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New law changes way summonses are served

Jared Felkins jfelkins@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:57 PM

A recent change in state law has prompted Wilson County judicial commissioners and deputies to begin issuing court summonses instead of warrants on some suspects that would have been arrested prior to the change. 

The law went into effect July 1 and replaces arrests, court orders and 12-hour “cooling-off” periods for some offenders. Instead, deputies issue summonses – requests for suspects to check in with the criminal justice system to begin the court process. 

According to Sheriff Robert Bryan, the law change means more work for deputies. 

“When a criminal summons is issued, we still have to locate the defendants and serve the summons on them notifying them of the court date,” Bryan said. “It impacts our office because we don’t actually arrest them. We just notify them of the court date.  

“They do not have to post bond, which we will see an increase of people not showing up for court dates, which causes failures to appear warrants to be issued, causing my office to have to go locate them again to be arrested. It does increase the workload of my warrant officers in relocating them.”

The new law stemmed from the Aug. 25, 2013 arrest of former Tennessee Titan Keith Bulluck. That morning, a cab driver accused the former linebacker of grabbing him and ripping a $100 bill out of his hands in an argument. Prosecutors quickly dropped the case.

But it inspired state Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, to write a bill to avoid bogus “revenge” cases involving neighbor disputes or cases like Bulluck’s that lead to felony arrests. While such charges are typically dropped quickly, suspects still are booked on the felony warrant, could face jail time if they can’t make bond and may have to hire a lawyer.

“One neighbor doesn’t get to run down to the judicial commissioner’s office, tell a story and then just get the other one arrested to just mess with them,” Lamberth said at one hearing earlier this year.

The new law said victims can no longer get felony arrest warrants unless a police officer signs off, and that in misdemeanor cases, judicial commissioners should favor a summons over a warrant.

“This will still allow for some exceptions, when you’re dealing with domestic violence victims, when you’re dealing with sexual assault victims or stalking — that still is wide open,” Lamberth said at the time.

Kathy Walsh, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, said she worked with Lamberth on his legislation precisely to avoid this situation from happening.

“I find that surprising that people are reading it that way. I don’t really understand that. I don’t think that was the intent of the legislation at all,” she said. “There are a lot of things that are triggered with an arrest. A citation situation, that’s not protecting the victim.”

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