Rule Garnishing Bail Bonds Violates Due Process
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 27, 2019
Lindsay Kee, ACLU-TN, (615) 320-7142
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, Civil Rights Corps and Choosing Justice Initiative sent a letter to the Davidson County Criminal Court, the Nashville criminal court clerk and the city of Nashville today detailing how a court rule establishing the garnishment of bonds for payment of fines, court costs and restitution violates state and federal law.
“Money bail is already one of the most corrupt and broken parts of our criminal justice system and this rule is one more example of the system valuing fortune over fairness,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. “This rule violates the law by siphoning money away from families of people who can least afford it while doing nothing to promote justice, improve court appearances or ensure public safety. Worse, this rule deters individuals from posting cash bonds, instead supporting the robust bail bond industry, which is exempt from the rule.”
Davidson County Criminal Court Local Rule of Practice for Bail Bonds 10(B) requires anyone who posts a cash bond to agree that the deposit will be subject to garnishment for fines, court costs and restitution. The rule is enforced pretrial and applies to all people arrested in Davidson County, regardless of their pretrial conduct or history of successful court appearances.
“Our courts are supposed to be a place where people find justice, not a shake down. This rule is emblematic of how money infects our legal system and creates disparities between the haves and the have-nots,” said Dawn Deaner, Choosing Justice Initiative executive director. “Eliminating this rule will not solve all the problems inherent in Nashville’s money bail system, but it’s a start. It’s also the right and lawful thing to do.”
The letter charges that the court’s rule violates due process, the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, and Tennessee laws restricting when bail bond deposits can be used to offset fines, fees and costs.
“This local rule adds a financial conflict of interest to the use of money bail, which is already one of the greatest stains on our legal system,” said Tara Mikkilineni, a senior attorney for Civil Rights Corps. “Under Rule 10(B), judges have a clear incentive to assign money bail not as a means to ensure court appearance, but as an insidious means to collect court costs.”
The groups are demanding that the court cease enforcement of the rule immediately.
“The only purpose of this local bail rule is to generate revenue — it is a shameful violation of the rights of people caught in the criminal legal system,” said Andrea Woods, staff attorney, ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project. “Money bail has been abused to fuel our pretrial incarceration crisis. Davidson County’s policy — which fills county and state coffers by misappropriating bail money, regardless of what happens in the case the bond was related to — is illegal and wrong. If the Davidson Criminal Court is not responsive, we look forward to seeing it in court.”
A copy of the letter sent today is available at: https://www.aclu-tn.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Nashville-bail-demand-letter-FINAL_Redacted.pdf
A copy of the court’s rule can be found at: https://www.aclu-tn.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Davidson-County-Bail-Rules.pdf
This release is available online at: https://www.aclu-tn.org/local-and-national-groups-notify-davidson-county-criminal-court-that-it-is-violating-state-and-federal-law