Articles Posted in Criminal Law

In Tennessee, if you are found to be in possession of over ½ ounce (14.175 grams) of marijuana you will most likely be charged with violating TCA 39-17-417, Possession of a Schedule VI with Intent to Manufacture, Deliver or Sell, a Class E Felony, which carries 1-6 years in prison.  However, you may not be guilty of this crime, a felony, despite the weight of the marijuana being greater than 14.175 grams.  The reason is that in Tennessee the amount of marijuana is not the only factor for the jury to consider when determining if you are guilty of a felony for possessing marijuana with the intent to manufacture, deliver or sell the marijuana.

Tennessee Code Annotated 39-17-419 states that it may be inferred from the amount of a marijuana possessed by an offender, along with other relevant facts surrounding the arrest, that the marijuana was possessed with the purpose of selling or otherwise dispensing.  The statute goes on to say that it may be inferred from circumstances indicating a casual exchange among individuals of a small amount of marijuana so exchanged was possessed not with the purpose of selling. In State of Tennessee v. John Belew, 348 S.W.3d 186 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2005), the Criminal Appeals Court concluded that this statute permits the jury to draw an inference of intent to sell or deliver when the amount of the controlled substance and other relevant facts surrounding the arrest are considered together.  Therefore, the State of Tennessee must present some evidence of intent, in addition to the weight of the marijuana, to convict an individual in Tennessee.

Many felony drug cases begin with a drug detective or police officer using techniques like confidential informants, wire-taps, GPS surveillance, or various other tactics to prove that an individual is in the business of selling the illegal drug – in this case marijuana.  The government spends lots of resources, sometimes from their own task force pockets, to get the drug dealers off the street.  In cases like these, the issue is typically not whether the marijuana involved was for personal use or for resale because the amounts are much greater than an amount typically possessed for personal consumption.  Plus, the government usually has some type of proof to put before the jury relating to specific drug deals, exchanges, money laundering or other dealing activities, which would be the type of evidence needed to rebut the inference in T.C.A 39-17-419.

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Bonnaroo Arts & Music Festival is expected to bring in over 80,000 people to Manchester, Coffee County, Tennessee, with a majority of those people coming from out of State. The Festival has led to a field day for law enforcement over the years, especially with criminal citations for simple possession. Last year, out-of-towners who found themselves leaving Tennessee with criminal charges, were allowed to pay a fine instead of coming back to appear in Court. That won’t be the case for those attending the 2015 music festival as prosecution of marijuana and other drug related offenses is changing.

Tennessee Drug Laws

Tennessee has some of the toughest drug laws in the country, especially when it comes to possession of marijuana, other drugs and drug paraphernalia. At a minimum they are Class (A) Misdemeanors which could carry up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. If the marijuana seized is over ½ ounce, the police officer or agent will likely charge the person with Felony Possession of a Schedule VI – Marijuana which is a Class (E) Felony and could carry up to 6 years in jail and a $3,000 fine. Other drugs require a much smaller amount to be considered felony possession under Tennessee Law.

Every year around this time our firm gets a flood of calls from people who receive criminal charges while on their way to or while leaving Bonnaroo. They have ranged from simple possession and paraphernalia to felony drug charges. Regardless, each call starts out the same, “I was pulled over for…..”, which leads to their car getting searched and ultimately them leaving with a court date they had not planned for. So in preparation for this annual event, we at Freeman & Fuson have compiled a list of the top 5 reasons we have seen for Bonnaroo patrons getting pulled over and the counties they seem to occur in the most.

1. Speeding (TCA §55-8-152) – This may seem obvious, but many people who are on their way to Bonnaroo are in a rush to get there. Speeding is an easy way to get your car pulled over and give the officer a chance to make contact. The easy advice is to set your cruise control and keep a look out for the posted limits.

2. Following too Closely (TCA §55-8-124) – Getting pulled over for following to close to the car in front of you may be the most subjective reason on the list, but it is one we have seen each Bonnaroo season with more frequency. Make sure you keep plenty of distance between you and the car in front so that this is not even an option for an officer to pull you over.

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On April 29, the Tennessee Legislature passed a bill that will allow a mother to be prosecuted for causing a child to be born addicted or harmed because of her illegal use of narcotics during the pregnancy. The bill will allow a woman to be prosecuted for assault if the infant she is carrying is harmed or dies. The bill has an unusual sunset provision, which means that the criminal penalty will be in effect until 2016. After that time, the legislature will revisit the issue. Tennessee has criminalized drug use during pregnancy in the past, but opponents said the measure would prevent women from seeking prenatal treatment or from entering rehabilitation programs. The legislature decriminalized it for a few years, but with the use of prescription narcotics on the rise, the law has been revived.

Critics of the measure focus primarily on the rights of the mother, while supporters view that the health and safety of children should be a primary focus. In either case, the reality is children in Tennessee are being born addicted to drugs. Last year alone, there were 921 babies born dependent on prescription medication. This year, the number so far is 253 at the time of this post.

