In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that sentencing juvenile offenders to life in prison without the possibility of parole violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. The court had previously ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional when applied to juvenile defendants.
In 1992, 24-year-old Lorie Lee Lance was killed in a house fire in Old Hickory, Tennessee. Claude Francis Garrett, Lance's boyfriend, was accused of setting the fire. Although he swore he was innocent, an arson investigator claimed that a set of large, irregular burns in the living room represented a "pour pattern" indicating the use of a liquid accelerant. A large container of kerosene was found in the home, which Garrett claims was used in a kerosene heater.
There have been developments in the case of Joe B., a former high school principal who was convicted of his wife's 1985 murder based largely upon bloodstain-pattern evidence that has now been discredited. Now 78 and in frail health, Joe is hoping for a new trial.
There are certain rules law enforcement must follow when setting up sobriety checkpoints or DUI roadblocks, but the Tennessee highway patrol failed to follow them in a 2012 roadblock in Harris County. Therefore, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals found the roadblock unconstitutional and vacated the DUI conviction of a Chattanooga man who was caught up in it.
When it comes to blood-spatter analysis, "expert" witnesses for the prosecution are often law enforcement officers with just a week of training. This was so in the case of Joe B., a high school principal accused of murdering his wife. He was convicted in 1985 based on flecks of blood on a flashlight found in his car, which a detective convinced a jury came from his wife. Now, the Texas Forensic Science Commission has concluded that the analysis was "not accurate or scientifically supported" and, in fact, "entirely wrong."
The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits "excessive bail." Over time, courts have made numerous rulings on what constitutes "excessive," but our country still finds itself in the midst of a bail crisis.
What is ineffective assistance of counsel in a criminal case? Thanks to the Sixth Amendment and associated court rulings, criminal defendants are entitled to the assistance of counsel -- and that counsel is to be effective. However, the standards for determining when counsel has been constitutionally ineffective are hard to meet.
In Tennessee, people who are convicted of DUI after a blood or breath test are required to pay the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, which performs those tests, a $250 fee. People who are not convicted are not required to pay the fee. The state's Court of Criminal Appeals recently found that to be unconstitutional because it sets up an apparent conflict of interest and calls the trustworthiness of the test results into question.
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."
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.