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Ending wealth-based disparities in Nashville’s criminal legal system


December 4, 2023  - 
WSMV4 Investigates Tennessee's Indigent Defense Crisis 
“There’s not any justice happening in our criminal justice system.” -- Dawn Deaner

Learn more about Tennessee's indigent defense system's failures and the shortage of court-appointed attorneys called a "crisis" by judges. Hear from CJI's Dawn Deaner, Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway, and Davidson County Public Defender Martesha Johnson Moore.

Read the article here.

September 27, 2023 - 
Tennessee Lookout article Coffee County judge denies Georgia man right to release full bodycam video in family’s traffic stop.
Tennessee Lookout-The Coffee County, Tenn. Justice Center. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Learn more about the Coffee County case where Deonte Williams, whose five children were put in foster care after the stop, argued his First Amendment right to disseminate body camera footage of the incident. 

Read the full article here.

September 25, 2023 - Tennessean Article Highlights Indigent Defense Crisis 
Mellissa Brown, Why Tennessee's system appointing lawyers for poor defendants is at 'breaking'point'

Learn more about Tennessee's indigent defense crisis in Melissa Brown's article, including the quotes from Dawn Deaner, CJI's Executive Director & founder, as well as Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway, attorney Ryan Davis, retired Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Mark Fishburn, and David Carroll, Executive Director of the Sixth Amendment Center. Tennessee pays court appointed lawyers $50 per hour, the lowest rate in the country. 

Read the full article here.

July, 2023 - Welcomes Josh, an intern from Vanderbilt Law School!

Joshua Ledhe is a 3L at Vanderbilt Law School. He attended Lipscomb University where he majored in Law, Justice, & Society. Josh first became interested in working with criminal defense after being involved in Lipscomb's LIFE program & taking a class at the Tennessee Prison for Women. The opportunity to meet incarcerated people & develop relationships with them made it very clear how unjust it is that the legal system stacks the deck against people accused of crimes. He grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, but has also lived in Turkey and Italy where his parents worked for the federal government as math teachers.

February 20, 2023 - CJI Hiring a Development Coordinator!

CJI is looking to hire a strategic and creative fundraiser for our new full-time Development Coordinator position! We are looking for someone experienced with public communications, non-profit fundraising, and managing donor relations, and who believes strongly in CJI’s vision for a justice system that is equitable and healing.

Read the full Job Announcement here.

July 18, 2022 - CJI Welcomes New Team Member Heather Meshell

CJI welcome’s our newest team member, Heather Meshell! Heather brings her background in public policy and government relations to CJI and will be working on a court debt reduction campaign at CJI.

June 16, 2022 - Dawn Deaner on WPLN's This Is Us about Tennessee's 51-Year Life Sentence

Listen to Dawn Deaner on This Is Nashville episode about the impact  of “Tennessee’s 51-Year Life Sentences” for juveniles – the harshest sentence of any US state. The episode focuses on Fault Lines’ documentary “51 Years Behind Bars” about Almeer Nance, convicted in Knox County, TN at 16 years old and sentenced to 51 years.

February 1, 2022 - Coming Soon: Gideon 2.0

Thanks to the American Bar Endowment’s Opportunity Grant, CJI has created a Right to Counsel Toolkit as a self-help guide for people concerned that their court-appointed lawyer is not providing adequate representation. Learn what led to the development of the toolkit and check back soon for more information!

August 3, 2021 - CJI Welcomes New Team Member Wesley Dozier

CJI welcome’s our newest team member, Wesley Dozier! Wesley works at the intersection of law and organizing and will be working on a court debt reduction campaign at CJI.

April 12, 2021 - CJI Hiring Storyteller/Content Producer!

Thanks to a recent grant from the American Bar Endowment, we are looking to hire a Storyteller/Content Producer Fellow for a 12-month paid position as part of our Gideon 2.0 Project! The project is working to equip individuals who are not satisfied with their court-selected attorney with more information — so individuals can advocate for their own right to counsel.

Read the full Fellow Job Announcement here.

