Defense attorneys, prosecutors, and bail bondsmen in Tennessee, in the last, few months, have been working to understand a new law that immediately releases the bail bond company from the bond once the defendant pleads guilty to the crime. For bail bondsmen in the State, the new law could equate to a financial payday, while for defendants, the law could actually create a scenario where they pay the bail bond company twice for the same case or start doing jail time for a charge that may not even end up with a prison sentence.
John Zimmerman, an assistant district attorney for Davidson County, remarked that this new law could change a “well-established process that has worked well for years.” The law could mean that some defendants could have their bonds revoked before they are sentenced and that bail bond companies would charge even more money to the defendants.
Up until the passage of the new law in July, bail bondsmen would stay on the bond for their clients until they were either sentenced or exonerated for the arresting crime. Now, however, bail bondsmen are released from the bond as soon as a guilty verdict is reached, regardless of how the individual will be sentenced. In other words, the new law allows bondsmen to avoid liability at the point of conviction or plea – instead of at the point of sentencing.
This Tennessee law is designed to protect bail bondsmen in the state, as the risk of holding bond for a guilty individual is presumably more risky for the bail bondsman. The bonding company, after honoring its obligation to ensure the defendant appears in court, is then released from the bond.
However, the problem comes after the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty. Many individuals in these cases can expect to receive probation or participation in a court-ordered program instead of serving time in jail. With the change in law, the defendant may need to produce another 10 percent of their bail – or sit in jail – while the judge determines their sentence, which often takes days or even weeks. In other words, defendants may need to do time in jail if they can’t post another bond – even if their sentence involves no jail time.
Due to the confusion surrounding the new law, a number of judges in the criminal court of Davidson County have issued an emergency order stating that bail bondsmen must notify their clients if they anticipate revoking the bond. However, the Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents sees this emergency order as extortion, as the likelihood of a defendant fleeing greatly increases with a guilty verdict. If this emergency order stays in place, bounty hunters in Tennessee may find themselves overwhelmed with the number of fugitives fleeing after a guilty verdict is handed down.