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Nashville Criminal Defense Law Blog

Man caught having sex as teen now banned from living in own home

Just after he turned 17, LaShun G. was charged with second-degree sexual assault having sex with another teenager. He was tried and convicted as an adult, which means he was added to the sex offender registry in the state where he lives. He never committed another offense. He is now married and has three children.

He and his wife own and operate a small moving company. His wife is a nurse. Their 5-year-old son has medical issues that require constant monitoring and medical care, including breathing machines. He has limited mobility and is wheelchair-bound.

Prosecutorial misconduct leads to overturned murder conviction

A man who has been serving time since 1995 for the murder of a drug dealer has been released with his conviction overturned by a judge. That judge found evidence of serious prosecutorial misconduct that made his trial and conviction unfair. The district attorney's office is appealing the decision.

According to the New York Daily News, Tasker Spruill has always maintained his innocence in the 1993 killing of an East New York drug dealer. He was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to 25 years to life behind bars. He was released last week, but since his case is appealable, his release is conditioned on a $200,000 bond and electronic ankle monitoring.

Improper jury instructions overturn conviction of NY assemblyman

Former New York assembly speaker Sheldon Silver was convicted in November 2015 of public corruption charges including extortion, money laundering and honest services fraud. This week, a three-judge federal appeals panel overturned his convictions on those three counts. A 2016 Supreme Court decision has narrowed the definition of public corruption since his conviction, but the instructions the jury was given in the Silver case reflected the old definition.

Federal prosecutors have said they will retry the case, according to the New York Times. They noted that the appellate panel ruled only that a properly-instructed jury could have chosen to acquit Silver; not that they would. The panel did say that the evidence presented in the original trial was legally sufficient to support a conviction, even under the new Supreme Court ruling.

SCOTUS rules in favor of poorly-advised immigrant who pled guilty

A South Korean immigrant will not be deported after pleading guilty to a drug crime after being badly advised by his criminal defense attorney. This is an interesting development, because it involves a guilty plea. If he had tried to get the plea itself reversed, he likely would not have succeeded. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the negative immigration consequences can be averted in such a circumstance.

The case involved a man who had lived in the U.S. legally for nearly 30 years and had built two businesses in Tennessee. His elderly parents are naturalized citizens, and he is the only family member in the country to care for them. He has strong ties to America and no ties to North Korea, which he left as a child.

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.

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Patrick T. McNally, Attorney at Law
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