Sweeping changes to Tennessee DUI laws went into effect January 1st which are sure to keep Nashville DUI lawyers busy. One of the new laws may have DUI lawyers down at the courthouse within hours of an arrest fighting for their clients release on bail. A change to one of the bail statutes directs courts not to release defendants charged with DUI who have certain prior convictions “unless the court first determines he or she is not a danger to the community.” A Sumner County DUI prosecutor was quoted as saying “If you’ve got multiple offenses for DUI or you’re out on bond for DUI, you no longer have a right to bond,” in a recent Tennessean article.
The statute gives no further guidance as to what criteria determine being a “danger to the community.” How will Judges make this determination? Will some misdemeanor DUI defendants really be held in custody until trial, which in some jurisdictions can easily take longer than a year?
Tennessee law has long allowed that public safety be considered in setting both the amount of bail and certain conditions to release. Here’s a link to the prior statute. But, this represents a significant change which Tennessee criminal defense lawyers are likely to argue violates the state constitution and other prior legal precedents. The Tennessee Constitution, the highest law in the state, has guaranteed any person accused of a crime, other than a capital offense, the right to be released on bail prior to trial for over 130 years.
It is not at all clear how magistrates and judges at the various levels will interpret this statute. Tennessee law provides many avenues of appeal for release orders, and I predict this new statute will quickly become the center of many arguments at courthouses across the state. See Rule 8, Tennessee Rules of Appelate Procedure.