Nashville bail bond rule blocked as unconstitutional

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has permanently blocked a Tennessee court rule that prevents criminal defendants from getting their bail money back, even if they show up to all court dates, until court costs like fines and restitution are paid.

An agreement between Nashville Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry and the Nashville Community Bail Fund was approved by U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger on Wednesday. It states that Nashville’s rule violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on excessive bail because “it requires bail posters to provide something of value in excess of the amount of bail set — their consent to potential garnishment at the conclusion of the case.”

The rule also violates the substantive due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it “unduly infringes upon the individual right to pretrial liberty,” the consent decree states, noting that the rule does not forward the interest of public safety or the assurance that a defendant will appear in court.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee was one of several groups that sued Gentry in February on behalf of the Nashville Community Bail Fund. The group relies on donations to bail out low-income criminal defendants who can’t afford it themselves. Once the defendant’s case is finished, the group then collects the posted bond money and returns it to the revolving fund.

Trauger issued a preliminary order partially blocking the bail rule’s enforcement in March.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, praised Wednesday’s permanent court order in a news release, saying “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.”

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