The American Civil Liberties Union and the Nashville Community Bail Fund are challenging bail practices in Davidson County.
They filed a lawsuit Wednesday accusing local courts of forcing people posting cash bail to agree that their money can be used to pay court debts in the future.
The groups say the policy is unconstitutional. ACLU attorney Andrea Woods says the court clerk has been refusing to accept bail if someone doesn’t agree to the garnishment policy. That forces people into accepting plea deals.
“Being stuck in jail is the single greatest driver of conviction,” she says. “There are studies out of New York, Kentucky, other places that show nothing forces people to plead guilty like being trapped in a cage.”
The goal of the suit is to halt Nashville’s current bail rule. They hope that will pave the way to change unjust bail practices across the country.
The suit names Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry as the defendant. He’s in charge of enforcing the disputed rule.
In a response, Gentry told The Associated Press: “This office’s record speaks for itself. We are about fair and equitable justice in this office and to now be included in this lawsuit that has us appearing to not function in that matter is bothersome to me.
“I understand maybe we have to be included in order to accomplish the larger problem that they see here,” he said.
Gentry added that his office did not create the rule, noting it was in effect before he took over as clerk in 2011.
“It’s our job to follow those ordinances, that’s what we do, we do not write the rules,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.