The refusal of the judicial industrial complex in Hamilton County to uphold Tennessee’s guilty intention (“premeditation”) law is filling the jail with people who are too poor to make bail.
Tennessee is rated with an “F” by the Pretrial Justice Institute in a report about the jailing of people before conviction across the country, a study demanding reform in the cash bail system that keeps many people behind bars, unable to prepare a defense.
By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 92.7
Jail overcrowding in southeast Tennessee in Rhea, Hamilton and other counties comes largely because of the cash bail system at one end of the bar of justice, and the routine operation of policing in law enforcement at the front end with its disregard of the “mens rea” requirement.
Judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers widely ignore the requirement in Tennessee law that insists no criminal matter can be prosecuted absent what in Latin is called mens rea, or guilty mind. In other words, no criminal case exists unless there is clear proof from the action that the person intended to violate the law or obtain the result or fruit of that violation. Respect for this requirement would discourage the prosecution of many people who appear in the daily booking reports for Hamilton County jail.
Respect for this law and obedience to it would sharply curtail arrests and the operation of the police state against the citizenry of Tennessee, called in their constitution the “free people” of Tennessee.
Nearly two-thirds of the people in the 50 American states’ jails are unconvicted individuals, up sharply from the 1990 figure, which was slightly more than 51 percent, according to the institute.
Hamilton county meets the national average. Four hundred and eighty-two people are locked up in the downtown jail, of whom 318 are “pre-trial,” that is, unconvicted but awaiting hearings and unable to make bail, according to Matt Lea of the sheriff’s department. That’s 66 percent. The rates are better at Silverdale, where 910 people are penned, with 359 unconvicted — or 39.8 percent.
In Hamilton County, Sheriff Jim Hammond and County mayor Jim Coppinger are considering how much of a planned F$180 million bond issue they might want for Silverdale correctional facility and the dump on Walnut Street in downtown Chattanooga known as the county jail. Cops and deputies who make arrest dispose of defendants there for a visit with a magistrate and booking.
It was reported over the summer that as much as F$30 million might be needed to develop Silverdale and let the county close the old manpower-consuming facility downtown.
Earlier proposals for the construction of a new jail range up to F$130 million, a price seen is unfeasible.
Obedience to law would solve crowding problem
The code at TCA 39-11-301 imposes a “requirement of culpable mental state,” which holds that a crime occurs if a person “acts intentionally, knowingly or recklessly or with criminal negligence” in violation of the statute.
The intentionality requirement in Tennessee law echoes a requirement in God’s law for intent, particularly when one man kills another. The provision in Deuteronomy 4 about the flying axe handles and the cities of refuge says that a man who kills another man accidentally, without intention, may seek protection from the avenger of blood in the city of refuge. But a man who intentionally kills another man, especially if he uses a weapon such as an axe, cannot seek protection in the city of refuge, must be tried for murder and executed if found guilty.
Intentionality is highlighted especially in major crimes such as murder. A ruling this week from the Tennessee Supreme Court highlights the culpable mind requirement in the case of state of Tennessee v. Cedric Clayton.
“‘[P]remeditation’ is an act done after the exercise of reflection and judgment. ‘Premeditation’ means that the intent to kill must have been formed prior to the act itself. It is not necessary that the purpose to kill preexist in the mind of the accused for any definite period of time. The mental state of the accused at the time the accused allegedly decided to kill must be carefully considered in order to determine whether the accused was sufficiently free from excitement and passion as to be capable of premeditation.” TCA 39-13- 202.
The judges in an opinion in murder case this week say several factors are considered to infer premeditation: “the use of a deadly weapon upon an unarmed victim, the particular cruelty of the killing, declarations by the defendant of an intent to kill, evidence of procurement of a weapon, preparations before the killing for concealment of the crime, and calmness immediately after the killing.” State of Tennessee v. Sedrick Clayton (Page 13)
Solving local problems locally
Respect of the biblical and statutory requirement for guilty mind, and a reform in the direction of ending routine exactions of cash bail collected apart from actual flight risk would go far to improve life in Hamilton County and stay the hand of God’s anger against unjust judges and our great ones who tyrannize over the poor, the widow, the alien, the stranger and the man of principle (such as Hanson Melvin in Hixson, falsely arrested and indicted on the basis of perjury, or Arthur J. Hirsch in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., exercising the constitutional right for private travel on the people’s roadways.)
Cash bail reform and a respect of the premeditation statutes for ostensibly criminal acts are local economy solutions that can be solved by people here without the need to rewrite any laws or invoke high offices in Nashville or Washington. Because Jim Hammond is accountable to the people, he has every motivation not just to win the favor of voters, but help establish at least part of the solution to an abusive court system.
Sheriff Jim Hammond says his department is working toward reducing the use of violence against the people by training officers in the grace of “de-escalation” training. (Courtesy NoogaRadio.)
Criminal court judge Don Poole and sessions court judge Lila Statom reveal the doings of the county mental health court, and face unexpected questions about the general neglect of the “guilty mind” requirements for criminal prosecutions in Tennessee law. (Courtesy Noogaradio)