criminal justice

New TNJ edition alert: The Registry’s revenge, criminal justice developments, and tie breakers

The Registry of Election Finance meets in Nashville on Sept. 8, 2022. From left are members Tom Morton, Tom Lawless, and Hank Fincher. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Registry to audit candidate who nearly beat Senate GOP leader; hardball tactics contrast with earlier efforts to brush Tillis complaints under rug.

— Criminal justice: Backers say Memphis murder case justifies ‘truth in sentencing’ law.

— Tied up in knots: Sumner, Cocke commissions take contrasting steps to break election deadlock.

Also: A Democrat is elected chair of the Republican Knox County Commission, a big Tennessee beer distributor is gobbled up by a huge national firm, the state treasurer backs away from cryptocurrency, and a happy hour curfew.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

McNally, Sexton name task force to study crime, punishment

Senate Speaker Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton await Gov. Bill Lee’s arrival for his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

After a spate of high profile slayings in Memphis, Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and his House counterpart, Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), are assembling a special committee to review the adequacy of criminal sentencing in Tennessee.

Here’s the letter from the speakers to Senate Clerk Russell Humphrey and House Clerk Tammy Letzler:

Dear Ms. Clerk and Mr. Clerk:

As Speaker of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives for the 112th General Assembly, we hereby create the Joint Ad Hoc Committee to Review the Adequacy of the Supervision, Investigation, and Release of Criminal Defendants. The Committee is authorized and directed to undertake a review of all information relevant to the supervision, investigation, and release of individuals who commit crimes in this state. The Committee is directed to recommend whether there is a need for legislative action to provide additional safeguards to protect the public from those who repeatedly violate criminal laws.

The Committee may consult with the District Attorneys General Conference to ensure that any pending criminal prosecutions will not be jeopardized by any actions taken by the Committee. The Committee may also consult with groups that represent the interests of victims of crime.

To the extent that the Committee is authorized to review any records that are confidential under existing law, the Committee is directed to take appropriate action to maintain the confidentiality of such records.

The Office of Legal Services shall provide legal services to the Committee, and the Attorney General and Reporter, the Department of Correction, and the District Attorneys General Conference shall assist the Committee and the Office of Legal Services upon request.

Senate members appointed to the Committee are: Senator Ed Jackson (co-chair), Senator Richard Briggs, Senator Todd Gardenhire, Senator Bill Powers, and Senator Jeff Yarbro.

House members appointed to the Committee are: Representative Bud Hulsey (co-chair), Representative Clay Doggett, Representative Andrew Farmer, Representative William Lamberth, Representative Antonio Parkinson, and Representative Lowell Russell.

Sincerely,

/signed/

Lt. Governor Randy McNally

Speaker Cameron Sexton

Lee makes clemency annoucements

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is making several executive clemency announcements as the holiday season kicks into high gear.

Here’s the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced executive clemency decisions for 17 offenders who have demonstrated a successful path to rehabilitation and established a new process for individuals seeking clemency for drug-free school zone convictions.

Executive clemency decisions are made in consultation with the Tennessee Board of Parole, which issues non-binding recommendations for each case.

“After reviewing the unique merits of each case, I have made the decision to grant these individuals executive clemency,” said Gov. Lee. “These men and women have shown they are ready for productive lives beyond their sentences, and I appreciate the Board of Parole’s consideration in this process.”

There are three types of executive clemency:

— Exoneration – a finding by the governor that an applicant did not commit the crime for which he or she was convicted

— Pardon – an official statement of forgiveness of an offense, typically granted to an applicant who completed his or her sentence more than 5 years ago and who has demonstrated good cause for forgiveness

— Commutation – a reduction in an applicant’s sentence

Additional information on executive clemency can be found here.

Executive Clemency Grants

Adam Braseel of Grundy County – Executive Action: Exoneration

Brandon Benson of Anderson County – Executive Action: Pardon

Nathaniel Boyd of Shelby County – Executive Action: Pardon

Relerford Brown of Fentress County – Executive Action: Pardon

Charles Diffie of South Carolina – Executive Action: Pardon

Zenobia Dobson of Knox County – Executive Action: Pardon

Michael Graham of Perry County – Executive Action: Pardon

Tina Jackson of Haywood County – Executive Action: Pardon

Eugene Lee of Florida – Executive Action: Pardon

Quantel Lindsey of Georgia – Executive Action: Pardon

Jasbir Mann of Massachusetts – Executive Action: Pardon

Kevin Nunley of Bedford County – Executive Action: Pardon

Charles Sanderfur of Davidson County – Executive Action: Pardon

Kenney Simpson of Sullivan County – Executive Action: Pardon

Mindy Dodd of Rutherford County – Executive Action: Commutation to immediate parole eligibility

Jamie Grimes of Davidson County – Executive Action: Commutation to immediate parole eligibility

Charles Hall of Shelby County – Executive Action: Commutation to parole eligibility upon completing certain programming

Proclamations granting individuals clemency can be viewed here.

