Shelby County judge defends new bail system, although questions remain

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – Out on bond and accused of committing more crimes.

Action News 5 took a closer look at repeat offenders in the Shelby County Criminal Justice system.

Critics of the new bail reform plan say it allows violent criminals back out on the street to get into more trouble. But the judge who supervises the judicial commissioners who set bail at 201 Poplar said that’s simply not true.

Shelby County General Sessions Criminal Court Judge Bill Anderson said everyone arrested has the right to bail except those charged with first-degree murder where it appears the proof is strong, and the suspect may be subjected to capital punishment. That’s the only exception.

People arrested for other violent crimes like carjackings, robberies and shootings, said Anderson, are legally entitled to bond per the Tennessee and U.S. Constitutions.

Six months after the county launched its new bail program, after the ACLU and Just City threatened to sue if changes weren’t made, Judge Anderson gave Shelby County’s bail system high marks, saying it works the way it’s intended.

“Everybody has the right to bail,” said Judge Anderson. “You cannot lock people up and throw away the key, you just can’t. As much as the public may want to, we can’t do that. We don’t have the space. We don’t have the people available to monitor that, and it’s unconstitutional.”  

Chase Harris, 19
Chase Harris, 19(Shelby County Sheriff’s Office)

Anderson said suspects have the right to bail, except for those facing first-degree murder charges.

And even if they’re arrested a second time while out on bond, they can still get bail.

For example, 19-year-old Chase Harris, the accused serial car thief charged in the shootout at Huey’s, was arrested and released on bond four times before the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office filed a motion to revoke his bond.

He’s behind bars now on a $310,000 bond.

Tyrus Earnest, 18
Tyrus Earnest, 18(SCSO)

Plus, 18-year-old Tyrus Earnest, charged with robbing and carjacking a Lyft driver in April, was out on a $15,000 bond, set by Judge Anderson, when he was arrested again this month and charged with shooting at an Uber driver.

His bond after the second offense is now $100,000. 

And 19-year-old Seth Walls, originally charged with reckless homicide after investigators said he shot 16-year-old Haley Reedy in the head, killing her, got out on a $10,000 bond.

He faces new charges in another assault case but is on the run from authorities right now.

Seth Walls, 19
Seth Walls, 19(Shelby County Sheriff’s Office)

Haley’s parents say the justice system failed them and their child. 

“He should not have gotten out on that charge whatsoever,” said Haley’s mother, Brandee Reedy. “This is my daughter we’re talking about. I think his bond should have been a lot higher.”  

Judge Anderson said bond for re-offenders should legally be set at no less than twice the amount of what is a customary bond for that crime. Judges and magistrates (judicial commissioners) also have the option, he said, to set bail at whatever amount they want above that figure.

“I’m a taxpayer also, just like you’re a taxpayer,” said Anderson, “I am sick and tired of the crime problem in this city, worn out, sick and tired. But putting people in jail, locking them up and throwing away the key is not the solution. If we get sued by the ACLU for not doing what we agreed to do, it is going to cost the people of Shelby County a ton of money because the ACLU will win.”

Shelby County Justice Center, aka 201 Poplar
Shelby County Justice Center, aka 201 Poplar(Action News 5)

Judge Anderson said Pre-Trial Services will present a report to the Shelby County Commission next month with statistics he said will prove the bail system is working and that most of those out on bond show up for their court appearances.

He also said the county has an option that hasn’t been utilized yet: unsecured or signature bail.

A defendant signs an agreement with the court (not a bail bondsman) to pay bail if they don’t show up for court.

Anderson says it’s used in federal court all the time.

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