The Tennessee Attorney General's Office wants the state Supreme Court to step in over a dispute about potential social media evidence in the rape trial of former University of Tennessee football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams.
In April, the state Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Knox County prosecutors don't have standing to object to subpoenas that lawyers for Johnson and Williams are seeking to get texts and social media messages by the alleged victim and several witnesses.
The court also ruled it wasn't the prosecution's place to fight subpoenas the defense is seeking of data service providers whose services were used at the time of the alleged rape.
Acting on behalf of the prosecution, Assistant Attorney General Nicholas W. Spangler sought permission this week to appeal the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision.
Spangler argues the court's decision that the state lacks standing is so unique that a higher authority needs to weigh in. It's a question likely to come up again in the future, another reason for further review, Spangler writes.
The opinion "leaves open the question of whether the state may ever have standing to challenge defense-issued subpoenas to crime victims and witnesses," Spangler writes.
The prosecution, in fact, is charged with protecting the interests of victims and witnesses "during an active prosecution," the state argues.
Johnson and Williams committed rape while with a young UT student in Johnson's South Knoxville apartment one night in November 2014, prosecutors allege.
Defense attorneys say no such attack occurred.
They also seek access to the alleged victim's social media communications as well as those of several others who were at the party or knew the victim. They allege the witnesses traded messages about what happened that night at Johnson's apartment.
Prosecution of the men has been delayed for months while courts consider arguments over access to the social media accounts.