The latest skirmish in the atypical, bail-bond-related legal battle between five former Hamblen County inmates, who claim high bonds are effective detention orders that deprive defendants of their constitutional right to pretrial release, is the admissibility of a report that claims pretrial release benefits everyone.
The study, a 31-page prospective plaintiffs’ exhibit prepared by Pinnacle Justice Consulting, a Colorado-based advocacy organization, asserts that pretrial detention for more than 24 hours actually increases the likelihood that a defendant will not appear in court and increases the chances he or she will reoffend.
Michael R. Jones, Pinnacle founder and president, also claims that pretrial detention for more than a day has adverse consequences for the defendant, both in terms of possible job and housing losses, and for the community, which bears the costs of incarceration.
Hilary Magacs, an attorney representing Hamblen County, characterizes Jones’ report as “an interesting read,” but asserts first that the report is irrelevant. If a federal judge concludes it is evident, Magacs argues, jurors should not see it because its “probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of unfair prejudice,” including confusing the issues and misleading the jury.
“(T)he fact that alternatives exist does not make it more or less probable that (Hamblen County’s) bail-setting policies and procedures are unconstitutional, which is what is truly at issue in this case.” Magacs writes in a motion to preclude introduction of Jones’ report.
Magacs maintains that plaintiffs’ attorneys stipulated that they are not attacking the constitutionality of Tennessee’s bail-setting statutes, while at the same time appear to be engaged in an “all-out attack against the structure set out by the Tennessee legislature as to bail issues …”
“(G)iven that (Hamblen County defendants) aver that they follow state law when setting bail, unless the plaintiffs can show that defendants are intentionally setting bail at unreasonable amounts in order to keep people in jail solely because they are too poor to post bond, then plaintiffs’ claims must fail.”
What appears noteworthy about the 31-page report is that Hamblen County is scarcely mentioned, and nowhere mentioned where another government entity could not be substituted without losing any meaning. All of Jones’ conclusions are based on studies conducted in Colorado, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina and other states.
Jones reported he was retained as an expert witness in 11 other cases. He’s represents he’s paid $300 and hour for “substantive work” and $150 and hour for travel.
Other examples of influence from outside East Tennessee are evident. The civil litigation was brought on behalf of five former inmates by two Washington D.C.-based advocacy organizations, the Civil Rights Corps and the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.
The five plaintiffs in the case are no longer incarcerated. The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization, which is also based in the nation’s capital, came up with the money to make the women’s bonds, which totaled $114,500, according to court records. The plaintiffs are asking for reform of Hamblen County’s bond-setting practices, not monetary damages.
Since the lawsuit was filed, as part of an inmate-reduction plan ordered by the Tennessee Supreme Court, bonds have been set lower and the inmate population has dropped dramatically. Tuesday morning, the Hamblen County Jail held 236 inmates, 19 below its licensed capacity of 255.