New TN bail bond law triggers concerns

by Sanford on September 20, 2013

  • Sharebar

Defense lawyers and prosecutors are calling it a nightmare, while bail bondsmen say the judges of Davidson County are extorting them and usurping the legislature’s power — all over a new state law that doesn’t even fill a page.

The new law, which slipped through in the last legislative session, rewrites a portion of the state law on bail bonds by allowing bondsmen to avoid liability once a defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty.

No longer will bondsmen remain liable until a defendant is actually sentenced.

A review of videotapes of House and Senate sessions shows there was little discussion of the bill, and confusion dominated what little discussion took place.

Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, plainly told an inquiring colleague just before the final House vote that the bill would require the bonds to remain in effect until the time of sentencing.

“It requires the surety to remain in effect till sentencing,” Dean said in response to a question from Rep. William Lamberth, a Republican from Cottontown.

Instead, judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers say the law, which already has gone into effect, allows bondsmen to withdraw from a case at the time of a guilty plea or verdict, leaving the defendant liable to be put in jail or pay for another bond. Sentencing can come days or weeks after a plea is entered.

Opponents say that if the defendant is jailed from the time of a guilty finding until sentencing, the state or county will have to pick up the cost of that additional jail time.
Emergency order

The new law prompted judges of Davidson County’s criminal court to issue a rare emergency order, which remains in effect indefinitely, requiring that bondsmen at least notify their clients of plans to revoke the bonds. It sets different requirements for bonds in effect before the May 6 effective date of the new law.

Bonding companies failing to comply with the notice requirements risk having all bonding privileges in Davidson County suspended.

The order was signed by six criminal court judges, including Steve Dozier, who said the unusual order was issued “out of fairness to defendants and their lawyers who might not realize their bond could be altered. In theory they (defendants) could be put in jail.”

In some cases, Dozier said, defendants could be owed a refund.

Charles White, head of the Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents, said the “very unusual” edict by the Davidson County judges amounts to “extortion. The judges have usurped the power of the legislature.”

White said the association pushed for the change because the risk of flight increases once a defendant is found guilty.

“Once there is a guilty finding or a plea, our work is done,” White said, “but they want us to remain liable.”

Under the bail bond system, the defendant pays the bondsman a percentage of the total to cover the premium on the bond. If a defendant flees, the bondsman would have to pay the court the full amount of the bail.
‘A nightmare’

Nashville defense attorney David Raybin said the order by the judges was an attempt to “regulate the new process to some degree.”

“A lot of people could be incarcerated unfairly,” Raybin said.

Raybin said the unnecessary confinement also will mean added costs for incarcerating defendants awaiting sentencing.

“It’s a nightmare,” said Rob McKinney, another defense lawyer. “It lets the bail bondsmen off the hook.”

McKinney said he and fellow lawyers already are working on a bill to “close the loophole” created by the new law. But no action can come until next year when the legislature returns for a new session.

“The judges have done a good job dealing with this,” he said.

He said that bond agents he deals with have been cooperative.
PAC donations

Campaign finance records show that bail bondsmen have been supportive of many legislators, including Dean and the Senate sponsor of the new law, Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga. Both have received contributions from the Tennessee Volunteer PAC, the political action committee of the Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Bond Agents.

Overall, the bail bond PAC has donated just shy of $90,000 to Tennessee legislators since 2008.

When the House committee was voting on the bill, the lobbyist for the bail bond association sat directly behind Dean, nodding his head in agreement with Dean’s explanation.

Lamberth, the legislator who raised questions about the bill, said he was pleased that another provision in the measure was eliminated. That provision would have set time limits on how long a bond would remain in effect, depending on the crime committed.

As to Dean’s answer to his question, Lamberth said, “I can only assume it was a misunderstanding.”

Dean also said it was a misunderstanding and added he would be willing to work out a correction.

“I try my best to work with everyone,” he said.



A respected business man and owner of several businesses in Seminole and Osceola Counties in Florida.

Latest posts by Sanford (see all)

No related posts.

Previous post:

Next post: