Appeals court rules in favor of former Tennessee players

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – An appeals court has ruled attorneys for former Tennessee football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams can issue subpoenas in an attempt to obtain social media communications from witnesses for their upcoming rape trials.

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals says “the state lacks standing to challenge the subpoenas” issued to witnesses. Knox County Criminal Court Judge Bob McGee had ruled on November 2015 that subpoenas couldn’t be given to the witnesses themselves, including the woman who says Johnson and Williams raped her on November 2014.

McGee had said defense lawyers could try obtaining those communications from service providers instead. But the appeals court ruled subpoenas could be issued to the witnesses so that the defense could obtain their electronic communications.

Prosecutors had argued it was “unreasonable and oppressive” to expect witnesses to comply with this request. The appeals court ruled that “we hardly think (that) is too onerous a burden when juxtaposed with the defendants’ constitutional trial rights.”

The trial dates for Williams and Johnson have been moved multiple times while this issue was debated.

Johnson and Williams were indicted on aggravated rape charges in February 2015. Knoxville police say the incident occurred during a party at an apartment in the early morning of Nov. 16, 2014, when Johnson was a linebacker and Williams a defensive back for Tennessee’s football team.