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Constitutional amendment gives  judges more discretion for bail

A proposed amendment to the Tennessee Constitution that would increase public  safety by allowing bail to be denied for more violent crimes advanced out of the  House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee this week.  

House Joint Resolution 869, filed by House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, would expand a judge’s ability to deny bail for certain violent crimes,  including terrorism, second-degree murder, aggravated rape, and grave torture. Current law limits judges’  ability  to deny bail to first-degree murder charges.

“Expanding the option for a judge to deny bail for violent offenders helps ensure the safety of all Tennesseans,” said State Rep. Kip Capley, R-Summertown, who is guiding passage of the legislation. “By keeping individuals  charged with violent crimes in custody, there is a reduced risk of them posing a  threat to all Tennesseans.”

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The proposed amendment would also increase judicial transparency by requiring a  judge or magistrate to explain their reasons for allowing or denying bail for a  defendant.

The Tennessee General Assembly in 2022 passed truth in sentencing reform,  which  requires offenders convicted in eight categories of violent crimes to serve 100  percent of their court-imposed sentences before their release. That same year, murders declined 14.6  percent statewide while rapes declined 10.6 percent and kidnappings fell nearly 12  percent when compared to 2021, according to the TBI.

 Any proposed amendment to the  Tennessee Constitution must first be approved by two separate General  Assemblies before it can be placed  on the ballot for voters to decide.

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