenfield.

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Tennessee a Top State for Murder-Suicides, Report Finds

Tennessee is among the top eight states in the nation for the frequency of murder-suicides, according to a new study by the Violence Policy Center. The report, featured in the Times Free Press, also found 72 percent of murder-suicides involved an intimate partner.

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Davidson County Court Not Recording Preliminary Hearings

WSMV reports Davidson County General Sessions Court may not be recording preliminary hearings as required by law. After the news station contacted the court asking for recordings of a preliminary hearing, a court employee revealed they do not record all hearings and only record by request. “This is the Supreme Court rule,” defense attorney David Raybin said. “It said the recordings shall be preserved by electronic recording. This is not discretionary.”

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Victim's Family Seeks DOJ Investigation Into Shooting

The family of a man killed this summer by a Memphis police officer is requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate the death, the Commercial Appeal reports. A Shelby County grand jury last week decided not to indict the officer on voluntary manslaughter charges, which Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich had recommended. That sparked a protest Tuesday outside the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center that drew about 100 people. Darrius Stewart, 19, was shot and killed by a Memphis police officer during a traffic stop.

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Convicted 'Black Widow' Wants Baumgartner Files Opened

A Knoxville woman who was charged with killing her first husband and later convicted of killing her second husband is trying to win a new trial by pointing to the misdeeds of former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, the Knoxnews reportsRaynella Dossett Leath had been charged with killing her first husband, Knox County District Attorney General Ed Dossett, in 1992, but that case was dropped when she was convicted of fatally shooting David Leath. Baumgartner had denied Leath’s motion for new trial just before stepping down from the bench. She is now seeking Baumgartner's entire Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file to bolster her case.

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DA Wants Fetal Assault Law Strengthened

Sullivan County District Attorney Barry Staubus, who championed a new state law that allows drug-addicted mothers to be charged with assault to a fetus if they refuse treatment, said the law should be reworked to include meth. The statute currently only applies to narcotics like prescription pain pills, heroin and crack. Statewide, roughly 100 women have been prosecuted under the law, Nashville Public Radio reports.

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Arrest Warrants Flagged for Mental Health Issues

In an effort to make warrant arrests safer, Davidson County General Sessions Court is flagging some arrest warrants to alert police if the person sought suffers from mental health issues, The Tennessean reports. Court officials also stamp warrants if the defendant is on the veterans treatment docket or the person has substance abuse issues. "It creates an alert in the computer system to let people out in the field know they may react differently ... display bizarre behavior because of their circumstance," Metro Police Lt. Jeff Bauer said.

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Expungement of Criminal Records Could Cost Millions

A proposed plan to erase charges filed against about 128,000 people in Nashville that have been dismissed or never prosecuted could cost more than $14 million to carry out, according to estimates from the Tennessee Department of Correction and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. "People’s lives shouldn’t be used as leverage to expand a government budget," Daniel Horwitz, a Nashville attorney who filed the class action suit, said in The Tennessean. "It’s a shame that the TBI and the Department of Correction have focused their attention on shutting down a popular local effort to help thousands of innocent people clear their names.”

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TBJ Columns Cover Crime, History, Humor and Books

Columns in the November Tennessee Bar Journal include Wade Davies’s criminal law, Russell Fowler’s history and Bill Haltom’s humor. Davies writes about "(Not) Summary Judgment," Fowler is all about Ida B.Wells, and Haltom reminds us the power of a hand-written note. Candi Henry reviews the book, The Billable Hour. The Journal’s 50th Birthday is celebrated this month with a story about the background of the magazine’s and other TBA publications’ proper names (which is not nearly as boring as this makes it sound). Read it!

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Counter Motions Cause Chaos in Shelby Court

The Commercial Appeal describes business in Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Carolyn Wade's courtroom as “chaotic" on Thursday. Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich filed a motion on Oct. 30 asking Blackett to recuse herself from all cases after questioning Blackett’s impartiality; however, defense attorney Michael Working instead asked for the recusal of Weirich’s office. "Total disqualification from all pending matters of the only African-American woman serving as a Criminal Court Judge ... would appear to be an especially egregious deprivation of democracy by dismissing the people's elected representative on the bench,” Working wrote in a motion this week.

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Social Media Subpoena Denied in Rape Case

Ex-Vols football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams, who are accused of aggravated rape, and the victim will not be forced to turn over social media posts and text messages that occurred before the 2014 incident, according to Knox County Judge Bob McGee. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports McGee reversed an earlier decision in the case after conducting further study of the use of subpoena power. “This is new territory,” the judge said. “Legal principles are failing to keep up. We are without legal guidance and authority.”

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Automated System Helps Crime Victims Track Offenders

Law enforcement, advocacy groups and legal professionals in Knoxville on Tuesday learned how to use an automated system that allows victims of a crime to track the offender, WBIR reports. The Statewide Automated Victim Information Notification System (SAVIN) first started in 2010. “It will give peace of mind to the victims of crime, and it does it anonymously," Gary Cordell, with the Tennessee Sheriff's Association, said. 

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Judge Refuses to Share Information Regarding New Trial Request

Judge Alan E. Glenn said that Shelby County Judge Carolyn Wade Blackett's refusal to give more information regarding her decision to grant a new trial to a man sentenced for attempted murder could “’reasonably’ be presumed a violation of the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct and ‘evidencing a personal bias’ against the district attorney general’s office.” The Memphis Daily News reports Blackett ordered a new trial after comments she heard from jurors regarding contact with the prosecution.

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New Trial Ordered Due to Graphic Photos

The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that graphic photos from the crime scene should not have been used during the trial of a Knoxville man convicted in a deadly hit and run. The judges said the photos showing one of the victim’s unborn child likely influenced the jury, WATE reports. “The photographs in this case were, without a doubt, the most grotesque, horrifying, and unnecessary photographs that I have viewed in 17 years on this court,” Judge John Everett Williams said. A new trial has been ordered.

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Knoxville Public Defender Disagrees with DA's New Policy on Shoplifters

Knox County Public Defender Mark Stephens does not agree with District Attorney Charme Allen’s authorization to use felony burglary charges to prosecute petty thieves who return to the scene of their shoplifting crimes. “The DA has almost relegated itself to being a collection agency or a protector of Walmart,” Stephens said in the Knoxville News Sentinel. “It is an overreaction. It is not at all what the legislature intended.”

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Man Wrongly Accused of Murder Speaks at Vanderbilt Law School

Ndume Olatushani, a man who spent nearly 27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, spoke at Vanderbilt Law School on Wednesday with his attorney and Vanderbilt Law School grad Anne-Marie Moyes. The Vanderbilt Hustler reports that Olatushani was accused of murdering a Memphis store owner in an attempted robbery in 1983, despite never having been to the state of Tennessee. “One of the first things I began to read was law books because I wanted to understand this process. I knew I had to understand this process,” Olatushani said.

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Black Caucus Discusses Drug Sentencing Reform

Members of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State legislators said they are considering legislative proposals that would provide alternative sentencing for individuals with drug or mental health problems, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. "We've got to distinguish mental health issues from violent crimes," District Attorney Glenn Funk said. The group also said it is considering legislations that would change the sentencing guidelines for offenders convicted of selling drugs near a school.

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Thousands of Drug Inmates Set for Early Release

More than 4,300 federal inmates serving sentences for drug crimes are set for early release this weekend in an effort to reduce the nation’s prison population, the Associated Press reports. The release comes after a U.S. Sentencing Commission ruling that reduced the potential punishment for drug offenders. More than 1,700 additional inmates who are not U.S. citizens will be turned over to immigration officials.

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