Pro Bono Attorneys Petition Tennessee Supreme Court to Uphold Constitutional Rights of Defendants in Criminal Cases

Bass, Berry & Sims has partnered with other access to justice advocates to file petitions asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to vacate or modify sections of Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 13 to ensure that all people accused of crimes in Tennessee, regardless of their wealth, can access the resources they need to protect their constitutional right to due process, a fair trial, and equal treatment under the law. The petitioners include representatives from law firms, former public defenders, and advocacy organizations.

Rule 13 governs the appointment, qualification and compensation of court-appointed counsel, and the sections in question govern approval of investigative and expert funds

Rule 13 Section 5(e)(4)-(5): Administrative Office of the Courts Review Process

The first petition seeks to modify or vacate Rule 13 Section 5(e)(4)-(5), which authorizes the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) Director and the Chief Justice to unilaterally overrule expert and investigative funding orders issued by presiding courts in criminal and post-conviction proceedings. When that happens, the defendant – who cannot otherwise afford to obtain these services – is denied resources they have proven to the trial court are necessary to their defense.

For the full petition to vacate or modify Rule 13 Section 5(e)(4)-(5), please click here.

Rule 13 Section 5(a)(1) and 5(d)1: Resources for Expert Services to Prepare and Present Case

The second petition seeks to modify Rule 13 Sections 5(a)(1) and 5(d)1, which govern resources available for indigent defendants to prepare and present their defense. Section 5(a)(1) makes expert, investigative and other support services available at the state’s expense when the presiding court finds such services are necessary to protect a defendant’s constitutional rights. For the full petition to vacate or modify Rules 13 Sections 5(a)(1) and 5(d)(1), please click here.

Petitioners

In addition to the pro bono team from Bass, Berry & Sims, the petitioners include representatives from law firms, former public defenders, and access to justice advocacy organizations, including:

  • Dawn Deaner – Founder, Choosing Justice Initiative; Former Public Defender, Davidson County.
  • Joshua D. Hedrick – Knox Defense Law Firm.
  • Justyna G. Scalpone – Post Conviction Defender, Tennessee Office of the Post-Conviction Defender.
  • Mark E. Stephens – Founder, The Justice Initiative; Former Public Defender, Knox County.
  • Michael R. Working – Founder, The Working Law Firm; President, Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

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