Court Rule that Unfairly Kept Poor People in Jail Will No Longer Be Enforced
Nashville Community Bail Fund Reaches Agreement with Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk to End Garnishment of Cash Bonds
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today a federal judge approved an agreement reached between the Nashville Community Bail Fund and the Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk’s office that will 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.
“We have long understood that commissioners and judges are at the root of money bail injustice in Nashville. Judges cease to be impartial when they create rules that foster injustice, and this rule criminalized poverty by taxing the poor. Now that it no longer exists, Nashvillians can free their loved ones from the clutches of the criminal legal system without being forced into a lose-lose proposition: pay a bonding company or pay court costs, fines and fees. They can choose to pay bail directly to the criminal court clerk and receive 100% of their money back,” said Rahim Buford, director of bail operations at the Nashville Community Bail Fund. “NCBF is pleased with this decision, but our work is just getting started. We will continue to fight until Nashvillians no longer permit a bail system that advantages the ‘haves’ and punishes the ‘have-nots.’”
The agreement was reached in a lawsuit filed by the Nashville Community Bail Fund, which is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, Civil Rights Corps, Choosing Justice Initiative, and Bass Berry & Sims PLC.
“We applaud Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry for working with the Nashville Community Bail Fund to put an end to this unfair rule, which deterred people from posting cash bonds, keeping people in jail simply because they could not access the funds to secure release,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “The ability to return home to one’s family or job while awaiting trial should not be dependent on the size of one’s pocketbook.”
The lawsuit challenged Davidson County Criminal Court Local Rule of Practice for Bail Bonds 10(B), which subjected cash bond deposits to garnishment for fines, court costs and restitution — meaning money posted to secure an individual’s release from jail was used to guarantee payment of future court-imposed debts. If the party did not agree to the garnishment, they were not allowed to post a cash bond at all. The rule applied to all people arrested in Davidson County who pay a cash bond, even those who successfully make all of their court appearances.
“Today’s settlement proves what we have known all along – judges break the law when they condition a person’s pretrial freedom on a requirement that cash bail paid on their behalf be taken to satisfy their court debt,” said Dawn Deaner, Choosing Justice Initiative executive director. “CJI is glad this illegal use of bail in Nashville has come to an end, and looks forward to the day soon when no one is held in Nashville’s jail simply because they are unable to pay bail.”
“Rule 10(B) is emblematic of court rules all across the country that encourage the use of secured money bail, economically burden arrested people and their families, and drive needless pretrial detention,” said Andrea Woods, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “We applaud the court’s recognition that these policies are unconstitutional, Mr. Gentry’s willingness to work with the NCBF, and the important work that the NCBF will continue to do in Nashville.”
The lawsuit asserted that a court rule that conditions a person’s freedom as they await trial on the payment of fines is not permissible under the United States Constitution.
“We’re glad to see an end to this unfair rule,” said Charlie Gerstein, senior attorney for Civil Rights Corps. “Now the Nashville Community Bail Fund can continue its important work of securing pretrial freedom for many who would otherwise be trapped in jail.”
The lawsuit, Nashville Community Bail Fund v. Gentry, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.
“Today, there is one less way that the courts can leverage fees and fines in exchange for freedom. While there is a long way to go in securing true pretrial justice for those without financial means, this victory is an important step forward for Nashville,” said Angie Bergman, associate at Bass, Berry & Sims PLC. “We are grateful to partner with the NCBF in this work, an organization that is steadfast in disrupting unjust systems, supporting individuals harmed by wealth-based detention, and advocating for lasting change.”
The court order entered today can be found at: https://www.aclu-tn.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Nashville-Community-Bail-Fund-v-Gentry-Consent-Decree.pdf
This press release can be found at: https://www.aclu-tn.org/court-rule-that-unfairly-kept-poor-people-in-jail-will-no-longer-be-enforced
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