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Nashville Criminal Defense Law Blog

Proof of unscientific hair analysis gets 40-year inmate released

Ledura Watkins was convicted of the 1975 murder of a 25-year-old woman during a home robbery. The only evidence against Watkins was a single hair found on the scene, which police analysts had tied to him using a technique that has since been discredited by the FBI. With the help of the Innocence Project at the Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School, Watkins is now free.

According to the FBI, the hair analysis used against Watkins was not scientifically valid. "It is simply a lab analyst's subjective opinion and has no place in our criminal justice system. This is why a state-wide review of hair comparison cases is critical," says the Innocence Project's director.

In Silk Road appeal, judges question 'social utility' of sentence

A little more than two years ago, a young man with the pseudonym "Dread Pirate Roberts" was convicted of running the dark web drug marketplace known as the Silk Road. It was considered a major coup for the government, although it is unclear whether shutting down the Silk Road was effective at curtailing the sale of illicit substances online. "Roberts" was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole, however, which some observers saw as unusually harsh considering the largely nonviolent nature of the crimes.

The young man appealed his conviction and sentence to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. He made a number of claims, including a complaint that the government had violated his Fourth Amendment rights by performing unreasonable surveillance on him. The appellate court disagreed.

Court: Washington man's child sex charges entirely based on lies

A Washington, Sheriff's detective was so sure Clyde Spencer was sexually abusing children that she made up dozens of false quotations and attributed them to his children, according to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Those lies coerced him into entering a no-contest plea and spend nearly 20 years in prison. He deserves the $9 million in compensation a jury has already awarded him.

There appears to be no question that Clyde Spencer is innocent of the allegations that he molested his son and daughter, although it's true that a stepson's allegations were never resolved. It's also clear that Sheriff's Deputy Sharon Krause took a variety of illegal and immoral steps to frame him.

High court: Obviously racist jury behavior can reverse conviction

If a jury convicts someone and the court later learns that one juror's vote was based entirely on racial animus, should the conviction be overturned? Traditionally, the answer has been no. Appellate courts have long held that what happens in the jury room, for the most part, stays in the jury room.

And yet, "the nation must continue to make strides to overcome race-based discrimination," writes Justice Anthony Kennedy in the recent case of Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado. "Blatant racial prejudice is antithetical to the functioning of the jury system and must be confronted in egregious cases like this one despite the general bar of the no-impeachment rule."

Federal judge in Nashville resigns, denounces mandatory minimums

Becoming a federal judge is the dream of a lifetime for many, but it does have its downsides. Those downsides could include something like the lack of ability to advocate for causes you care about, or they might involve dissatisfaction with aspects of the position itself.

For former federal district court judge Kevin Sharp, it might be a bit of both. After joining the bench in 2011, he left for a private firm last week. He will be establishing a Nashville office for that firm, and told the New York Law Journal that he was excited to join the firm, where he could focus on pursuing civil rights cases.

Sting operation results in trafficking charges, plus conspiracy

Authorities characterized the outcome of a recent sting operation spanning 29 states as bringing down the Uber of sex-trafficking.

The operation reportedly placed around 18,000 adds on Backpage.com to advertise the sexual services of foreign women. The women, many of whom were undocumented immigrants from China and Korea, were intimidated with threats of deportation. Many also did not speak English. To avoid detection, the alleged traffickers shuttled the women across the country.

Court denies Tennessee man's request for sexual assault appeal

A former Murfreesboro City Schools band teacher recently sought to appeal certain evidence admitted in his criminal case. The denial of that request for an appeal of a sex crime conviction sends a cautionary note.

Specifically, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed that evidence has been improperly admitted in the criminal case. At issue were nude photographs of a minor on her cell phone. The defendant had allegedly requested them from the minor.

Deputy faces a host of federal drug charges

A Tennessee sheriff's deputy tasked with drug enforcement is now facing the same charges as those he once helped to put away.

According to authorities, an informant implicated the deputy. In exchange for a reduction of charges, the informant worked with FBI agents to catch the deputy in the act. The FBI agents observed the informant and the deputy coordinating security for a staged drug drop, including a phone call between the two and a payment of $400.

Could a criminal arrest threaten your immigration status?

In previous posts, we’ve discussed some of the procedural rights that must accompany a lawful arrest, such as the Miranda warning. Yet for someone who is uncertain about his or her immigration status, a brush with law enforcement can be an intimidating affair.

Many immigrants may fear that a criminal arrest may trigger a deportation proceeding. Yet after an arrest, the bell has already been rung. Accordingly, there may be no benefit to accepting a plea for a lesser offense, such as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Immigration officials may be inclined to commence deportation proceedings in either instance, regardless of the type of conviction.

What procedures must the police follow during an arrest?

One of the first areas where our criminal defense law firm looks for irregularities is the arrest record. For that reason, it is important to understand the process.

As background, the police are bound by certain legal procedures during an arrest, defined as the moment when an individual is taken into custody. Before the police can begin their questioning, an individual in custody and under suspicion for a criminal offense must be read a Miranda warning.

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Patrick T. McNally, Attorney at Law
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