The Nashville Community Bail Fund (NCBF) is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2016, to address the issue of extended pretrial detention. NCBF assists individuals in posting bail so that they can get back to work, education, and their families and loved ones before trial. Once the client appears in court and does not violate the terms of their release, the bail is returned into the fund and used to help future clients.
In September 2020, the Davidson County Criminal Court applied its Local Rule of Practice for Bail Bonds 10(B) to the NCBF. Rule 10(B) stated that cash bond deposits can be used for fines, court costs, and restitution, no matter who pays the money. Those posting cash bonds had to agree to the garnishment of future court-imposed debts. If an individual or entity posting the cash bond did not agree, they were not allowed to post a cash bond at all.
This local policy violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by misusing bail and rendering it “excessive,” impermissibly burdening the fundamental constitutional right to pretrial liberty and depriving the Nashville Community Bail Fund of property without due process.
On September 27, 2019, ACLU-TN sent a letter to the criminal court judges for the 19th Judicial District and to the Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk, requesting the immediate suspension of Rule 10(B) and discussing the abolishment of the rule altogether.
After receiving no response, on February 5, 2020, ACLU-TN, the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project, Choosing Justice Initiative, Civil Rights Corps and Bass Berry & Sims PLC filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Nashville Community Bail Fund. The groups sought a preliminary injunction to stop enforcement of the rule immediately. The Court granted the motion on March 18, 2020.
This unfair rule deters individuals from posting cash bonds, taking money from the very families who can least afford it while doing nothing to promote justice, court appearance or public safety. One’s ability to return home to their family or job should not depend solely on how much money they can access.
On December 9, 2020, a federal judge approved an agreement reached between the Nashville Community Bail Fund and the Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry that put an end to the garnishment of cash bonds to pay future fines, costs and restitution assessed by the courts. The ruling applies to all third parties posting bond in Davidson County.
Nashville Community Bail Fund
Howard Gentry – Clerk of the Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk
ACLU-TN: Thomas H. Castelli, Stella Yarbrough
ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project: Andrea Woods, Brandon Buskey
Civil Rights Corp: Initial counsel Charles Gersten with subsequent support from Tara Mikkilineni
Choosing Justice Initiative: Dawn Deaner
Cooperating Attorneys: Angie Bergman, David Esquivel, Briana Sprick Schuster of Bass Berry & Sims PLC