Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Abuse Common in Tennessee Justice System

Some very damning judicial rulings in the case of death-row inmate Paul Gregory House indicate House should already have been released, but he remains in in jail. The questions raised by the rulings about how the state is operating it's judicial system reveal that abuses are a constant.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling of two years ago urged his release, and 10 years ago, DNA evidence showed his conviction was an error.

Yesterday, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said House should have never been tried, that the case was jammed through the system riddled with mistakes and have ordered a new trial. Hopefully, barring some as-of-yet unknown evidence, the state will drop this case.

Presiding Judge Gilbert Merrill spoke about the critical failures and abuses of the justice system in Tennessee:

The blatant prosecutorial misconduct in this case shows two things," Gilbert S. Merritt, the presiding judge on the panel, said in an interview after the ruling.

"First, the local district attorney in East Tennessee should never have prosecuted House in the first place, but certainly should have released him more than 10 years ago once he received the exculpatory DNA evidence.

"Second, the local district attorneys, rather than the Attorney General or the Governor, exercise almost complete control over the system of criminal justice in Tennessee.

"They are frequently mistaken and frequently abuse their power," Merritt said."

And this:

These gross injustices will continue so long as law enforcement agencies and the Attorney General, the governor and the legislature continue to overlook or countenance this kind of prosecutorial misconduct."

WBIR has more on the story here.

The Tennessean report has links to PDF files of the rulings in this case.

UPDATE: This story is a good example of why the creation of the Tennessee Justice Newladder is most timely. An explanation of the Newsladder reads:

A new forum dedicated to highlighting the urgent need for criminal justice reform in the Volunteer State. Every day, the 6 million residents of Tennessee depend on a fair and accurate criminal justice system to determine the truth when crimes are committed. Too often, however, the system comes up short for a variety of reasons. The problems include inadequate representation for indigent defendants; excessive caseloads; geographic disparities in the administration of justice; unreliable eyewitness identification; false confessions; jailhouse snitch testimony and more.

An unjust system produces unreliable results."

The Tennessee edition above is a local extension of a national blog, which is explained here on The Huffington Post.


  1. TN is absolutely corrupt, all the way to the bone! I live in Decatur County and was falsely arrested after the 911 operator cursed me out on the phone! They changed the charge filed against me THREE times - including the very morning I walked into the courtroom! - further, they shared evidence with the lawyers I tried to hire and convinced them representing me could be "damaging" to their other clients in this county!!! While incarcerated, the bondsmen were repeatedly told not to bother with me!!!

    I pleaded not guilty and had a wealth of evidence proving the "witnesses" against me committed perjury. The judge read the paper while I presented my case! Further, they told me they would not release the 911 calls used against me as a matter of "Decatur County policy" - which is completely illegal. Later, they "lost" my file and re-arrested me for failure to appear, then changed the due date for the fine to be paid and threatened to re-arrest me and graduate it to a felony for repeated violations!

    I have been harassed, threatened with death, pulled over continually without reason, and even had police come to my door for unexplained "disturbance calls" when there was absolutely NO disturbance to speak of (and, again, they could not explain what the "disturbance" was supposed to be).

    I would love to pursue this further, but cannot afford to. I am now in debt and unable to pay my bills due to this "fine." These people should be prosecuted... at the very least! I covered this in further detail on my blogs, if anyone is interested, and I would love to hear any suggestions anyone has.

    This abuse really has to be stopped!

    Thanks for this post.

  2. Abigail Miller6:52 AM

    Hey man, glad to hear I am not the only one. I was arrested on Aug 26th 2008 for a DUI in decatur county, after my car driven by a sober driver hit a tree. I was strapped into the passenger seat when the neighbors and teenage boys found me. I was 500 yards from my home. My driver got out and ran.. no she didnt have a liscence and no I didnt know. WE called the police to report the accident. Tony Weber, a DCSD showed up and told me that the state police only responded to accidents, he said it would be 2 hours before they got there. I went to my house, called a wrecker to get my car out of the road. I was called by Trooper Stanford who informed me to come to the accident scene. I was obviously drunk. I hung up on him, he called back. I was drove to the scene of the accident by my boyfriend's son. When I got out of our other car I was arrested for evading the scene of an accident. I was put in the back of the state troopers car, while my car was searched. Thry found an empty pill bottle but couldnt find my ins. and registration that was in the glove box. The trooper asked me what happened and I told him who was driving and that she had run off because she had no lisc. He arrested me, even though the boys that had pulled me from the car said I was seat belted in the passenger seat. I was taken to the hospital because I had a few injuries, I refused to go in because I had to wait so long to get there. When I got to the jail house i was very rude, refused to blow and ended up get 7 tickets... I was bonded out by someone known to the decatur county court system at 12 noon the next day. Whem I got my purse it was 500 short and my 2 cell phones were still in my pocket. The state trooper had preset my court date for october 20th. Decatur county set me a court date for the 11 of Sept. I went to court on the 11 and the judge the very corrupt RICKY WOODS said to be there on the 20th of October and never asked me any questions. I went to court on the 20th of October and when i was called to the bench he asked me if I had a lawyer, I said no, he told me to go sit down. A few hours later the assistant district attorney called me into a private room and tried to strike a deal with me. I said I had no lawyer and wouldnt do anything without one. He said okay and I went back out and sat down. The judge recalled me and asked why I did not do what he said. I told him I needed some time to hire a lawyer as they would not appoint me one as I bonded out. He said that my request for a lawyer or time to get one would be denied and we would have my trial today.... WTF I told him I would not participate without an attorney and turned to walk back to my seat. He asked me what I had just said and I turned back around and told him I was not fricken participating without an attorney. I was arrested for contempt of court, not even our preacher for a jackass sheriff would acknowledge that I had been done wrong. I waited in the prisioner row telling anyone that would listen that I HAD CIVIL RIGHTS. After about four hours he recalled me to the bench and yelled at me for calling him a liar. Because he said at my first court date I asked for time for a lawyer. He was trying to cover his tracks. I told him I didnt like being lied to. He released me and gave me until DEC 1 when I did indeed return with a lawyer. I still was convicted because of our good ole boy system. The night my drivers liscence was took from me I think it was Dec 1. I was driving on 412 from lexington to parsons with my boyfriend and saw the not so honorable judge drinking and driving... WHAT A GOOD SYSTEM THEY HAVE HERE HUH???? not my only truth about decatur county, but I still to this day am only the second person to tell them to their face that they were full of it and walk out.