Lawsuit claims current bail policy keeps ‘poor people’ in jail

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — National and local groups are fighting a rule that they say unfairly keeps poor people in jail, claiming the current rule is unconstitutional.

The federal lawsuit against Davidson County was filed on behalf of the Nashville Community Bail Fund by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, Civil Rights Corps and Choosing Justice Initiative.

“There is no justice in a criminal system where one’s ability to return home to their family or job depends solely on how much money they can access,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “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. We hope the court takes swift action to put an end to this unlawful rule.”

The current policy is that money posted to secure a person’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.

According to the groups, the rule applies to all people arrested in Davidson County who pay a cash bond. This apparently even goes for those who successfully make all of their court appearances.

In its current state, the groups say the policy violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by misusing bail.

“Our participants have no other path to freedom from jail — they cannot be released on their own recognizance, are not eligible for Davidson County’s pretrial release program, and have bond amounts so low that most for-profit bonding companies will not bail them out,” said Rev. Davie Tucker Jr., vice chairperson of the board of the Nashville Community Bail Fund. “Since the judges’ decision to enforce this rule against the Nashville Community Bail Fund, the number of people we are able to bail out each month has dropped by over 60 percent. Without our intervention, those who cannot afford bail are forced to sit in cages, losing jobs, housing and being separated from their families until their case concludes. In the end many individuals plead guilty just to get out of jail.”

The groups are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop enforcement of the rule immediately.

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