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    District Attorney Finney calls for changes in county court system

    By Clarice Scheele,


    JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — On Wednesday, First Judicial District Attorney General Steve Finney sent a letter to law enforcement agencies within the county calling for due diligence in domestic violence arrests.

    When News Channel 11 spoke to Finney about the letter, he identified some changes that need to be made outside of the scope of those law enforcement agencies, but in the county court system. Finney said these county court system issues are not only unnecessary but are causing a threat to public safety.

    Finney has concerns with domestic violence cases within the Washington County court system, specifically when it comes to repeat offenders being brought in overnight. This is a time when only night clerks are available to set bonds.

    “These night clerks can’t do anything but follow the statute,” Finney said.

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    Tennessee law limits the bond amount a night clerk can set, often resulting in low bonds. For example, according to Tennessee Annotated Code 40-11-105 , night clerks can only set misdemeanors at $1,000.

    Finney suggests magistrates are a better option for the county.

    “They can take into consideration people’s prior history, failures to appear, recent arrests,” Finney said. “A night clerk can’t do any of that.”

    The Sullivan County court system has had magistrates in place for a few years. Second Judicial Attorney General Barry Staubus said they are needed since crime doesn’t always happen between eight and five.

    “I think it’s been a real benefit in that…most of those folks are experienced law enforcement agents, so they have an understanding of laws,” Staubus said. “They understand affidavits and complaints.”

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    Overall, Staubus believes having the magistrates helps keep repeat offenders from easily bonding out.

    “It depends on the information that’s given to the magistrate and it depends on their judgement on how much the bond should be made and what the terms should be,” Staubus said. “And again, a lot of that depends on the information that they have or know about the case or what they read within the affidavit or complaint.”

    Until this change is made in Washington County though, Finney continues to worry about public safety.

    “In essence, we’re putting victims out there that could be subject to more abuse or death,” Finney said. “And it just doesn’t need to be that way.”

    A resolution would need to be passed in the county to add magistrates to the county court system.

    Finney said law enforcement is caught in the middle of this issue. The Johnson City Police Department told News Channel 11 that its officers are working to fulfill Finney’s request for due diligence. Officers are taking the step inside the arrest process to ensure the appropriate information is in the affidavit, in an effort to help with the bond-setting process.

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