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Criminal Defense / 4.24.2018

Understanding Tennessee Bail Bond laws

Why an Alleged Mass Shooter Was Given a Bond

In the wake of the tragic mass shooting at the Waffle House in Antioch early Sunday morning, the 34-hour manhunt that followed and the arrest of the alleged shooter, Travis Reinking, many questions have arisen surrounding the bond process.

Upon his arrest, he was charged with 4 counts of criminal homicide and was given a bond of $500,000 on each charge. That he was even given a bond sparked controversy and left many asking how that could happen given the heinous nature of his alleged acts.

Constitutional Entitlement to Bond

It is important to note that as of the morning of April 24, 2018 Travis Reinking’s bond has been revoked by the General Sessions judge presiding over his case. But the issue of why he was granted a bond at all remains a frequently asked question, so we felt like a discussion of the process here would be appropriate to attempt to explain the reasons why.

Under Tennessee law, every criminal suspect, except those facing a death penalty case, is constitutionally entitled to a bond. There are some exceptions to this, such as a violation of probation, or when the person is a fugitive from the law. In that case, a judge may issue no bond or an open court bond, which would hold the person without bond. However, in the case concerning violation of probation, it is important to remember that the person has already been found guilty of a crime; that is the reason they are on probation to begin with. Because their guilt is not at issue, Tennessee law allows for the Court to deny them a bond, at least initially. As overwhelming as the evidence against Reinking might appear, he is still presumed innocent until proven guilty under the law. 

Magistrates and Bond Determinations

For many jurisdictions, Nashville/Davidson County included, when a person is arrested by police, they are taken in front of a magistrate or commissioner who’s job it is, amongst other things, to make determinations regarding the person’s bond amount. It is important to note that magistrates or commissioners are not judges, they are not elected officials, nor are they making any determination as to the guilt or innocence of a person arrested who is before them. They are often making these determinations based on preliminary information, which can obviously be a difficult task. 

Factors Considered in Setting Bond Amount

In determining the amount of the bond, Tennessee law requires the magistrate to consider several factors, including;

  1. 1. Defendant’s length of residence in the community,
  2. 2. Defendant’s employment status, history and financial condition,
  3. 3. Defendant’s family ties and relationships,
  4. 4. Defendant’s reputation, character and mental condition,
  5. 5. Defendant’s prior criminal record, record of appearance at court proceedings, record of flight to avoid prosecution or failure to appear at court proceedings,
  6. 6. Nature of the offense, the apparent probability of conviction and the likely sentence,
  7. 7. Defendant’s prior criminal record and the likelihood that because of that record the defendant will pose a risk of danger to the community,
  8. 8. Identity of responsible members of the community who will vouch for the defendant’s reliability, however, no member of the community may vouch for more than two (2) defendants at any time while charges are still pending or a forfeiture is outstanding.and
  9. 9. Possible other factors indicating the defendant’s ties to the community or bearing on the risk of the defendant’s willful failure to appear.

Once the magistrate or commissioner has set the bond amount, they lose their jurisdiction and the case (including the bond amount) is now under the jurisdiction of the General Sessions Judge presiding over the case. It is not uncommon for a Judge to hear arguments to increase or reduce a bond amount, as more information can be obtained by the State and Defense counsel. As in this case, the General Sessions Judge made the decision to revoke Reinking’s bond completely. Until there are further developments in his case, he will remain in custody without bond.

Charging and Bond Process

Another common question is why the State has only, as of the time of this writing, charged Reinking with 4 counts of Criminal Homicide. While we can speculate which crimes he may, or may not be eventually charged with, the charge of Criminal Homicide is essentially a placeholder until the authorities have conducted enough of the investigation to charge the person appropriately. It allows the State to hold him, to set his bond and it also retains the option to increase, amend, or add charges in the future. Furthermore, because there have been early allegations of mental illness, it is possible the State may not officially seek the death penalty until Reinking can be evaluated and found competent to stand trial.

As to whether Reinking could have actually been released on bond – it was theoretically possible, but practically very unlikely. In Davidson County, any bond of $75,000 or more requires a bond source hearing to allow Courts to determine the actual source and legitimacy of the funds used to make bond.

Bail Bondsman and Other Release Options

In Tennessee, the services of a bail bondsman cost the person making the bond 10% of the total bond amount as a fee for the bonding company to put up the rest of the bond as a surety. In the event Reinking was able to raise the 10% ($200,000) required to make his bond through a bondsman, and assuming a bondsman would agree to accept the $2,000,000 risk, prosecutors would certainly be able to oppose this action in several ways. They could seek to increase his bond, upgrade his charges, add additional charges, etc., The other remote possibilities would be for a defendant’s family to post a cash bond (the full $2,000,000) or a property bond, meaning they would have to own real estate situated in Tennessee that is worth one and one-half (1½) times the amount of bail set, and execute a deed of trust to the clerk for that property. These are extremely uncommon, and all scenarios would make it practically impossible for Reinking to ever be released on bond.

Potential Charges and Prosecutorial Strategy

Further, as with any criminal case, but especially a high profile, national, or globally covered news event such as this, it is important to remember that prosecuting agencies should, and will anticipate a lawyer representing the accused (in this case, Reinking) to pour over the case details with a fine tooth comb looking for any constitutional violations by the prosecutors or courts that could have in any way affected the person’s due process, or other constitutional rights we all enjoy as citizens. Such a violation, if found, could cause major issues down the road affecting the successful prosecution of Reinking’s case. A prosecutor is a lawyer and a lawyer’s job is to anticipate issues with their case before they materialize. Sometimes this can look awkward to the public, or like justice isn’t being served because a bond was given, or some seemingly insignificant technicality is being litigated in court.

Conclusion on Bond Granting

A magistrate in this case granting a two million dollar bond to Reinking achieves satisfaction of both sides of the bond issue; it satisfies Tennessee law by granting a bond, but it also insures that a suspected mass shooter won’t simply be able to post bond without jumping through certain legal hoops. Reinking would have been required to have several hearings in front of a judge before he would have ever been granted a release on bond…even if he was able to write a two million dollar check the day he was arrested.

If you or a loved one have been arrested in the middle Tennessee area, contact the offices of Herbert & Lux today to discuss your option with a criminal defense attorney, and to help you navigate these complex legal issues.

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