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Nashville Criminal Defense Law Blog

Bad lawyers can cost your freedom -- check these signs

There are some kinds of services that you don't want to take a chance with: dentists, airplane pilots, surgeons and sushi chefs. These workers must be skilled enough to manage the high risks of their job. Just like other professions that handle safety and well-being, lawyers need to be vigilant and knowledgeable.

Although your attorney should be deserving of your trust, some lawyers might cut corners and mishandle your case. This can cost years of time in jail, legal fees and even a wrong conviction. It can be tough to see that your lawyer is rotten early in the case, but there are a few things that can tip you off to potential risk.

Supreme Court: Racist juror statement deserves consideration

Keith Tharpe, an African-American, was convicted of a terrible crime. In 1990, a Georgia jury said he had ambushed his wife and sister-in-law while they were driving to work. He murdered the sister-in-law and then kidnapped and raped his wife. The sister-in-law's body was later discovered in a ditch by her own husband.

Tharpe had been denied a habeas corpus appeal in the past, but the U.S. Supreme Court recently ordered his case to be reconsidered. Several years after his conviction, appellate lawyers interviewed a juror and found he held racist beliefs against African-Americans.

Why would I want a different attorney for an appeal?

It is sad that many people who get accused of crimes in the Nashville area wind up getting convicted even if they did not commit the crime or, legally speaking, they were "not guilty."

In other cases, a Tennessee resident may acknowledge that their conviction is fair and may have even pled guilty to a charge; however, the sentence is simply too harsh under the facts and circumstances.

Supreme Court to say whether plea bargain sentences can be reduced

If you plead guilty in exchange for a plea bargain, what happens if the customary sentence changes? When guideline sentences are reduced, defendants are sometimes allowed to ask for the new, lower sentence. Is there a reason why people sentenced after plea bargains should be denied that right?

In the federal system, many sentences are determined by formulas listed in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The guidelines are developed by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. When the Commission determines that the guideline sentences are too harsh, it sometimes changes the guidelines. When that happens, fairness sometimes requires the changes to be applied retroactively to people who were sentenced before the change.

Supreme Court: Is phone location data admissible without warrant?

The U.S. Supreme Court has just heard an appeal on whether police can collect cellphone location data without a warrant and still have it be admissible against criminal defendants. The case pits Americans' privacy rights against the government's interest in easy access to personal data that can solve crimes.

The case before the court involves several armed robberies of Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores near Detroit and in northwestern Ohio. After getting a court order, law enforcement pulled records from the cellphone towers nearest the robberies and used them to determine who had been in the area at the time of each robbery.

Judge rules case against convicted rapist was 'weak at best'

When Wilbert Jones was convicted of a 1971 abduction and rape, he was 19. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Now 65, he is tasting freedom once more after a Louisiana judge ruled the case against him was weak and found that prosecutors may have withheld key defense evidence.

Jones's conviction was overturned and he has been released on $2,000 bail. Prosecutors don't intend to retry him, although they have said they will ask the Louisiana Supreme court to review the judge's ruling.

SCOTUS sentencing ban brings release for former juvenile lifers

Bobby H. was locked up for 28 years. He had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for a crime he committed when he was 15 years old. Now 43, he is working to navigate a world he left when he was in eighth grade.

Bobby was condemned for his role in a 1989 murder. Although he wasn't the shooter, prosecutors had painted him as the ringleader and had provoked the two other teens into firing. One of the first things he did after his release was to sit down with his victim's sister and take responsibility for what he did.

When does having separate trials violate double jeopardy?

Sometimes, a single defendant is subjected to two separate trials. This is often done in an effort to protect the defendant's right to a fair trial when something in the first trial would create undue prejudice among the jury in the second trial, or vice versa. But what if part of the second trial depends on facts being decided in the first trial?

A Virginia man says his acquittal in a first trial should have resulted in the state dropping the charges in the second. He was accused of participating in a break-in where a safe full of guns and money was stolen. Because he had a criminal record, the state also accused him of being a felon in possession of firearms. He was acquitted of the break-in; shouldn't that mean he was not guilty of the unlawful possession charge?

Supreme Court to decide on standards for resolving plain errors

A conviction can be appealed on a number of grounds. One way of looking at it is that convictions (and civil cases) can be appealed based on an error of the law or an error in the facts. In some cases, factual errors are hard to gauge, as a reasonable jury might have decided the facts either way. In others, however, a factual error is a straightforward mistake, such as a mistake in math or a wrong date. This is called "plain error."

In a case involving an apparent mathematical error, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide what should happen when a defendant suffers from a plain error but fails to bring the issue up when it first arises.

State high court: Field sobriety tests inadmissible for pot DUI

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has ruled that field sobriety tests are not an appropriate measure for whether a driver is under the influence of marijuana. Although the ruling doesn't apply directly in Tennessee, it could be influential because it involved a review of the current science on accurately detecting marijuana intoxication.

Specifically, the Massachusetts high court addressed how police officers can legally testify about field sobriety tests they administer to drivers they suspect of being under the influence of marijuana. It is not illegal to administer the tests, but the court determined they have no scientific value. Therefore, officers' testimony must be limited.

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Patrick T. McNally, Attorney at Law
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Nashville, TN 37219

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