Media Contact

Lindsay Kee, ACLU-TN, 615-320-7142
Josh Spickler, Just City,, (901) 216-2024

August 9, 2022

General Sessions Judges to Decide Whether to Enact Administrative Order on Thursday, August 11

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The Shelby County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution yesterday afternoon creating a new bail process, including establishment of a new bail hearing courtroom.

The resolution was passed after the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, Just City, and The Wharton Law Firm, in partnership with Stand for Children and the Official Black Lives Matter Memphis Chapter, issued a letter and initiated negotiations with numerous Shelby County judicial and government officials demanding that the county stop bail practices that violate the constitutional and statutory rights of people arrested in Shelby County.

Tennessee law requires that judges treat money bail as a last resort, to be imposed only if other less restrictive conditions are deemed insufficient to ensure that someone appears for their trial. The U.S. Constitution also requires courts to hold bail hearings within a reasonable time of arrest, with representation by an attorney, and to take individual circumstances into account, including a person’s ability to pay so that no one is incarcerated solely due to their poverty, or without adequate justification.

Under Shelby County’s existing pretrial system, a person can be held for weeks or longer without a bail hearing with counsel, and ability to pay is not considered when bail is set, leaving those who cannot afford to pay detained indefinitely, even if they are not a flight or safety risk, while those who face the same charges but can afford to pay money bail are freed until trial.

Yesterday’s resolution ensures that the court system is able to provide people who are arrested with individualized bail hearings with counsel 48 hours after their arrest; that a person’s financial circumstances are examined prior to any decision; and that secured money bail is only imposed as a last resort.

These improvements will not take effect until the county’s general sessions judges put in place a standing order that establishes the specific post-arrest procedures by which judicial officers will determine the appropriate, least restrictive conditions of pretrial release for each individual. If enacted, the order would include financial screening for individuals’ ability to afford bail and also allow judges to continue to make individualized decisions in every case before them, after hearing from both the government and the individual’s defense counsel.

The general sessions judges will meet on Thursday, August 11 to decide whether to implement the standing order.

The following can be attributed Stella Yarbrough, ACLU of Tennessee legal director:

“We applaud the Shelby County Board of Commissioners’ commitment to investing in a more transparent and fair bail system by funding and staffing a bail hearing room with the necessary personnel. For the first time, the community and individuals who are arrested will be able to see how judicial officers decide whether presumptively innocent people are released or detained on bail. Public defense counsel will be appointed for those who qualify, and alleged victims will be provided notice.

“However, this promising step will only take effect if the general sessions judges decide later this week to order that everyone arrested in Shelby County receives a fair, adequate process; that Shelby County’s practices comply with the protections of the U.S. Constitution; and that no one sits in jail simply because they cannot afford their bail.

“We urge the general sessions judges to promptly enact the standing bail order so that these much-needed improvements can be implemented in Shelby County and the disproportionate impact of cash bail on people with limited incomes can be lessened.”