Federal Court Blocks Court Rule that Unfairly Keeps Poor People in Jail
Decision Allows the Nashville Community Bail Fund to Continue Securing Release for People During Public Health Crisis
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Late yesterday, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of a Davidson County policy under which cash bonds are garnished to pay future fines, costs and restitution assessed by the courts. The initial ruling applies to cases in which the Nashville Community Bail Fund posts bond, but notes that final relief, if ordered, could extend to everyone posting bond in Davidson County.
“The Nashville Community Bail Fund is extremely pleased with the federal court’s granting of this preliminary injunction, which is a moment of needed relief within our greater fight for bail reform. With the financial burden of Rule 10(B) removed, we can continue to free as many Nashvillians from pretrial incarceration as possible,” said Rev. Davie Tucker Jr., vice chairperson of the board of the Nashville Community Bail Fund. “We are grateful to the ACLU-TN, ACLU, Civil Rights Corps, and the Choosing Justice Initiative for their work in achieving this relief.”
Rahim Buford, manager of the Nashville Community Bail Fund, had this reaction: “During the current public health crisis, the most vulnerable population is the people living in cages across this country. As our nation struggles with the coronavirus, it’s more critical than ever to get people out of jails as quickly as possible for public health and safety. Releasing as many people who are detained pretrial as possible should be a priority. The Nashville Community Bail Fund is doing all that we can do to get people out as quickly as possible and this ruling means that we can continue this critical work.”
The injunction was issued 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 and Choosing Justice Initiative.
“We applaud the court’s ruling, which ensures that eligible individuals awaiting trial can post bond and return home. The court clearly understands that individuals who remain incarcerated pretrial solely because they do not have the financial resources to post bond face serious – even irreparable – collateral consequences,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “We look forward to the day when this unfair, unconstitutional rule is struck down for good.”
The lawsuit challenges Davidson County Criminal Court Local Rule of Practice for Bail Bonds 10(B), which subjects cash bond deposits to garnishment for fines, court costs and restitution — meaning money posted to secure an individual’s release from jail is used to guarantee payment of future court-imposed debts. If the party does not agree to the garnishment, they are not allowed to post a cash bond at all. The rule applies to all people arrested in Davidson County who pay a cash bond, even those who successfully make all of their court appearances.
“The court’s order confirms that bail may only be used for specific, narrow purposes – not to hold people in jail or generate money for the government. We are pleased that the Court has both vindicated important constitutional rights and affirmed the Bail Fund’s important work,” said Andrea Woods, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “We need groups like the NCBF now more than ever to prevent the harm of needless jailing, particular during this global public health crisis.”
The lawsuit asserts 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. While the preliminary injunction is limited to cases involving the Nashville Community Bail Fund, the court indicated that if the plaintiffs demonstrate that the garnishment policy is unconstitutional, “then a full cessation of the policy would no doubt be warranted.”
“The court’s decision puts us a step closer to taking money out the equation when it comes to someone’s pre-trial freedom,” said Dawn Deaner, Choosing Justice Initiative executive director. “It is also a timely reminder of the hundreds of people who remain in Nashville’s jails today simply because a judge set bail in an amount they cannot afford. The risks they face have never been higher, and the time for our elected officials to take even bolder action to end wealth-based detention is now.”
The lawsuit, Nashville Community Bail Fund v. Gentry, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.
The preliminary injunction entered today can be found here: https://www.aclu-tn.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/NCBFvGentry-023-Order-on-Prelim-Injunction-and-Motion-to-Dismiss.pdf
The accompanying memorandum can be found here: https://www.aclu-tn.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/NCBFvGentry-022-Memorandum-Opinion.pdf
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