Tag Archives: bail

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.
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Judge finds conflict of interest for newly-elected court clerk in bail bond business

A judge ruled Wednesday that recently-elected Rutherford County Circuit Court Clerk Melissa Harrell must shut down her family’s bail bonding business to comply with state law, according to the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal.

The law prohibits any Circuit Court clerk from being able to benefit from the issuance of a bond, which is a conflict of interest.

Because local judges recused themselves, Senior Judge Ben Cantrell of Nashville presided over the case at the Rutherford County Judicial Building and revoked the license of the Harrell family’s AAAA Bonding Co. at the request of a motion filed by the recently elected District Attorney General Jennings Jones.

“I feel like the judge has made the appropriate ruling,” said Jones, who along with Harrell won their Aug. 7 elections as Republican nominees. “I feel confident that Melissa Harrell will do a good job as clerk, and I look forward to working with her in the future.”

The judge ruled that Harrell will be allowed 30 days to continue the business, but it’s possible she could seek an appeal. Her husband, Otho Dunaway, testified that the bonding business had liabilities of about $800,000 from outstanding bonds.

New bail bond tax falters in Anderson County

Some Tennessee counties are moving to impose a 2.5 percent tax on bail bonds at their county jails, but Anderson County commissioners balked at the idea Thursday after being told the tax could increase jail populations because fewer defendants could make bail.

From the News Sentinel:
Anderson County commissioners last summer approved charging prisoners for items ranging from jail uniforms to toothpaste to toilet paper.

And in a new bid to help pay for a major jail addition and the needed new staff, a commission committee Thursday recommended new litigation taxes on all Anderson County criminal and civil cases.

But Legislative Committee members hesitated to endorse a new 2.5 percent tax on bail bonds after hearing from a lobbyist from the Tennessee Professional Bail Bond Association. Committee members put the move on hold for a month while it’s studied further.

“It absolutely will limit the number of defendants that can make bond and cause the jail population to go up,” Bill Nolan said before Thursday’s meeting.

Once arrested, criminal defendants typically are eligible for bail. Defendants post bonds of varying amounts that allow them to be released from jail; bond is intended to be of sufficient amount to assure they show up for court.

Interest in the new fee picked up after Jefferson County commissioners last month took the first steps toward imposing such a tax. Other counties are now considering such a move, Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager said.

Yeager said the resolution he prepared in response to commissioners’ request that he study various ways to boost income to run the jail is similar to that approved in Jefferson County, “and several other counties are interested.”

Nolan said the state association has expressed concern that the new tax would reduce the likelihood that bonding companies would put up the requisite amount to secure a defendant’s release from jail.

Bonding firms receive 10 percent or less of a bond as payment from the defendant. Adding a 2.5 percent tax on cash-strapped defendants’ bonds could cut into the firms’ profit margin and reduce the likelihood of their entering a bail bond agreement, Nolan said.

“We’ve got to lower bonds,” said Nolan, a former state representative. “The more we raise these bonds, the more people we keep in jails.”

Commissioner Steve Mead, a member of the committee, expressed concern about the proposed tax. “I have a lot of problems putting this on a person before they are convicted,” he said. “It’s a pretrial punishment.”

Bail Bondsmen Bill Stirs Post-Session Controversy

A bill that “slipped through” the Legislature during the last session rewrites a portion of state law on bail bonds to allow bondsmen to avoid liability once a defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty, reports The Tennessean. It’s apparently causing some turmoil in the criminal justice system.

No longer will bondsmen remain liable until a defendant is actually sentenced.

A review of videotapes of House and Senate sessions shows there was little discussion of the bill, and confusion dominated what little discussion took place.

Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, plainly told an inquiring colleague just before the final House vote that the bill would require the bonds to remain in effect until the time of sentencing.

“It requires the surety to remain in effect till sentencing,” Dean said in response to a question from Rep. William Lamberth, a Republican from Cottontown.

Instead, judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers say the law, which already has gone into effect, allows bondsmen to withdraw from a case at the time of a guilty plea or verdict, leaving the defendant liable to be put in jail or pay for another bond. Sentencing can come days or weeks after a plea is entered.

Opponents say that if the defendant is jailed from the time of a guilty finding until sentencing, the state or county will have to pick up the cost of that additional jail time.

The new law prompted judges of Davidson County’s criminal court to issue a rare emergency order, which remains in effect indefinitely, requiring that bondsmen at least notify their clients of plans to revoke the bonds. It sets different requirements for bonds in effect before the May 6 effective date of the new law.

Bonding companies failing to comply with the notice requirements risk having all bonding privileges in Davidson County suspended.

…Charles White, head of the Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents, said the “very unusual” edict by the Davidson County judges amounts to “extortion. The judges have usurped the power of the legislature.”

White said the association pushed for the change because the risk of flight increases once a defendant is found guilty.

“Once there is a guilty finding or a plea, our work is done,” White said, “but they want us to remain liable.”

…Lamberth, the legislator who raised questions about the bill, said he was pleased that another provision in the measure was eliminated. That provision would have set time limits on how long a bond would remain in effect, depending on the crime committed.

As to Dean’s answer to his question, Lamberth said, “I can only assume it was a misunderstanding.”

Dean also said it was a misunderstanding and added he would be willing to work out a correction.

“I try my best to work with everyone,” he said.


Note: The bill is SB736/HB102 by Dean and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga.

Chattanooga Judge Gets Public Reprimand

A Hamilton County judge has been issued a public reprimand by Tennessee Court of the Judiciary after the court determined he twice violated judicial ethics, reports the Chattanooga TFP.
Hamilton County General Sessions Judge David Bales received two complaints earlier this year, one from Judge Rebecca Stern and the other from local attorney Hank Hill. Public reprimands by the judiciary court are rare. Only two other Tennessee judges have been issued reprimands this year, and only three were issued in 2010, according to the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary. Bales acknowledged that he made mistakes and said he would “strive to not make mistakes in the future.”
“I, at all times, tried to rule fairly and impartially for all citizens,” he said. “Sometimes I’ve made mistakes, and I am human like everyone else. I admit I have made mistakes in these two matters.”
…The first incident happened in November 2010, when Bales set a bond of $70,000 in a domestic assault and false imprisonment case without the defendant or his attorney present.
…In the second incident, Bales set a bond of $1 million in a murder case in March. Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman reduced the bond to $250,000.

A copy of the reprimand is available HERE.

Lawsuit Challenges Method of Setting Bail by TN Judges

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Murfreesboro attorney is on a crusade to change the way bail is set in Tennessee.
Jerry Gonzalez told The Tennessean that many judicial commissioners around the state pull bail amounts “out of thin air,” relying on a cheat sheet or precedent rather than taking individual circumstances into account.
State law requires judicial commissioners to consider things like a person’s ties to the community and reputation to determine an appropriate bail.
Gonzalez believes that people who are likely to show up for trial and are not a danger to the community should be released with no bail at all.
He already has won suits in Wilson and Rutherford counties. Challenges are pending in Davidson, Henry, Macon, Trousdale, Shelby and Bedford counties.