Supreme Court Says DA’s Improper Argument, Withholding Of Evidence Violated Defendant’s Constitutional Rights

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Tennessee Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for Noura Jackson, a Shelby County woman convicted of the second-degree murder of her mother, Jennifer Jackson, because the Court found there were constitutional errors made in the course of the proceedings.

The Court explained that during the 2009 trial, the lead prosecutor impermissibly commented upon the defendant’s exercise of her state and federal constitutional right to remain silent and not testify at trial.

In addition, the Court said the prosecutor violated the defendant’s right to due process by failing to turn over to the defense a statement a key witness gave to law enforcement officers investigating the murder. The Court concluded that the State had failed to establish that these constitutional errors were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

Jennifer Jackson was stabbed to death on June 5, 2005, in the bedroom of the home she shared with the defendant. Around 5:00 a.m. that day, the defendant reported to neighbors and the police that she had discovered her mother’s body. After the defendant gave police conflicting statements about her whereabouts at the time of the murder and about how she sustained a cut to her hand, the police began investigating the defendant.

The defendant was charged with first degree murder, but she never admitted involvement in the crime, and no DNA evidence or scientific evidence implicated her. The prosecution’s case was based on circumstantial evidence alone.

The jury acquitted the defendant of first degree murder but convicted her of second degree murder. The defendant appealed. Although the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction, the three judges on the panel did not agree on the rationale for their decision. One judge found no constitutional error. The other two judges found the lead prosecutor had violated the defendant’s constitutional right to remain silent but concluded that the error did not prejudice the defendant.

The Supreme Court concluded that the prosecution had violated two of the defendant’s constitutional rights: her right to remain silent and not testify at trial, and her right to due process of law. The Court explained that when constitutional errors occur in criminal trials, a new trial is required unless the State establishes that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The Supreme Court concluded that the State had failed to make this showing, and as a result, the defendant is entitled to a new trial.

The Supreme Court expressed concern that the prosecutor had violated the more than 100-year-old legal rule prohibiting Tennessee prosecutors from commenting on a defendant’s exercise of the right to remain silent. The Supreme Court reiterated a statement first made in 1984, which is that “the subject of a defendant’s right not to testify should be considered off limits to any conscientious prosecutor.” The Supreme Court also cautioned prosecutors in the Thirtieth Judicial District to comply fully in the future with the 50-year-old legal rule requiring disclosure of material evidence to the defense.

To read the unanimous opinion in State v. Noura Jackson, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark, visit the Opinions section of TNCourts.gov.


FSG Bank Presents On Point A Check For $1,000

FSG Bank presented On Point with a check for $1,000 recently from funds raised during the organization’s “Change for Change” coin drive. Supporters made donations in coin canisters at FSG locations in Chattanooga during the spring. The funds will help support On Point’s mission and programs of local youth development. (click for more)

Attorney General Announces Settlement Allowing Dollar Tree To Acquire Family Dollar

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III announced Thursday the merger of two large national chains of deep discount stores, Dollar Tree, headquartered in Chesapeake, Va. and Family Dollar, headquartered in Matthews, NC. As part of the agreement, Dollar Tree will be required to divest hundreds of Family Dollar stores nationwide, including stores in Memphis and Nashville. ... (click for more)

Muslim Advocacy Group Questions House Arrest For Signal Mountain Man Charged In Threats Against Muslim Village In New York

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, on Saturday questioned the release of a Signal Mountain man who admitted to planning what it called "a Charleston-style terror attack" on a Muslim community in New York. CAIR also called for stepped up protection for the community targeted in the plot. Judge ... (click for more)

Plumbers Bring Complaints To WWTA; Told New Contracts Are Ready

Several plumbers on Thursday brought complaints to a committee of the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority (WWTA) and got little response other than being told that new contracts are ready. Kay Keefe of Keefe Plumbing said the small number of plumbing companies still participating in the program to repair leaky lines to homes, have long been operating without ... (click for more)

Could The Marriage Decision Spark A New Independence Day?

I confess that this year I am having a hard time with the idea of celebrating the 4th of July Independence Day. It is not because I am not thankful to God for what was done on that day, what it represents, and the blessings I’ve experienced that flow from it. On the other hand, I want to think that maybe this year’s celebration will mark a period in our history in which a new movement ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Fourth Of July, 2015

As one who is about good and fed up with being “socially correct” so less than 10 percent of us can dictate how the other 90 percent of us ought to think, I am going to pause today in order to share a wonderfully fun email that has been around for a while. It is aptly called, “You Could Have Heard A Pin Drop.” Before I do, I got a sweet note the other day from my dear friend ... (click for more)