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VOL. 128 | NO. 21 | Thursday, January 31, 2013

District Attorneys Outline Wish List

By Andy Meek

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The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference’s legislative agenda for the new session of the Tennessee General Assembly includes a focus on children, sentencing guidelines and the fight against drugs.

The conference represents the state’s 31 district attorneys. It’s pushing for items including increased sentences for aggravated child neglect and the most serious attempted first-degree murder cases, as well as proposed law changes to facilitate prosecution of serial child sexual abusers.

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich said money for staffing – especially in Shelby County – also is needed.

“This year, as compared to years past, we are asking for money for staffing,” she said. “The focus of this year’s agenda helps us continue down the path we have been on and to stay focused on things like protecting our kids from predators. And to do all the things we’re asked to every day, we need more staffing, not just us here but statewide.”

Weirich’s office has 109 lawyers and 212 total employees. Based on the workload now, she said the office easily could keep a few more prosecutors busy. And some extra support staff especially busy.

At a normal law firm, a secretary might work with one or two lawyers. But in Weirich’s office, secretaries are responsible for “many, many” attorneys, she said, by way of illustrating the need.

Among other items on the conference’s legislative wish list:

District attorneys general have not had an increase in staffing for a few years now. At the same time, the Tennessee Legislature has been tightening the screws on criminal legislation, all of which Weirich said “makes for more work in this office.”

“We’ve already come a long way, state law has, in giving prosecutors tough legislation to go after criminals with,” Weirich said. “Our priorities this year in terms of legislation include protecting our kids and strengthening our sentences on violent crime. Those two areas are very important to me as district attorney and are much needed in Shelby County.

“It’s not just me and the DA’s office in Shelby County asking for more people. It’s across the state. And it’s time. When you tell a bad guy that you’re now looking at a mandatory minimum sentence because you had that gun when you committed that crime – it makes for more trials.”

The legislative wish list also include changing the law to facilitate the prosecution of prescription drug trafficking and increasing the minimum amount of time that must be served before a prisoner is eligible for parole.

The conference also would like to see serial child sexual abusers prosecuted with a single trial, even if the abuses occurred in multiple judicial districts. They also want to change current statutes to establish that criminal proceedings can be initiated against defendants who are identified through DNA profiles – even if their actual identities are not known at the time the charges are filed.

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