Pretrial and Bond Conditions in Tennessee

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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Have you or someone you know been charged with a crime in Tennessee? It’s important to know about the rules you have to follow before your court proceedings begin. This is known as pretrial release. It means you can stay out of jail while you wait for your trial, but you must follow certain rules known as bond conditions. These rules are very important and you must adhere to them carefully.

The concept of pretrial release is rooted in the legal principle that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The laws in Tennessee help make sure that people who are waiting for their trial can still live their lives, go to work, and be with their families, but also ensure public safety. The bond conditions you might have to follow can include where you can go, who you can talk to, and drug testing, among others.

In this blog, we’re going to talk about what these pretrial and bond rules are, why they’re important, and how to make sure you follow them correctly. As we delve deeper into these topics, we aim to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of what to expect and how to effectively manage these requirements.

Types of Pretrial Release in Tennessee

In Tennessee, when someone is charged with a crime, there are three main types of pretrial release options they might encounter. Each type has its own rules and potential consequences if those rules aren’t followed:

Release on Own Recognizance (ROR)

ROR allows you to be released without posting bail, relying on your promise to appear in court. This option is typically available for lower-level offenses and to individuals with strong ties to the community and a clean criminal history. The main benefit of ROR is that it doesn’t require any financial outlay as bail. Failing to meet the court’s requirements under ROR can lead to immediate re-arrest and potential new charges. Pre-trial release has been increasingly popular by the courts to avoid an individual’s inability to pay bond as being a condition of remaining in custody. Pre-trial release usually requires that the individual meet with pre-trial within 72 hours of their arrest, then periodically call or meet in person depending on the conditions in their case. It may also have other requirements that will be discussed below. 

Secured Bond

This type of bond involves providing collateral, like cash, property, or a surety bond, as a guarantee of your court appearance. The judge determines the amount of the bond, taking into account factors such as the severity of your alleged offense, your previous criminal record, and the likelihood of you fleeing. Secured bonds are often necessary for more serious charges, offering a way to be released from custody. The downside is the significant financial risk, especially if the bail amount set is high, and the possibility of losing your collateral if you violate the bond conditions. However, if a bond is set high a criminal lawyer can file a motion for a bond reduction.

Unsecured Bond

Also known as a signature bond, this involves agreeing to pay a specified sum if you fail to appear in court or breach the release terms. It doesn’t require any payment upfront or collateral. Eligibility for an unsecured bond is generally based on the nature of your offense, your past criminal behavior, and how likely you are to follow court orders. It’s usually an option in cases considered lower risk. The primary advantage is that it doesn’t impose an immediate financial burden. However, failing to meet court requirements can have serious legal and financial repercussions, potentially requiring you to pay the full agreed-upon bond amount.

Common Bond Conditions in Tennessee

Bond conditions are specific requirements set by the court, designed to ensure compliance with the legal process and maintain public safety while a case is pending. These conditions can vary greatly depending on the nature of the charges and the individual’s circumstances. In this section, we delve into the most common bond conditions imposed in Tennessee, covering everything from no-contact orders to employment requirements. 

No Contact with Victim or Witnesses

A no-contact order is a common condition in cases involving personal disputes or violence. This order prohibits you from communicating directly or indirectly with the alleged victim or any witnesses. The scope typically includes all forms of contact, such as phone calls, text messages, emails, and third-party communications. Exceptions might be made under certain circumstances, like familial obligations, but only by court order. Violating a no-contact order can lead to serious consequences, including arrest, revocation of bail, and additional charges. No contacts are used in every domestic assault case and assault case as a condition of bond.

Ignition Interlock or SCRAM Devices

Starting July 1, 2023, individuals charged with DUI are required by statute to have an ignition interlock or SCRAM device as a condition of bond under 4 potential scenarios:

  1. Any prior DUI, reckless driving or reckless endangerment conviction regardless of age, meaning a 40 year old conviction is still enough to require an ignition interlock;
  2. A minor was present in the vehicle;
  3. The offense resulted in a collision involving property damage; and
  4. The defendant’s driver license has previously been suspended for a violation of the implied consent law.

This is a new law that went into effect that has caused a great deal of litigation among defense attorneys. Unfortunately, there are few defenses to avoid the ignition interlock. The court would have to determine that the requirement would not be in the best interest of justice and public safety so there is an argument in a non-alcohol DUI case or an old reckless driving conviction that it is not in the best interest of justice. However, many times it also helps with negotiations to show no violations on the ignition interlock. Another alternative is a SCRAM ankle monitor rather than an ignition interlock on the vehicle. A SCRAM requires no drinking whatsoever. 

Travel Restrictions

Travel restrictions are sometimes imposed to ensure you remain within the jurisdiction and available for court proceedings. These restrictions usually include prohibitions on leaving the state without permission. In some cases, you may also be subject to a curfew or required to report your movements to authorities. Failure to adhere to these travel restrictions can result in the revocation of your pretrial release and potential rearrest.

Surrender of Passport or Driver’s License

In situations where there is a perceived risk of flight, you may be required to surrender your passport or driver’s license. This condition is designed to limit your ability to leave the jurisdiction. The procedures for surrendering and later retrieving these documents are typically outlined by the court. Non-compliance with this condition can lead to the revocation of your release and possible additional legal penalties.

Drug Testing

If your case involves substance-related offenses or conditions, the court may require regular drug testing. The frequency of testing can vary but is often determined based on the nature of the offense and your personal history. Positive test results can have severe implications, including the possibility of bond revocation or additional legal actions, depending on the terms of your release.

