Prosecutors unveil their legislative needs

Hank Hayes • Feb 12, 2020 at 1:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Northeast Tennessee district attorneys want four new legislative tools from state lawmakers this year to fight crime.

The four pieces of legislation they want passed are supported by the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference.

The first one is a bill that would allow judges to sign search warrants to obtain electronic data stored outside the state.

"The reason we want this bill passed is so much of our investigations nowadays is involved with electronic data," Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said in a meeting with members of the Times News Editorial Board. "That's economic crime, drug transactions or child pornography, human trafficking. That's the kind of data stored somewhere else. We want to be able to get it for our investigation."

Third Judicial District Attorney General Dan Armstrong noted Facebook and some other organizations have been fighting prosecutors' subpoenas.

"They say, 'That data is not stored in Tennessee' ... but they do business in Tennessee," Armstrong said.

The second bill is a measure that wouldn't allow state prisoners to post party images that could be seen on social media by family members of their victims.

"The Department of Corrections has a program where they allow prisoners to have family come in, and I don't have any problem with that," Armstrong explained. "But they allow them to take pictures. In fact, the Department of Corrections take the pictures. Then those people go out and put those on social media. Apparently the Department of Corrections has no problem with this. We've introduced a bill that they shouldn't allow that to happen. The taxpayers shouldn't be paying for it."

Said Staubus: "What we don't want to do is allow them to disseminate photos where victims will be revictimized."

First Judicial District Attorney General Ken Baldwin pointed out state inmates do a lot of partying.

"They let them have parties nine times a year," Baldwin said.

The third bill is a measure that would reclassify voluntary manslaughter to a Class B felony with an eight- to 12-year jail term. Currently, the crime holds a three- to six-year term.

"It's inequitable. It just doesn't make sense," Armstrong said of the lighter jail term.

The fourth bill would give enhanced penalties to those committing drug crimes with children in the home.

Typically, the hair follicles of children are tested when meth is found in the home.

"It would assist the ability to remove those children and put them in foster care," Staubus said of the bill.

The district attorneys general also want more resources from the state budget.

"I was told we got nine positions statewide. ... We are appreciative of that. It's certainly not enough," Armstrong said.

"Violent crime and drug crime is up," Staubus insisted. "We've also been tasked to do more things. We participate in child protective investigative teams. Pay increases help recruit and keep long-term career prosecutors."

Lastly, the group expressed concern about Gov. Bill Lee's criminal justice reform initiative.

"We need to move toward a Virginia-type system to reduce jail population and violent crime," Armstrong said. "They did that by being truthful about sentencing. All this talk about criminal justice reform has us uneasy."