To find out more about the American Bar Endowment Opportunity Grant recipients, click here.

March 2, 2021 - CJI Signs Onto Two Petitions to Amend Tenn. Supreme Court Rule 13

On March 2, 2021, CJI; Bass, Barry & Sims; Knox Defense Law Firm; the Office of the Post Conviction Defender; the Justice Initiative; and the Working Law Firm filed two petitions in the Tennessee Supreme Court to amend Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 13.

The first petition seeks to amend Rule 13, § 5(a)(1) and (d)(1). Section (a)(1) permits presiding courts to authorize expert or investigative services for indigent defendants, paid by the state, when proven necessary for the defense. The AOC Director and Chief Justice vacate these orders when lower courts authorize services at rates that exceed the state caps because § 5(d)(1) does not permit rate cap exceptions – even if no expert is available or willing to provide services at rates below the market value. Read the full petition here.

The second petition seeks to amend Tenn. S. Ct. Rule 13 § 5(e)(4)-(5), which permits the AOC Director and Chief Justice to overrule lower courts’ orders authorizing expert or investigator funding for indigent defendants. This results in the denial of resources proven to be necessary to the indigent defendants’ case. Read the full petition here.

December 22, 2020 - CJI Files to Renew Emergency Petition in TN Supreme Court
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CJI, Just City, Disability Rights Tennessee, & TACDL, filed to renew an Emergency Petition in the Tennessee Supreme Court. The petition seeks to minimize the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks by reducing the number of individuals incarcerated in Tennessee jails and juvenile detention centers. The initial Petition filed in March was denied, and can be read here.

Read more in from Nashville Public Radio or read the full Petition.

December 9, 2020 - Lawsuit Results in Finding that Local Bail Rule is Unconstitutional
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Cash bail deposits filed by a third party may no longer be garnished to pay court fines, costs, and restitution in Davidson County, TN as a result of lawsuit filed on behalf of the Nashville Community Bail Fund against against Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry. The full Order can be read here.

October 1, 2020 - CJI Requests Public Access Davidson County Courts

CJI signed on to a letter to the Presiding Judges of Davidson County Circuit, General Sessions, & Criminal Courts requesting the public be granted access to court proceedings. Although Davidson County Courts have resumed almost normal operation since previous changes because of COVID-19, recently individuals have been denied access to the courthouse. The letter was sent by the Nashville Community Bail Fund, No Exceptions Prison Collective, Vanderbilt Prison Project, Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, & Free Hearts.

Read the full letter here.

September 18, 2020 - Welcome to new Board member Jameel Spann!

CJI welcomes its newest Board member, Jameel Spann! A recent grad of Wash U, Jameel is now pursuing his goal to become a lawyer. He is passionate about CJI’s mission to end wealth-based disparities in Nashville’s criminal legal system, and CJI is grateful he chose to bring his lived experience navigating the dehumanizing prison-industrial complex to our work. He, and others who have been where he’s been, are who we need leading the fight for justice.

September 1, 2020 - CJI Files Lawsuit to Protect Free Speech

CJI and its founder and Executive Director, Dawn Deaner, filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the unconstitutional suppression of their speech by a local judge and the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility. They are represented by Civil Rights Corps, and the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy & Protection at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.

Read the full press release here. 

August 17, 2020 - Welcomes Ramon, an intern from Vanderbilt Law School!

Welcome to CJI’s newest intern, Ramon J. Ryan, a 3L at Vanderbilt Law who decided to go to law school because he loves helping people and, at the end of the day, sees practicing law as a way of helping people who are often going through a difficult or stressful time. One of his interests in law school has been the emerging field of space law. While it may sound far-fetched, commercial space activity by companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin is heating up and the body of law developing around the field is new and exciting. Ramon was interested in working with CJI because he believes the criminal justice system is broken and wants to be a part of the solution. He loves the holistic approach that CJI takes towards its clients and how it seeks to create positive change any way possible!