Mental Health Treatment

In certain cases, especially those involving mental health concerns, you might be required to undergo mental health treatment. This could include counseling, therapy, or other forms of treatment. Compliance is often closely monitored, and failure to adhere to this condition can lead to revocation of your release. The treatment types and monitoring methods are generally specified by the court or a designated authority.

Employment or Education Requirements

Maintaining employment or being enrolled in educational programs can be stipulated as part of your release conditions. This requirement underscores the court’s interest in promoting responsible behavior and stability. You might be required to provide regular proof of employment or enrollment, and non-compliance can lead to negative implications for your pretrial release status.

Community Service

Community service hours can be mandated as part of your bond conditions, particularly in cases where the court deems it beneficial for community reintegration or restitution. The number of hours and types of programs that are approved vary. You are usually required to report your hours and may need to provide verification from the program in which you are participating.

Factors Considered When Setting Bond Conditions

In Tennessee, setting bond conditions is a detailed process that involves evaluating several key factors to ensure both fairness and public safety. Understanding these factors can help in anticipating the potential conditions of your pretrial release.

Nature of the Offense

The severity of the crime you are charged with is a primary consideration in determining bond conditions. More serious offenses, such as violent crimes or those that pose a high flight risk, typically result in stricter bond conditions. Additionally, the judge will assess whether the offense poses an immediate threat to public safety. For high-risk crimes, the bond conditions are likely to be more restrictive to mitigate any potential danger to the community.

Criminal History

Your past interactions with the legal system play a significant role in the determination of your bond conditions. If you have a history of prior convictions, especially for similar offenses, this can lead to stricter conditions being imposed. Another critical factor is your record of appearing in court. A history of failing to appear for court dates may lead the judge to impose tougher bond conditions or even deny bail altogether.

Financial Resources

The court also takes into account your financial resources when setting bond conditions. The aim is to set a bail amount that is sufficient to ensure your appearance in court, but not so high as to be punitive or cause undue hardship. It’s a balancing act to ensure the bail amount is fair and does not violate the principle of fairness. If the bail set is excessively high, it can be contested for being unreasonable or discriminatory.

Community Ties

Your connections within the community are also a factor in determining bond conditions. Having stable family relationships, consistent employment, and a permanent residence in the area are seen as indications of a lower flight risk. These ties suggest a higher likelihood of you complying with court requirements, which can lead to more lenient bond conditions.

In summary, the court’s goal in setting bond conditions is to balance the rights of the individual against the safety and concerns of the community. By carefully considering the nature of the offense, your criminal history, financial resources, and community ties, the court aims to impose conditions that are both fair and tailored to the specifics of each case.

How a Criminal Defense Attorney Assists with Pretrial and Bond Conditions

As we’ve stated, facing criminal charges in Tennessee brings the immediate challenge of understanding and adhering to pretrial and bond conditions. In this phase, the expertise of a criminal defense attorney is invaluable, offering tailored support and guidance to meet these specific legal requirements.

Clarity in Understanding Pretrial and Bond Conditions

A Tennessee criminal defense attorney plays a vital role in helping you understand the pretrial and bond conditions set by the court. With their deep knowledge of Tennessee’s legal system, they can interpret these conditions in a way that’s clear and easy to understand. They ensure that you know exactly what is required of you during the pretrial phase, helping to avoid any unintentional violations that could complicate your case.

Guidance on Managing Pretrial Conditions

It’s important to consistently fulfill one’s pretrial conditions, especially in cases involving DUI or other serious charges. Your attorney provides personalized advice on how to live within the boundaries set by these conditions. This includes guidance on complying with travel restrictions, no-contact orders, drug testing requirements, and any other stipulations imposed by the court.

Filing Motions To Amend Bond Conditions

A criminal defense lawyer can file motions to amend your bond conditions to show the court that the conditions are not necessary to protect the public and ensure your appearance in court. Bond conditions are not meant to be akin to probation or conditions of guilt. Far too often conditions end up being a punishment but you are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. Consequently, our lawyers often times file motions to amend bond conditions.

Negotiating Favorable Conditions

An experienced criminal defense attorney also plays a critical role in negotiating pretrial and bond conditions. Before filing a motion to amend bond conditions your lawyer should see if the prosecutor would agree to an amendment of the conditions. Criminal lawyers work to ensure that the conditions are fair and do not impose unnecessary hardship on you. This might involve advocating for lower bail amounts, arguing against overly restrictive travel limitations, or seeking adjustments based on your personal and professional circumstances.

Advocacy for Fair Treatment

Your defense attorney plays a critical role in ensuring you receive fair treatment throughout the pretrial process. They assess the factors influencing the court’s decisions–including the nature of the alleged offense, your past criminal record, financial capabilities, and community connections–to argue for conditions that are both fair and fitting to your specific case.

Get Legal Guidance for Pretrial and Bond Conditions

In this blog, we’ve explored various aspects of pretrial and bond conditions, a must-know for anyone facing criminal charges in Tennessee. With this knowledge at your disposal, the next step is finding the right legal support.

Barnes & Fersten is here to provide that support. Our Knoxville criminal defense attorneys are dedicated to guiding you through the Tennessee legal system. We provide strategic advice tailored to your unique situation and offer personalized guidance every step of the way. Contact us today for a free consultation and begin your journey towards a secure legal future.

Attorney At Law, Managing Partner

Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUIcriminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.