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There's No Constitutional Right to Speedy Bail

By Robyn Hagan Cain on December 12, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In Tennessee, domestic violence suspects can be held for 12 hours without bail if the suspect is considered a continuing threat to the victim's safety.

Henry County takes that policy one step further. It automatically detains domestic-assault defendants for 12 hours.

While Henry County's method of applying the Tennessee bail statute was based on a misinterpretation of the law, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that the County's mistake didn't violate a defendant's the Eighth Amendment right to bail because there is no right to speedy bail.

The Henry County Sheriff's office issued a warrant for Gary Fields' arrest after his wife alleged that Fields hit and choked her. When police arrived to investigate, they found Mrs. Fields with a bloody lip, abrasions, and bruises. Fields learned about the warrant and turned himself in.

Fields requested that he be allowed to post bail; his request was denied. The Sixth Circuit explains:

Fields told the Sheriff that he had researched the issue and was allowed to post bail instead of being jailed. Fields was incorrect: There is no right under Tennessee law to immediate release or to post bail immediately after arrest. The Sheriff responded that Fields had to be detained for 12 hours because he was charged with domestic assault. He was also mistaken.

Under Tennessee law, domestic violence defendants must be held for a 12-hour period, but only if the official authorized to release the arrestee "finds that the offender is a threat to the alleged victim." The official may still release the offender earlier if he "determines that sufficient time has or will have elapsed for the victim to be protected." Neither finding was made for Fields.

Clearly, Fields didn't have any trouble proving that Henry County had an official policy, custom, or practice of holding domestic violence defendants for 12 hours, but the Sixth Circuit held that the policy didn't violate Fields' rights.

Fields claimed that the 12-hour holding period was a "denial of bail," but the Sixth Circuit observed that the Eighth Amendment's protections address the amount of bail, not the timing.

As there is no constitutional right to speedy bail, the appellate court concluded that Fields failed to demonstrate an Eighth Amendment violation.

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