Domestic violence prevention advocates are raising an alarm about Davidson County court commissioners issuing citations in lieu of arrests when a domestic violence victim pursues a private prosecution of an offender.
Private prosecution is when someone swears out a warrant against a person. It can be for a wide range of misdemeanor and felony offenses.
Under the previous law, after the person swore out the warrant, the defendant would be arrested and booked if the offense they were accused of warranted an arrest.
But after the arrest of former Tennessee Titan Keith Bulluck, lawmakers decided to change the law.
United Cab driver Habib Hashi accused Bulluck of taking $100 from his hand and grabbing his shirt last August outside Blue Gene’s bar on Church Street.
Bulluck was charged with felony robbery as a result of Hashi’s private prosecution.
Prosecutors dropped the charges within weeks, but Bulluck was booked, fingerprinted and his mug shot made national news.
Tennessee Representative William Lamberth said he has seen several other cases where someone was falsely accused through a private prosecution and then had to suffer the repercussions of an arrest.
After Bulluck’s case, he decided to change the private prosecution law.
The law now includes a citation that is issued to the person accused of a crime that summons them to appear in court to give their side of the story without an immediate arrest.
“Many times private prosecutions have been abused by individuals to take out revenge on other folks,” he said. “The reason we filed this legislation was to keep innocent people who did nothing wrong from being arrested for a crime they did not commit.”
In the case of domestic violence, when the defendant is issued a citation by a commissioner, they are not booked into jail nor given bond restrictions before being released.
Bond conditions can include a stay away order, 12-hour cooling off period and no contact orders.
“I think it puts the victim in more danger if there are no bond conditions and if that offender is not arrested,” said Kathy England Walsh, the Executive Director of the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.
She continued, “If someone is not telling that offender that they need to stay away from the victim and, in fact, in Tennessee, officers can make an arrest for a violation of a bond condition in a domestic abuse case.”
Walsh helped craft the updated private prosecution law to make sure cases involving domestic abuse would be the exception to the citation rule.
“If the magistrate believes the victim is in immediate danger for abuse they should be issuing the arrest warrant,” Walsh said. “We also added stalking and sexual assault into the exceptions this year, so I think magistrates in Davidson County just aren’t following the statue as it is written and that is putting victims in danger.”
News 2 reached out to Davidson County’s court administrator to get answers about how the citations are being handled in domestic violence cases, but he was unavailable.
Representative Lamberth told News 2 the law seems to be working fine in other counties.
“We don’t want anyone to be issued a citation when it’s a dangerous crime or violent crime,” he said.
Metro police are also monitoring the situation.
“There are many situations wherein the issuance of a summons instead of an arrest warrant may be appropriate,” Metro spokeswoman Kristin Mumford said. “However, in our experience, when the criminal charge involves domestic violence, those situations would be rare.”
She continued, “We will continue to monitor this process and relay any concerns we may have to the appropriate persons in the criminal justice system.”
It is unclear exactly how many private prosecutions of domestic violence have resulted in a citation in lieu of arrest, but Representative Lamberth said he has been in contact with Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson and the Davidson County District Attorney’s office.