Criminal justice reform advocates challenge Davidson County bail bond rule

Posted at 5:30 PM, Feb 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-05 20:33:58-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF)  — Advocates have filed a lawsuit against the Davidson County Criminal Clerk as they believe using cash bonds to pay future fines, court costs, and restitution is unconstitutional.

Criminal justice reform advocates argue the court system unfairly keeps poor men and women in jail, and it's prompted them to file a federal complaint against the Davidson County Criminal Clerk. They call it wealth-based detention, saying rich, guilty people can bail out of jail but poor, innocent people cannot.

"It is morally, ethically, wrong to cage someone purely because they don’t have the money. Not because they’re guilty, not because they are a flight risk,” Reverend Davie Tucker Jr. said.

He's with the Nashville Community Bail Fund nonprofit. They collect donations and post bail money for jailed Nashvillians who can't afford it. Reverend Tucker said some people who are arrested face losing their jobs and livelihood, which contributes to the cycle of poverty.

They're suing because advocates believe it's unconstitutional for the court system in Davidson County to cash bonds to pay future fines, court costs, and restitution. Andrea Woods is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee. She says there are other options to help.

"When the desire to have debts paid which is certainly understandable, gets in the way of constitutional rights, then it’s not an acceptable way to get debts paid. There are certainly other mechanisms. Courts all across the country use like payment plans,” Woods said.

Rebecca Gill said when she was incarcerated, and couldn't pay to get out, she was at risk of losing her job. "By bailing me out, the Nashville Community Bail Fund also ensured that I could keep paying my bills. If I would have stopped paying my bills, my insurance could have lapsed, and I could have lost my license."

Gill said her case was retired, and she said it will be expunged this fall.

We reached out to Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry for response to the federal lawsuit, and we're waiting to hear back.