'Get out of jail free' for serious charges faces criticism - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

'Get out of jail free' for serious charges faces criticism

(WSMV file photo) (WSMV file photo)
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

People charged with the types of serious crimes that prevent the sheriff’s office from releasing them without bond are still leaving the jail without having to pay a dime, a News 4 I-Team Investigation found.

Our investigation found even though the Davidson County Sheriff’s Pretrial Services Program are flagging those with the serious crimes and denying them to ability to leave without bond, some judges are reversing the decision and allowing them to walk out without paying sometimes 24 hours later.

Bail bondsmen interviewed by the I-Team likens the inconsistency to the “get out of jail free” card from Monopoly.

“Our justice system in Nashville is a joke,” said Mario Hambrick, who owns a bail bonds company.

Our investigation comes following a disclosure by the Nashville city attorney in a letter that the city is moving towards offering more “pretrial” for people charged with crimes.

Pretrial services allows people to leave jail without having to pay any money or post bond.

Pretrial has been offered for decades in Nashville for people charged with lesser offenses, including misdemeanors.

But bail bondsmen interviewed by the I-Team said in 2017, they have seen many others with serious crimes also be released on pretrial.

“This is crazy. We're in line to be the next Memphis,” Hambrick said.

In Nashville, the sheriff’s Pretrial Services Program works with night court commissioners who ultimately decide, once someone is arrested, if they should receive bond.

The Pretrial Services Program has a list of charges that prevent someone from being considered to be let out without paying, including aggravated assault, aggravated burglary and second offense DUI.

But the I-Team inspected hundreds of cases, and found people charged with those same prohibited offenses are still getting out on pretrial release.

The I-Team took five specific cases of people charged with crimes that the Pretrial Services Program denied pretrial to, who were then released on pretrial by a judge, sometimes 24 hours later.

“Does this show that the system is broken?” the I-Team asked.

“I don’t think so,” said Sheriff Daron Hall. “It doesn't necessarily prove that it's broken. I do agree that we need to be consistent.”

The I-Team repeatedly asked to interview Judge Michael Mondelli, who not only approved many of the pretrial releases that were first denied by the sheriff’s office but also oversees the night court commissioners, but court administrator Warner Hassell wrote in an email that Mondelli declined our request because discussing those cases could jeopardize other cases.

Hassell did write:

At the time of the Jail Review docket, the prosecution and the defense are both present and circumstances or more information in some instances are presented to the Judge that was not known at the time the Commissioner made bond determination.

However it’s happening, bail bondsmen said too many people charged with serious crimes are walking right out of jail without having to come up with any money to convince them to return to court.

“Are too many dangerous people being released too quickly?” the I-Team asked.

“That's just ironic that the bail bond industry would ask that question,” Hall said.

Hall said there is just one reason that the bail bond industry is concerned about this issue: money.

“You guys stand to lose financially through this,” the I-Team said.

“Yes,” Hambrick admitted.

“What do you say to critics that your only concern about this is that you're standing to lose money?” the I-Team asked.

“Basically, the bottom line is, we don't have a problem with pretrial. I do not have a problem with a person who gets arrested for a DUI, or driving on a suspended license, or petty theft, we don't have a problem, go ahead, release them,” Hambrick said.

Hambrick said it’s the fact that people are getting out with these serious charges that should make the judicial system re-evaluate.

“God help us. They must examine themselves, ‘cause they're going in the wrong direction,” Hambrick said.

Hall said that only four percent of those released on pretrial fail to return to court.

Copyright 2017 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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