June 1, 2020 - CJI Signs onto Petition to Protect the Public's Right to Access Court Proceedings

CJI, and 54 additional organizations, signed onto a Joint Petition asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to protect the public’s Constitutional and common law right of access to court proceedings. The Joint Petition was filed by Tennessee Coalition for Open Government (TCOG) on June 1, 2020. Read the full Petition here.

May 31, 2020 - Free legal representation for those arrested protesting police brutality in Nashville

If you or someone you know was arrested while protesting police brutality in Nashville between May 29-30, 2020, call us at 615-431-3746 for information on how to get free legal representation.

May 18, 2020 - Welcomes Jackie, an intern from Vanderbilt Law School!

Welcome to CJI’s newest intern, Jacquelyn Lewis, a rising 2L at Vanderbilt University Law School. She decided to attend law school to study how the law and the legal system shape society and daily life – and how the law can be used to promote equity and justice. She is interested in criminal justice reform and the intersection of law and science.

She is excited about joining CJI this summer to learn how empirical evidence can be utilized to tackle mass incarceration and inequity in the justice system.

May 4, 2020 - Welcomes Charlie, an intern from University of Tennessee College of Law!

Welcome to CJI’s newest intern, Charlie Tate, a rising 2L at University of Tennessee College of Law. He decided to attend law school so one day he could be an advocate for those who need one. He is interested in criminal procedure, civil rights, and wrongful convictions.

Charlie wanted to get involved with CJI so he can help those who are disadvantaged navigate our current legal system.

April 27, 2020 - CJI Hires Attorney Chase Cunningham

Welcome to CJI’s newest team member, Chase Cunningham! Chase is an attorney with experience in criminal and civil cases, and a passion for justice. You can learn more about Chase here.

March 30, 2020 - Meaningful Life-Sentence Reform Opinion Piece Published

Dawn Deaner, along with Jeannie Alexander, Rahim Buford, Ashlee Sellers, Josh Spickler, and Janet Wolf published an opinion piece that highlights how Tennessee’s life-sentence laws are in need of meaningful reform for youthful offenders.

March 26, 2020 - CJI Writes Letter to Nashville's Judges

CJI wrote a letter to the Presiding Judges in Nashville providing suggestions on how the local jail population could be reduced to reduce the spread of COVID-19. These suggestions were based on the Emergency Petition CJI filed with the Tennessee Supreme Court.

March 24, 2020 - CJI Files Emergency Petition in TN Supreme Court
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CJI, along with over 40 criminal justice advocacy organizations, filed an Emergency Petition in the Tennessee Supreme Court with directives to reduce the number of individuals incarcerated in Tennessee. The Petition seeks to protect the health and safety of those in-custody and the community to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Tennessee’s jails, juvenile detention facilities, and prisons.

Read more in the Nashville Scene or read the full Petition.

March 19, 2020 - Preliminary Injunction Ordered in Federal Lawsuit for Nashville Community Bail Fund

The federal court granted a preliminary injunction preventing Davidson County Courts from garnishing any cash bail the Nashville Community Bail Fund posts. The preliminary injunction only applies to cash bail posted by the Nashville Community Bail Fund. Read the Order here.

March 1, 2020 - CJI on 92Q Let's Talk Nashville

CJI and Nashville Community Bail Fund went on Let’s Talk Nashville 92Q to discuss the work each organization is doing and the justice system.

You can list to Part 1 and Part 2 on Facebook!

February 10, 2020 - CJI's First Annual Report

Learn about CJI’s accomplishments in the 2019 Annual Report.

February 5, 2020 - CJI Files Lawsuit Over Davidson County Local Bail Rule

CJI, ACLU, ACLU-TN, and Civil Rights Corps filed a lawsuit against Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry on behalf of the Nashville Community Bail Fund. The lawsuit challenges a local rule that allows the court to garnish cash bail deposits and requests a preliminary injunction to stop this practice until the lawsuit is concluded. Read the full complaint here.



As long as poverty, injustice & inequality persist, none of us can truly rest. It doesn’t take much to change a life, Get in touch today and start making the difference.

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