While all Tennesseans would agree that the state should protect infants from being born addicted or even from death due to the illegal actions of their mothers, the law raises some interesting questions, such as does it in fact deter women from seeking treatment? Should there be some kind of amnesty for a woman who willingly enters an addiction program to get better and protect her baby? Who will bear the cost of caring for the infant that is born to an incarcerated mother? What is the best interest of the child in all of this? Is incarceration or the fear of incarceration even a deterrent to a drug addict? What purpose does incarceration serve in preparing the woman to be a fit mother?

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With Summer right around the corner there’s no doubt many of you will be looking to hit the waterways. With that in mind, it may be a good time to remind everyone of the drinking and boating laws in Tennessee. Boating under the Influence is covered under Tenn. Code Ann. § 69-9-217 and states:

It is unlawful for any person to operate a vessel subject to registration on public waters of the state while under the influence of any intoxicant, marijuana, narcotic drug or drug producing stimulating effects on the central nervous system or while have blood alcohol content of .08% or more..

Boating under the influence is not limited to just boats that have a motor, but includes any type of watercraft that is required to be registered under Tennessee law. Boating under the Influence as a first time offense is considered a Class A Misdemeanor and can carry the following penalties:

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Did you know that if you plead guilty even to a misdemeanor domestic assault in Tennessee you will be prohibited from not only owning a gun or other firearm but you cannot be involved in the sale of guns, firearms, and even ammunition?

Recently the United States Supreme Court ruled that an individual who is convicted of misdemeanor domestic assault in Tennessee may not possess or be involved in the commercial sale of firearms or ammunition.

Congress enacted §922(g)(9) to “close a dangerous loophole” in the gun control laws; while felons have been barred from possessing firearms, many persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic assault were still able to do so. The statute provides that any person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence may not possess a firearm.

House Bill 0715 amended Tenn. Code Ann. 55-10-406 (f) Tennessee Blood Testing and Implied Consent Law to add additional ways the State of Tennessee can take your blood without your consent for the purpose of determining blood alcohol content. These new laws became effective January 1, 2012.

Originally, according to Tenn. Code Ann. 55-10-406 (f), if a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that the driver of a motor vehicle involved in an accident resulting in the injury or death of another has committed a violation of § 39-13-213(a)(2), § 39-13-218, or § 55-10-401 the officer shall cause the driver to be tested for the purpose of determining the alcohol or drug content of the driver’s blood.

In addition to the original section (f), amended sections (2) and (3) state that if a police officer in Tennessee has probable cause that you have been drinking and driving, and one of the following factors exist, the officer “shall” cause the driver to be tested for the purpose of determining the alcohol o1 drug content of the driver’s blood:

Civil Forfeiture

In Tennessee, the police can seize your car, take your money, take your personal property, take your home, sell these items and use the proceeds of that sale for their benefit without the person being found guilty of a crime. In fact, the police can seize and sell these items without even charging the owner with a crime. And worst of all, the laws in Tennessee promote this activity.

Civil forfeiture is different than criminal forfeiture. In Tennessee, in civil forfeiture cases the police only have to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the property sought to be seized is related to a crime or criminal activity. In criminal cases the court must prove a Defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Next, in criminal forfeiture cases the property is seized following a criminal conviction. In civil forfeiture proceedings, no criminal charges need to exist. If they do exist, the police can take your property or money regardless of the outcome. Additionally, in criminal forfeiture cases the property is the object of the prosecution and the owner makes a claim on the property through the procedures set forth in Tenn. Code Ann. 40-33-201 et. seq. The majority of the forfeiture cases in Tennessee are civil.

After four (4) years criminal and at the verge of a second trial, we resolved the State v. Matthews. Following a successful appeal to the Criminal Court of Appeals, the appellate Court remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial. See State of Tennessee v. George Washington Matthews, M2009-00692-CCA-R3-CD. The defendant was convicted by a Davidson County Criminal Court jury of the lesser charge of facilitation of the sale of 0.5 grams or more of cocaine, a Class C felony, and possession of drug paraphernalia, a Class A misdemeanor. 0.5 grams. Following the appeal, Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr. reversed the judgments of the trial court because the trial court failed to fulfill its role as the thirteenth juror and remanded the case back to the trial court for a new trial. The second trial was set for Monday, August 8th, 2011 before the Honorable Seth Norman. Following negotiations with the State and as a result of a favorable ruling in the Court of Appeals, we finally reached a favorable settlement days before a second trial was scheduled to take place.

It goes to show that appeals work and if you fight hard enough you can get a favorable result for your clients. If anyone needs your case appealed to the Criminal Court of Appeals, contact my office and schedule a free consultation.

“A mistaken identity arrest occurs almost every day, said policing experts and officials at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.”

One lady in Colorado was discussed in this CNN report from February 2010.