Updated Drug-Free School Zone Process

The Governor’s Office and the Tennessee Department of Correction will introduce a new clemency review process for drug-free school zone offenses committed prior to September 1, 2020.

This action follows legislation passed in the 2020 legislative session to reduce the school zone radius to 500 feet and to allow stiffer penalties only where vulnerable populations, such as children, were exposed to illicit drug activity.

The new process will expedite the review of convictions for those sentenced under prior Tennessee law to determine whether they merit consideration for a review of their sentence under the new law. There are currently 335 individuals incarcerated for drug-free school zone offenses committed prior to September 1, 2020.

To qualify, individuals must not have been involved in the sale or distribution to a minor or have incurred a drug-related disciplinary infraction within the past three years, including positive drug screens or dismissal from a treatment program.

Individuals who meet the qualifying criteria may apply here.

Here’s a preview of Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee gives his second State of the State address on Monday evening. Here are some early excerpts of the speech on the topics of the economy, education, and criminal justice reform:

Economy:

“In 2019, we were for the first time named the #1 best fiscally managed state in the country. We’ve been named as the best business climate in the country. We’re #1 in the U.S. for advanced industry job growth and the best state for small business growth. In the past year, this state has garnered 108 project commitments to create 16,500 jobs and $3.6 billion of capital investment in Tennessee. And while we still have more work to do on rural economic development, I’m also proud that more than half of these projects have been announced in rural counties.”

Education:

“Make no mistake: we will do whatever it takes to make Tennessee the best state in America to be a student, and that means making Tennessee the best state in America to be a teacher. That means better pay, as we’ve said, but it also means better training and professional support, so that our teachers can perform at the top of their trade.”

“Literacy is the foundation for a student’s educational journey. And if we can’t get early childhood literacy back on track, our other investments and work in education will always be limited.”

“No teacher I know does it only for the money, but you and I know a worker is worthy of their pay. Teaching is a calling. We know it is passion that brings teachers to the classroom, but we also know our teachers deserve to be paid more for the important work they do.”

“To me, education isn’t just about a test score. Assessments are valuable tools, but if the adults in education are doing their job correctly, they won’t just see academic statistics improve, they’ll see the most important stat of all improve: That our students are prepared to become productive members of society, whether that’s entering the workforce, attending college, or earning a high-quality industry credential.”

Criminal Justice Reform:

“We’re making these investments because, as our state’s elected leaders, we must remain aware of serving every part and every person of our state. That’s why I’ve made criminal justice reform such a large priority, because every person in Tennessee wants and deserves to live in a safe neighborhood. When properly implemented, criminal justice reforms save taxpayer dollars, shrink the size of government, properly punish wrongdoers, and make our communities safer.”

Lee’s criminal justice task force releases recommendations

Gov. Bill Lee’s criminal justice task force has released its initial set of recommendations.

Here’s the full release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Gov. Bill Lee’s Criminal Justice Investment Task Force released a comprehensive package of data-driven policy recommendations for upcoming legislative sessions that seek to improve public safety, increase reentry support and reduce recidivism, address unmet behavioral health needs and make Tennessee communities safer. 

“My administration is committed to addressing public safety and reentry throughout Tennessee, and I’m grateful to have the support of the members of this Task Force,” said Gov. Lee. “Dedicated leaders from across our state have come together to address this important issue, and I look forward to reviewing their recommendations.”

The Task Force’s 23 recommendations are aimed at:

  • Strengthening responses to individuals with behavioral health needs;
  • Equalizing the treatment of those housed in local jails with those housed in state prisons;
  • Tailoring our response to different types of offenses;
  • Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of community supervision; and
  • Minimizing barriers to successful reentry.

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Lee outlines criminal justice plans in advance of State of the State address

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business in Nashville on Feb. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is outlining his plans for criminal justice reform in advance of his first State of the State address on Monday.

“We will focus on helping individuals to ensure there is a pathway to a productive life beyond crime and ultimately make our state a safer place,” said Lee.

Here’s the release from the Lee administration:

Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced comprehensive plans to address criminal justice and public safety ahead of his State of the State address on Monday.

“We must significantly improve public safety in our state and I believe that starts with our criminal justice system,” said Lee. “We will focus on helping individuals to ensure there is a pathway to a productive life beyond crime and ultimately make our state a safer place.”

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