TN bill would require judges to prioritize public safety when setting bonds

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee lawmakers are considering a bill that could make it more difficult for repeat offenders to walk free by requiring magistrate judges to prioritize public safety when determining bond and bond conditions.

House Bill 1642, sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland), would not do away with the other bond factors judges must consider when determining bond, including the likelihood of the suspect showing up to court, but the community’s safety would be prioritized.

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“We’re just saying the safety of the community would be the first thing they look at. Then they would still look at all of those mitigating enhancing factors below that for purposes of setting bond and bond conditions,” Lamberth said.

The bill has already gained bipartisan support and passed through multiple committees.

“I think there needs to be a fair evaluation. ‘Is this person a danger to the community; to themselves,’ and then we get into, ‘Will they show back up for the proceedings,'” Rep. G. A. Hardaway (D-Memphis) said.

News 2 has covered countless stories of offenders accused of committing the same or similar crimes weeks or months after they are released from jail on bond.

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Most recently, News 2 talked to Antioch resident and delivery driver, Terry Franklin, whose car was stolen last month by two suspects, 18-year-old Omar Diouf and 19-year-old Thierry Bwenge, according to police.

Bwenge was out on bond on similar charges from Dec. 2023 when he was accused of stealing Franklin’s car. Diouf was also charged with felony theft in April 2023, but the case was dismissed, according to court records.

“These individuals, they do this. This is a thing they do. I don’t want to use the word cartel, but it is a crime syndicate,” Franklin said. “They’re able to pool their money and bond each other out.”

Franklin voiced his concerns in an email to Metro officials, including Police Chief John Drake, asking why repeat offenders are “granted such attainable bonds.”

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“If criminals can afford a $5,000 key programmer, then they can afford a $5,000 dollar bond,” he wrote in the email. “Both of these citizens are now free while I’m left to sort out the mess they’ve made and more than likely are continuing to make for others while free on bond.”

Franklin pushed officials to take more “proactive measures to aid in citizen safety,” according to the email.

Drake responded to the email, writing he shared Franklin’s frustration.

“I agree with you, and share your frustration, concerning individuals who victimize residents of our community, are arrested by Nashville police officers, and then are caught committing the same or similar crimes in the succeeding weeks or months,” Chief Drake wrote.

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Drake wrote that Metro police are working diligently to identify the people who are causing the community the most harm and bring them into custody. He encouraged Franklin to let his state lawmakers know he supports HB 1642, which would require magistrate judges to prioritize public safety when determining bonds and bond conditions, along with other similar legislation.

“I am grateful for residents like yourself who are speaking out for public safety,” Chief Drake wrote in the email.

HB 1642 was placed on the regular calendar to be voted on by lawmakers Thursday, Feb. 8.

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