Nashville Community Bail Fund Wins Federal Suit

Bass, Berry & Sims attorney Angie Bergman serves as counsel for the Nashville Community Bail Fund (NCBF), a revolving loan fund that frees people awaiting trial on who cannot afford their bail. A local criminal court rule required that any person paying cash bail agree to pay court costs and fees when a case ends, even when the defendant shows up for court and fulfills the conditions of bail. This rule threatened to bankrupt the NCBF and force all participants to remain incarcerated solely because they did not have the money to pay their bail.

With Angie’s help and with the support of several civil rights organizations, the NCBF filed a challenge in federal court to strike down this local rule as unconstitutional, in direct violation of the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Bail Clause. In March 2020, the court issued an injunction which allowed the NCBF to remain open. That preliminary injunction was reported in The Tennessean article, “Nashville Community Bail Fund Suit Wins Preliminary Injunction Aimed at Keeping People Out of Jail” (March 19, 2020).

After surviving a motion to dismiss and following a failed mediation with the opposing side, Angie and team filed a motion for summary judgment. After receipt of this motion, the parties entered into a settlement and consent decree, which prohibits enforcement of the rule and concedes it violated the Eighth Amendment.

The consent decree allows the NCBF to continue operating; it may not have survived without this win. It also sets a precedent that can be used in similar challenges throughout the country. This is a huge win for civil rights and criminal justice reform.

“Today, there is one less way that the courts can leverage fees and fines in exchange for freedom. While there is a long way to go in securing true pretrial justice for those without financial means, this victory is an important step forward for Nashville. We are grateful to partner with the NCBF in this work, an organization that is steadfast in disrupting unjust systems, supporting individuals harmed by wealth-based detention, and advocating for lasting change,” said Angie following the decision. To read more about Angie’s work with NCBF, click here.

A summary of the case was outlined in The Tennessean article, “Nashville Bail Fund Wins Federal Suit Aimed at Helping Poor People Get Out of Jail” (December 10, 2020).

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