Supremes rule right to pre-trail bail can be revoked

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state constitution guarantees the right to bail, but it’s not absolute, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The state’s highest court said the right to pretrial bail can be revoked if someone is alleged to have committed a crime after getting bailed out of jail.

The opinion stemmed from the Knoxville case of Latickia Burgins, who had bailed out of jail after being arrested on a misdemeanor charge and was later charged in connection with a violent carjacking.

“A defendant may forfeit her right to bail by subsequent criminal conduct,” Chief Justice Sharon Lee wrote in the opinion. “Before pretrial bail can be revoked, the defendant is entitled to an evidentiary hearing.”

The opinion set out the procedures that must be used in pretrial bail hearing, saying prosecutors or a judge can initiate proceeding to revoke bail.

The state still have the burden of proving the grounds to revoke the bail. A judge may revoke bail if they find that it is more likely than not that a defendant committed the additional crimes after bailing out of jail.

The court said defendants must be given written notice of the date, time and place of the hearing, as well as the reason why bail may be forfeited. They are also entitled to know the evidence against them, have the opportunity to be heard, present their own witnesses, confront and cross-examine witnesses and argue in their own defense.

Note: The press release, rewritten above, is below.

News release from the Administrative Office of the Courts:
Nashville, Tenn. ¬– Today, the Tennessee Supreme Court held that a Knoxville woman could forfeit her right to pretrial bail if it is shown that she committed crimes while released on bail pending trial for another crime.

In March 2012, Latickia Burgins was charged with simple possession of marijuana in Knox County. Ms. Burgins posted bond and was released pending trial. In March 2014, while awaiting trial on the marijuana charge, Mss. Burgins allegedly was involved in an attempted carjacking in Knox County. On April 15, 2014, a Knox County grand jury issued a 19-count presentment against Ms. Burgins, charging her with multiple crimes stemming from the carjacking incident. Those charges included attempted first degree murder, employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, attempted especially aggravated robbery, and attempted carjacking. The Knox County Criminal Court granted the State’s motion to revoke Ms. Burgins’ bail on the marijuana charges based on the bail revocation statute.

Ms. Burgins appealed, alleging that the bail revocation statute is unconstitutional because the right to bail is guaranteed under the Tennessee Constitution. The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed, holding that the statute violated article I, section 15 of the Tennessee Constitution.

In a unanimous opinion authored by Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee, the Supreme Court held that the Tennessee Constitution guarantees a defendant the right to pretrial release on bail, however, this right is not absolute. A defendant may forfeit her right to bail by subsequent criminal conduct, but before bail can be revoked, the defendant is entitled to an evidentiary hearing.

In the opinion, the Court sets forth a procedure to be used in pretrial bail hearings. The State or the judge can initiate proceedings for revocation of pretrial bail, during which the State has the burden of proving the statutory grounds for revocation. If a trial court finds that it is more likely than not that the defendant, while on bail, committed the additional crimes for which he or she is accused, the right to bail may be forfeited.

The Court clarified that before bail can be forfeited, the defendant is entitled to a hearing that includes: 1) written notice of the alleged grounds for revocation and the date, place, and time of the hearing, 2) disclosure of the evidence against him or her, 3) the meaningful opportunity to be heard and to present evidence, 4) the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, and 5) the right to make arguments in his or her defense. The Court noted that this clarification neither expands nor contracts the rights of defendants accused of committing crimes while on pretrial bail, rather it reaffirms constitutional principles. The Court returned Ms. Burgins’ case to the trial court for an expeditious hearing consistent with the guidelines set out.

To read the opinion in State v. Latickia Tashay Burgins, authored by Chief Justice Lee, visit the opinions sections of TNCourts.gov.