Our mission is to create a just and fair criminal justice system that offers every Tennessean the opportunity to become a productive member of society.
Pretrial justice reform
SB 409 (Sen. John Stevens) / HB1131 (Rep. Michael Curcio)
Nothing is more important to the American criminal justice system than the belief that everyone
is innocent until proven guilty. Our current pretrial system was created to ensure people who are
awaiting trial are not a flight risk or a danger to the public. Yet, many Americans remain jailed while
they await trial on charges yet to be proven, not because there is a risk that they will flee or threaten
community safety, but because they simply cannot afford to post bail. Many of these people have
only been charged with low-level, non violent misdemeanor crimes. Holding someone pretrial who
cannot afford bail and who is not a threat to public safety has a domino effect on a person’s whole
life. It keeps them from working, going to school, taking care of their children, etc. Besides the cost
to the individual and community, it is also a tremendous cost to state and local governments. Pretrial
release should not be based on an individual’s ability to pay; it should be based on that person’s
public safety threat and flight risk.
Pretrial justice reform would allow people who are not a flight risk or threat to public safety to
continue to make a living and provide for their families as they await their trial. This avoids the
downward spiral of potentially losing their job, car, home, etc., all while saving taxpayers money by
keeping people out of jail who do not need to be there.
What the Bill Does
SB409/HB1131 creates a rebuttable presumption for any person charged with an expungeable
offense who does not already have a criminal record of a non-expungeable crime to be released on
his or her own recognizance. The bill retains judicial discretion in that a judge may still assess bail
or add conditions of release such as GPS monitoring if he or she deems it necessary. Ultimately, this
will allow low-level, nonviolent offenders who are not a threat to public safety to be released pending
their trial, while maintaining our current bail system for everyone else.
Citation in lieu of arrest
SB587 (Sen. Jon Lundberg) / HB715 (Rep. Jeremy Faison)
Overcrowding in local jails is one of the largest expenses for local governments across the state. In
2018 alone, Tennessee jails housed an average of 15,852 pretrial detainees, with 5,285 of whom
were detained for a misdemeanor offense. In fact, the number of pretrial detainees comprised nearly
50 percent of Tennessee’s total jail population, and a singificant portion of those are detained low-
level, nonviolent offenses. These overcrowded jails are a huge cost to taxpayers, with an average
statweide cost of more than $206,000 per day. Meanwhile, the booking and processing for these
low-level non-violent misdemeanors uses valuable law enforcement time and hurts public safety by
removing police officers from patrol where they could help prevent more dangerous crimes. While
officers do have the option to issue citations instead of arrest for some low-level crimes, state law
currently requires officers to ensure that the defendant will appear to court before issuing a citation.
This is nearly impossible for officers to prove in the moment, creating an incentive to arrest rather
than utilize this effective tool.
Removing vague and unprovable requirements for citations on law enforcement officers will enable
them to issue citations for low-level crimes without fear of reprimand. Removing these requirements
will give law enforcement the confidence to issue citations, which will ultimately save taxpayers
money and allow law enforcement to better protect the public by focusing more time and attention on
more dangerous crimes.
What the Bill Does
SB587/HB715 removes the near impossible burden that law enforcement officers must ensure
defendants will appear for court in order to issue a citation in lieu of arrest. Additionally, the bill
removes the requirement that prior to trial, a defendant must appear before their court date for
booking and processing, an unnecessary and costly step.
In addition to the agenda above, the Coalition for Sensible Justice also endorses the following bills
SB0405-HB0873: Tennessee needs a clear mechanism for wrongfully convicted people to prove their innocence. The law should allow people to present new evidence of their innocence if it becomes available—whether it is new scientific evidence that discredits old forensic evidence used to convict or non-scientific evidence like a video emerging showing the actual culprit.
SB0797-HB0941: This bill reduces the high fees to expunge various crimes from a criminal record and rewards those who complete a diversion program. People who have paid their debt to society should not be kept from jobs and opportunities because of an inability to pay the fee for past expungable crimes.