General

Johnson City Mother Receives Probation for Placing Infant in Freezer

A Johnson City woman who placed her infant son inside of an old freezer located in the backyard of an unrelated party was given probation this week, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports. Washington County Judge Stacy Street sentenced Brittany C. Smith to two years of probation after she pleaded guilty to a charge of child neglect. Residents say they saw Smith standing next to the unused freezer with the infant. After going outside to check on her, they found Smith hiding under the crawlspace of their house without the baby. The homeowners told authorities that Smith appeared to be under the influence of something and left her son with them, returning 12 hours later to pick him up. Law enforcement was eventually notified after Smith refused a request by the residents to have the child’s grandmother involved before returning the child to her.

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Knox Jail Alternative Seeks Additional Funding

The Knox County program that offers an alternative to jail for nonviolent, misdemeanor offenders is seeking additional funding from the municipality, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. The Helen Ross McNabb Center opened last year and signed a three-year contract with Knox County to operate a 16-bed center where law enforcement can place qualifying offenders, who can then be held for up to 72 hours before being given referrals to assistance and a case manager upon release. The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse provided the center with $3.4 million for renovations and pay for startup costs; however, that money only covered three-quarters of the initial funds needed. McNabb Center CEO Jerry Vagnier has asked Knox County commissioners for $840,000 and the city for $560,000 to cover operation costs for the fiscal year.

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Investigation Highlights Concerns Over Tennessee's Parole System

Nashville reporter Dennis Ferrier highlights concerns regarding the way parole boards operate in Tennessee discovered in a year-long investigation into the matter by WZTV Nashville. Among the issues raised are decisions made that are contrary to court decisions and the payrate of board members — at least $102,000 a year. The parole board did not cooperate with the news team through the investigation.
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Gov. Lee Announces Criminal Justice Task Force

Gov. Bill Lee has announced the team that will lead his criminal justice task force, the Tennessean reports. Lee made the issue a focal point of his campaign, later appointing Tennessee Court of Appeals Judge Brandon Gibson to his Senior Advisor role and tasking her with leading the charge on the initiative. The plan includes cooperation with the courts, former inmates and various agencies, such as the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland, Department of Children’s Services, Department of Corrections and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. In a statement regarding the plan, Lee said he intends to “improve public safety and reentry in our state.”
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Juror in Pastor Rape Case Defends Judge Who Issued Ruling

A juror is defending Knox County Criminal Court Judge Steve Sword, who has come under fire for the 12-year sentence he handed out to a pastor convicted of rape and incest, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports.The juror, Bill Quillen, says that he was surprised by the backlash and wrote a letter to the News Sentinel stating "(Sword's) conduct of the trial and handling of the jury was impressive … his knowledge and experience are far deeper in what a proper sentence should be than the uninformed on social media where outrage seems to be the norm." Prosecutors in the case had sought the maximum for each charge to be served consecutively, amounting to 72 years. A petition calling for Sword's removal from the bench has garnered more than 14,000 signatures.
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Court to Consider Whether Shoplifting from Walmart Can be Considered Burglary

The Tennessee Supreme Court will consider whether shoplifting from Walmart stores more than once can be considered felony burglary instead of a shoplifting misdemeanor, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. This comes after a policy instituted by Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen in 2016, which seeks to curb multiple offenses and was adopted by several other counties in the state. The Court of Criminal Appeals recently ruled that Allen’s policy is sound, further stating that once a shoplifter has been banned from the store in writing, consent of public patronage has been revoked. Criminals Appeals Judge Camille R. McMullen wrote a dissension saying: “Unlike an individual who owns a building closed to the public, a retail store such as Walmart does not have its privacy invaded and is not terrorized or personally violated when a banned individual commits the offense of shoplifting or theft within one of its stores … by charging individuals in this way, prosecutors are creating an enhanced penalty for shoplifters and petty thieves. The court has not yet set a hearing date.

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Executor of Sedley Alley's Estate Says She Has the Right to Review Crime Scene Evidence

The daughter of Sedley Alley, who was convicted of raping and killing Lance Corporal Suzanne Collins in 1985 and ultimately executed for the crime, yesterday asked a judge in Memphis to allow review of evidence from the murder scene to provide closure on the crime once and for all, The New York Times reports. April Alley maintains that as executor of her father’s estate she is entitled to continue the pursuit of justice and asks that preserved evidence found at the scene — including the victim’s underwear, a pair of red briefs apparently worn by the attacker and a 31-inch tree branch — be tested for DNA and matched against her father’s that was harvested when he was still alive. Alley was initially denied review of the evidence for DNA material, a request prosecutors claimed was a stalling maneuver; however, five years after his execution, the Tennessee Supreme Court concluded the lower court’s denial was errant. 

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Chattanooga Councilman Byrd Fears for Safety After Altercation With Neighbor

Chattanooga city councilman Anthony Byrd filed a police report out of concern for his safety after a community activist suggested that men drive by his house to “provide protection” for his neighbor, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The activist, Marie Mott, hosts a radio show that featured the neighbor who alleges Byrd threatened her when she was questioning him about her son’s killing, which was ruled as “justified” and why no one was charged in his death. Councilman Byrd later noticed a large amount of traffic driving on his street and became fearful for he and his family’s safety. Mott says that she did not threaten Byrd rather called him out "to hold him accountable” and that “if he's in danger, that falls into his own hands." No charges have been filed and the case was closed as "miscellaneous information."

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Legal and Ethical Concerns Surrounding Genetic Genealogy

Since the capture of the Golden State Killer a year ago, genetic genealogy has become a hot button issue that guarantees to drastically alter the landscape of criminal justice. The process has sparked both legal and ethical concerns regarding use of databases from private companies that initially did not notify customers their genetic information would be used for such measures, with one company in particular — FamilyTreeDNA — formerly working in secret with the FBI that is now marketing itself as a crime fighting tool. The New York Times examines these trends, offering both an overview of the process along with recent, specific cases in which the method was used.

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Shelby County Swears in First Female Chief Public Defender

Shelby County swore in its first female chief public defender yesterday, The Commercial Appeals reports. Phyllis Aluko has spent 25 years in the office where she began as a volunteer, then moving to the trial division for 10 years, later transferring to the appellate division. Judge Bernice Donald of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said at the ceremony: "Phyllis Aluko is now, has been and will be an exceptional public defender … She understands the needs of the office, the needs of the community." Aluko replaces former Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush, who retired in February.
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