LETTER: District Attorneys’ 2012 Key Issues

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Every year, each of Tennessee’s district attorneys faces different challenges in his or her district. However, as a group, the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference continuously works to identify serious areas of concern that must be addressed at the state level. Going into 2012, synthetic and prescription drug abuse tops our list.

Synthetic drugs such as K2 (synthetic marijuana) have devastating mental and physical side effects. They are spreading across our state and have the potential to eclipse methamphetamine as the most dangerous drug in Tennessee. These drugs are often marketed in convenience stores as incense, bath salts or plant food, and commonly feature cartoon characters on package labels.

In 2012, Tennessee’s district attorneys will seek to increase penalties for those who sell and produce synthetic drugs. Because synthetics constantly change to capitalize on existing legal gray areas, the DAs will also work to make certain these substances remain illegal and out of reach of our youth.

Prescription drug abuse is not new to Tennessee, but can be addressed in a new, meaningful manner through common-sense steps that do not necessarily result in prison time. The DAs will propose more access to the state’s prescription drug monitoring database by law enforcement, more active monitoring of that database, and a requirement that physicians and pharmacists check the database when prescribing or filling any pain medications.

Our hope is that these steps will reduce theft and distribution of legitimately prescribed medications, the operation of pill mills, the practice of “doctor shopping” and prescription fraud. 

Following are additional issues of importance to the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference in 2012:

• Convicted felons are currently prohibited from owning and carrying firearms; however, present penalties for failing to abide by this law are not in line with the potential violent outcomes it seeks to prevent. Tennessee’s DAs would like to see the jail time increased to at least one year from six months for armed felons with a prior nonviolent offense, and to at least two years for those with a prior violent offense.

• Gang crime is a topic of importance in cities from East to West Tennessee. I, along with the rest of our state’s DAs, believe the time is right to begin prosecuting gang crime in a meaningful way by automatically increasing sentencing to the next higher felony grade when offenses are committed by groups of three or more, as opposed to one on one. We cannot continue to allow robbery, home burglary and the infliction of serious bodily injury by groups of criminals to continue to be sentenced as though they were committed by an individual.

• Lastly, we remain committed to making our roads and highways safer through refinements to laws dealing with impaired driving. The DAs’ main objective in this area in 2012 will be to require greater use of alcohol-monitoring devices such as interlock ignitions for violators who request special considerations, often in the form of restricted driver’s licenses.

These are serious topics. However, citizens of Cannon and Rutherford counties should know that I, along with the all of Tennessee’s district attorneys, am firmly committed to making the New Year a safer and more just year for our entire state.

The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference was created by the General Assembly in 1961 to provide for a more prompt and efficient administration of justice in the courts of this state. It is composed of the district attorneys general from the state’s 31 judicial districts.

Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference

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