Nashville Courts Sued for Using Bail As Down Payments For Fines

Posted on: Sat, 02/15/2020 - 10:08 By: Tom Swiss
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The purpose of bail is to help ensure that a defendant shows up for trial. But in a bold new way to wring money out of poor defendants, Davidson County, Tennessee (the county corresponding to the city of Nashville), the courts are taking that money as a down payment on fines the defendant may owe if convicted. This means that if family or friends help someone make bail, they're not just putting their money on their relative or friend showing up for their day court, they are gambling against conviction.

Lawsuit Targets Nashville Courts for Treating Bail Money Like Down Payments for Fines, Fees (

...A bail bond rule requires defendants to agree that the money they give the county to cover the bail can be garnished to pay for any fines and fees the defendant may owe the court if convicted.

The purpose of cash bail is, ostensibly, to make sure that defendants show up for court dates and don't cause trouble or commit offenses while awaiting trial. If defendants do as ordered, their money is supposed to be returned to them. But in Davidson County's system, if the defendant is convicted, the court can take their bail money as payment for any fines or fees the defendant owes.

"These garnishment practices bear no relationship to the constitutionally acceptable purpose of money bail: reasonably assuring court appearance. [Criminal Court Clerk Howard] Gentry's enforcement of these policies harms presumptively innocent people and their support networks by impermissibly taxing pretrial freedom and chilling the posting of bail," the lawsuit argues.