TN lawmakers vote to further study 'victim photo' bill

A bill meant to support the families of crime victims stood up to some strong debate Wednesday evening in Nashville.

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee heard discussion on House Bill 1524. The legislation, sponsored by Knoxville Representative Ryan Haynes, would amend state law to allow pictures of victims to be present in the courtroom if the victim is unable to be there in person.

Several East Tennessee families traveled to Nashville in an attempt to persuade lawmakers to vote in favor of the bill.

Previous Story: TN lawmakers debate allowing victim photos during trial

One of those family members included Tina Gregg, whose daughter, Brooke Morris, was murdered in 2011.

She said crime victims' families deserve the right to show an everyday representation of their loved ones inside of the court room.

"We have no rights whatsoever," Gregg said. "We can't wear buttons. Brooke was a beautiful young woman and I want her picture to be shown in a picture before her death."

Read the Proposed Bill: HB 1524 - Sponsor Rep. Ryan Haynes

The families received a warm welcome from most of the lawmakers they talked to. However, the legislators' words did not always match up with what they wanted to hear.

Web extra: Joan Berry on trial photo vote

Sevierville Representative Andrew Farmer said he had some concerns about the bill.

"The things we're most concerned with is that we procedurally don't bias the jury one way or the other," he said.

Representative Vance Dennis had another question. The Savannah lawmaker said court rules allow only "relevant evidence" to be brought into a courtroom. He said Haynes' bill would directly contradict that.

Dennis went on to say he feared that if the legislation were to pass, appeals courts may force retrials in cases tied to impacted families.

Web extra: Holly Bobo's mother on trial photo vote

"It's my belief that this bill, the way it's filed, the way it's drafted, the way it directly contradicts and attempts to supercede the rules of evidence that the court has promulgated, will cause a family to have to go through that again," Dennis told the committee.

Just a few minutes later, the committee voted to further pursue the bill in a summer study session.


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