Tag Archives: Memphs

Nashville council approves pot ordinance 35-3

Nashville on Tuesday became the first city in Tennessee to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and Memphis likely will become the second in two weeks. according to the Commercial Appeal.

The Nashville Metropolitan Council voted 35-3 on final reading Tuesday night to allow police officers to either issue a civil citation punishable by a $50 fine or community service, or charge someone under the state’s criminal law, for possession of a half-ounce or less or marijuana. Under state law, violators are charged with a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and up to a year in jail.

Earlier in the day, members of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators arrived in Memphis to campaign around the city and at City Council for a similar ordinance that received the second of three readings Tuesday before a final vote as early as Oct. 4. The ordinance is sponsored by council member Berlin Boyd.

Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, said the caucus she presides over as chairwoman feels the criminal justice system across the state “has gotten out of whack.” The caucus isn’t advocating for legalizing marijuana, she emphasized, but is instead offering a second chance for low-income violators to avoid a cycle of a criminal justice system they perceive as discriminatory to African-Americans.

State Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis, said criminal records for African-Americans associated with small amounts of marijuana thwart the future of a minority middle class.

“In the city of Memphis one of the things we lack is an African-American middle class,” Harris said, later adding: “This is a cycle that we’ve got try to get out of if we’re going to create an African-American middle class.”

Black Caucus backs marijuana decriminalization

News release from TN Black Caucus of State Legislators
NASHVILLE- The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators (TBCSL) is announcing its support for efforts in the state’s two largest cities to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The Metro Council in Nashville has passed on first reading a new ordinance that would lessen the penalty for possession of a half-ounce of marijuana to a $50 civil penalty or 10 hours of community service. Last week, the Memphis City Council passed a similar ordinance out of its Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee and it is scheduled to be considered by the full Council in September.

TBCSL Chair Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville) said the efforts of these cities go hand-in-hand with Caucus efforts to target criminal justice reform across the state. Continue reading

House candidate certified despite felony conviction

One of the nine people certified as candidate in a special election for the House District 91 seat left vacant by the death of Rep. Lois DeBerry has a felony conviction on his record, according to the Commercial Appeal.

Dwight DeBerry, who identified himself as Rep. DeBerry’s nephew, was convicted at age 18 for robbing more than a dozen people at gunpoint when he was 17. He, alongside three others, was charged with nine counts of aggravated assault and aggravated robbery and sentenced to 12 years in prison after entering a guilty plea.

DeBerry, 39, filed for candidacy Aug. 16 and indicated on his form that he had never been convicted of a felony.
“I apologize for the misunderstanding with the voter’s registration,” DeBerry said. “(The felony) was supposed to be expunged. I guess there’s a process. I don’t know how long the process is.”

Richard Holden, administrator of elections for the Shelby Election Commission, said DeBerry should not be eligible to run because he was convicted.

“Not if he has a felony,” Holden said, citing forms DeBerry signed. “He registered to (run for office) on Aug. 16. It should’ve been caught then.”

Holden said the election commission gets regular updates from the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center and had not been informed that DeBerry was a felon.

DeBerry hopes to still run because of circumstances, including the fact he was 17 when the crimes occurred, but records show that he was 18 when he pleaded guilty.

“I want to show that nothing in your life can hold you back,” said DeBerry, a business owner and pastor. “I want to show that you can be productive and that you can make a change.”

…In addition to Dwight DeBerry, the Democrats are: Raumesh A. Akbari; Doris DeBerry-Bradshaw, who says she’s Lois DeBerry’s cousin; Joshua R. Forbes; Kemba Ford, daughter of former state Sen. John Ford and who unsuccessfully ran for city council district 7 seat in 2011; Terica Lamb; Clifford Lewis; and Kermit Moore.

James L. Tomasik has been certified as an independent candidate and lists himself as a Libertarian.

The primary election is Oct. 8 with the general election Nov. 21.

Former Death Row Inmate’s Conviction in 1985 Murder Thrown Out

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A former death row inmate may get a new trial after a state appeals court overturned his murder conviction 10 years after his death sentence was thrown out.
A panel of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, at Jackson, ruled on Friday that Erskine Johnson deserved a new trial after he presented new evidence that cast doubt on testimony of a key witness against him. Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich has asked the state attorney general’s office to appeal the ruling. That office still is reviewing the opinion.
Johnson was convicted in 1985 of killing Memphis grocery store manager Joe Belenchia during a robbery.
At trial, Johnson and several witnesses testified that he was in St. Louis attending a birthday party for his mother on the night of Oct. 1, 1983, and the morning of Oct. 2, when the shooting occurred.
In his appeal, Johnson presented evidence that his cousin, Elizabeth Starks, may have had reason to lie when she placed him at the crime scene in testimony. That is because Starks had strong connections to people who at one time were considered suspects in the case.
During previous appeals, Johnson presented other evidence that poked holes in the prosecution’s theory of the case and pointed to a different set of suspects. That included police reports showing that Johnson’s palm print may not have been in the getaway car, as argued at trial.
According to court records of a previous appeal, Johnson introduced “a police report showing that the Petitioner’s (Johnson’s) fingerprints did not match any of the fingerprints removed from the vehicle” and “a police report listing the places in the getaway car from which the prints were lifted, on which the location from where the Petitioner’s palm print was alleged to have been taken was not listed.”
The police reports had not been given to Johnson and his attorneys at the time of the original trial, as required by law.
The appeals court considered this evidence in 1999 but did not grant Johnson a new trial at that time. It concluded there was enough other evidence against him that it was unlikely the jury would have come up with a different verdict.
On Friday, the court ruled that the evidence previously presented, along with the new information of Starks’ relationship with other suspects in the case, was sufficient to merit a new trial.
The appeals court in 1999 did overturn Johnson’s death sentence. That ruling was based on another police report that was withheld from Johnson and his attorneys at the time of the original trial. The report found that Johnson could not have fired a bullet that grazed a 16-year-old bystander during the robbery.
The injury to the girl was used by prosecutors to establish one of the aggravating circumstances needed to sentence Johnson to death — that “the defendant knowingly created a great risk of death to two or more persons, other than the victim murdered, during his act of murder.”
In 2001, the state Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling on appeal, and Johnson was later resentenced to life in prison.