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Harris’ attorney seeks dismissal of official misconduct charges

June 6th, 2013 11:58 am by Brad Hicks

Harris’ attorney seeks dismissal of official misconduct charges

ERWIN — Former Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris is now set to be tried on six counts of official misconduct beginning July 8, but Harris’ defense attorney Jim Bowman has filed a motion seeking the dismissal of these charges against his client. 

According to the motion, the state is barred from prosecuting the charges because, under state law, they should be considered misdemeanors and fall outside the statute of limitations to prosecute. 

Bowman filed the motion Wednesday afternoon in Unicoi County Criminal Court. In it, he moves to dismiss the six counts of official misconduct Harris was indicted in October 2011. It is alleged that then-sheriff Harris committed the offenses between the dates of June 23, 2010, and July 19, 2010, when he had county inmates work on property he owned at 604 N. Mohawk Drive in Erwin. 

In his motion, Bowman cites Tennessee Code Annotated 41-3-106, which states: “No sheriff, jailer or other person responsible for the care and custody of inmates housed in a county or municipal jail or workhouse may employ, require or otherwise use any inmate housed in the jail or workhouse to perform labor that will or may result directly or indirectly in the sheriff’s, jailer’s or other person’s personal gain, profit or benefit or in gain, profit or benefit to a business partially or wholly owned by the sheriff, jailer or other person.”

The codes further states that those convicted of violating this code for the first time have committed a misdemeanor offense and “shall be punished by a fine equal to the value of the services received from the inmate or inmates and imprisonment for not less than thirty (30) days nor more than eleven (11) months and twenty-nine (29) days.”

Bowman’s motion said that because a first-offense violation of this code is a misdemeanor, prosecution of Harris’ alleged charges is barred by the state’s one-year statute of limitations for misdemeanors. 

District Attorney General Tony Clark said Wednesday that the state has charged Harris with the official misconduct charges under a different statute, not TCA 41-3-106 referenced by Bowman.

“I disagree with Mr. Bowman, respectfully, because I did not charge the defendant under that code,” Clark said. 

Clark also said he intends to file an answer to Bowman’s motion in Criminal Court. A motions hearing has not yet been scheduled. 

Harris was originally scheduled to be tried on a single count of official misconduct beginning July 8. This charge stems from a February 2012 indictment. It alleges that in November 2011, Harris directed an employee of the Sheriff’s Department to use departmental supplies and equipment to prepare a letter soliciting funds to pay his defense attorneys’ fees during the employee’s working hours. 

Late last month, Bowman filed a pair of motions seeking dismissal of the charge and a motions hearing to hear these motions was scheduled for Monday. That hearing has since been canceled. 

Clark said Tuesday that he and Bowman had recently discussed trying Harris on other charges first. Both sides were agreeable to this, and the office of Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood advised the attorneys that this could be done as long as Harris is tried on the same offense. 

It was decided that Harris would be tried on the six counts of official misconduct first. The charges represent six of the 10 charges Harris was indicted on in October 2011. 

Harris has faced trial twice, first on charges of theft over $1,000 and criminal simulation, and he was later retried on the theft charge. These trials ended in August and December, respectively, both with hung juries, as jurors could not reach unanimous verdicts in either trial. 

For more on Harris' charges and trials, click here.

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