Innocent Until Proven Guilty - And Response (3)

  • Friday, May 24, 2024

Time is running out for Hamilton County judges to comply with state laws about due process during pretrial. Local courts are currently violating the statutory and constitutional rights of dozens of people per day.

According to a study of Hamilton County jail data from six months in 2022-2023, an average of 43 people were arrested each day in Hamilton County, many for misdemeanor offenses. Pretrial detainees are considered legally innocent awaiting their court date, but if they can’t afford to pay bail for their pretrial freedom, they are locked up to wait for their day in court. About 80 percent of the population at Hamilton County Jail falls into this category: pretrial defendants awaiting trial. Innocent until proven guilty, right?

Data shows that in Hamilton County, it has taken up to 14 days (or more) before an attorney is appointed to represent a defendant. In that time, these defendants are missing work and family life, and the bills are piling up at home. Many people settle for plea deals just so they can go home. Of those who remain in jail pretrial, more than a third of defendants are likely to have their charges dismissed in the end.

Last September, Civil Rights Corp won a class-action lawsuit, Torres v. Collins, against Hamblen County officials in East Tennessee. The court determined Hamblen County was engaging in unjust and illegal pretrial practices—some of the same practices that Hamilton County is now being called upon to correct.

In the Hamblen County decision, the court came to very clear conclusions about what rights are due under the law in the state of Tennessee: the right to representation by a lawyer, the right to request a bail hearing, and the right to an evidentiary hearing where the burden of proof is on the state.

A person cannot be detained for more than 48 hours without access to their due process rights. Hamilton County officials are aware of this legal liability and the need to comply with the law. It’s time to stop ignoring the problems. We need to reduce pretrial incarceration by using citations rather than arrests, offering timely legal counsel to detainees, and drastically reducing the use of money bail. I call upon our county commissioners, county judges, and local attorneys to work together to ensure we are all “innocent until proven guilty.”

Allie Stafford

* * *

In her letter to the editor, Allie Stafford bemoans the existence of cash bail and argues that we should be releasing more accused criminals on their own recognizance pending trial. I wonder how the families of Evan Derry and Randy Williams feel about that. Terrance Lewis was just convicted of murdering both, and he murdered Randy Williams while out on bail pending trial for the murder of Evan Derry. Lewis has also been charged with murdering Pierre Casseus, again while out on bail awaiting trial. It appears that two murders could have been prevented if Lewis had been held in jail before trial rather than being released on bail.

There may be innocent people in jail awaiting trial, and some of those who are guilty may not be much of a threat to the community or a significant flight risk. Judges are supposed to take those factors into account when deciding whether to deny or grant bail or to release an accused on his own recognizance. Judges and all the rest of us, and especially those who agree with Allie Stafford, should remember that the consequences of releasing the wrong people can be tragic and irreversible. We should err on the side of community safety.

Andy Walker

* * *

I agree with Andy Walker's response to Allie Stanford's letter. The vast majority of people arrested need arrested. If not for the crime stated at the time, there is probably others they have gotten away with or will commit in the future.

I support due process of the law, but I feel the judges and magistrates should be more discerning on who is granted bail. If we should change it, it should more strict, not less. A lot of these people are a danger to the general public. There is no perfect system, there will always be mistakes made, we are human. But as I said earlier the vast majority of people arrested need arrested.

The criminals are already not worried about being arrested due to the lack of repercussions they face if they are. We need to change that ASAP and err on the side of public safety.

Forced labor "within reason" to offset the cost of your incarceration is not "cruel and unusual" punishment. People on the outside do it all the time just to survive.

Sam Lewallen

* * * 

Andy Walker and Sam Lewallen, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand Allie Swafford isn't referring to people arrested for violent crimes. Allie Swafford is surely speaking on behalf of those arrested for non-violent issues/not really crimes, such as an alleged traffic violation, minor drug offenses and other minor issues.  

A young man, white, with no criminal history was arrested for falling behind on child-support payments. When in transport and handcuffed, another inmate, also handcuffed, rose from his side of the van and brutally punched the young man in the face. I mentioned his race because these types of arrests don't only impact a specific segment of people or communities, you two likely envision they do or want them to. These are the type of arrests that aren't necessary. Why the young white male was behind on child-support payments, or could no longer meet the court amount he was ordered to pay, a loss of job, I don't know and I don't care. The fact remains, he shouldn't have been arrested in the first place and placed in such a vulnerable spot. 

These type and other similar arrests often create crimes, as people become desperate and will do anything, even actually committing a serious crime, like the young man once so feared going back to jail for child-support, went and commit a robbery or held up a bank or something in an attempt to catch up on payments. These types of crimes also create the perfect storm for domestic violence. It's an endless cycle that impacts everyone. 

Some of your same-minded boys came out swinging recently in defense of someone they personally knew who was arrested for an actual alleged violent act against their son where a bat was allegedly used as a weapon. I'm not bashing them, nor the accused. I'm just saying, you can't have it both ways. If you want tougher laws, harsher treatment, you can't have it for only "those people over there," and not the ones you like or know personally, or think you know personally. 

Brenda Washington

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