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.


Georgia Ranked Sixth Nationally For Job Growth

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced that  Georgia is ranked sixth nationally and third in the Southeast for top job growth. With the creation of over 79,300 new jobs in the past 12 months, Georgia represents a strong 2.0 percent annual growth rate, which is higher than the nation’s average of 1.8 percent. Georgia also had solid ... (click for more)

Tennessee's Unemployment Rate For August Increased To 7.4%

Tennessee Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips announced the Tennessee preliminary unemployment rate for August was 7.4 percent, three tenths of one percentage point higher than the 7.1 July revised rate. The U.S. preliminary rate for August was 6.1 percent, down from 6.2 percent in July. Economic Summary • Over the past year, Tennessee's unemployment ... (click for more)

Man Charged With Killing 3-Year-Old Takes Own Life In County Jail

Justin Dale Bradley died in the Hamilton County jail Saturday morning. Notification was received from the Hamilton County 911 Center at   12:50 a.m. ,   regarding an inmate found unresponsive.   Jail personnel found the male inmate unresponsive in his cell and initiated CPR while notifying Hamilton County Emergency Medical Services. ... (click for more)

Democratic Chairman Roy Herron Announces He Will Not Run For 2nd Term

Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron announced Saturday at a meeting of the Tennessee Democratic Party State Executive Committee that he would not be seeking a second term as party chairman. “I have been blessed to serve as chairman these past two years, and I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to all of the executive committee members, party officials, staff members, and friends ... (click for more)

You’re Right With Lamar

One of Tennessee’s favorite sons, Davy Crockett, coined an oft-used phrase:  “Be always sure you’re right, then go ahead.” Being sure is quite important, but may be difficult in this election cycle. The Democratic nominee campaigning against Lamar Alexander is a man whose radio ads call for “change,” “fair” taxes and more jobs.  Sounds good, huh?   ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: A Late Garden Walk

Due to a series of pressing events I didn’t get a chance to make my September walk through the garden until yesterday. It is normally my custom to take a stroll on the first day of each new month, looking for the orchids and onions that might appear, so I can award them to those among us who deserve one or the other. So before the temperatures drop, allow me to catch up: AN ORCHID ... (click for more)