Nashville Chief Public Defender Wants Even More Inmates Released Due to COVID-19


Metro Nashville Chief Public Defender Martesha L. Johnson has formally asked that members of the Davidson County Criminal Court immediately release an additional number of inmates from jail because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These inmates are housed in the Davidson County Sheriff’s Department and at Core Civic facilities, Johnson said.

“It is perhaps an unprecedented request for relief in Nashville, but has been utilized in jurisdictions across the country,” Johnson said in her motion.

Johnson cited how jail officials in New Jersey, Texas and Los Angeles, among other places, have already released their prisoners.

Johnson had not returned The Tennessee Star’s requests for comment Monday, but we will update this story if and when she does.

According to the motion, Johnson asked court officials to immediately release the following categories of inmates:

• All persons who have heightened risk factors identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as age or underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to serious health consequences from COVID-19.

• All persons who are presently held for any reason on misdemeanor charges that are not crimes of violence, whether those individuals are in custody awaiting trial or whether they are serving a sentence.

• All persons presently held for any reason on felony charges that are probational and not crimes of violence, whether they are in custody awaiting trial or whether they are serving a sentence.

• All persons being confined pre-trial on any crime that is not a crime of violence, following a judicial determination that they are bailable, but who remain in custody because they cannot pay the money bond set in their cases.

• All persons who are being confined for probation or parole violations who are not charged with or suspected of new criminal offenses.

• All persons serving a sentence who are within 60 days of their sentence expiration date.

“This motion is being filed on an emergency basis with request for review en banc out of the concern that devastating consequences will result without immediate and decisive action on the part of the Bench as a whole,” Johnson wrote.

“National and local health experts agree that detention facilities are unable to protect against an outbreak of COVID-19 and that such an outbreak would overwhelm the capacity of the jail, increase the spread of COVID-19 in the community, and contribute to overwhelming local hospitals.”

As The Tennessee Star reported last month, Nashville-Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall announced plans to reduce the number of inmates in sheriff’s office custody as the coronavirus emergency continues. Those announced plans included expanding pre-trial release criteria and eliminating the work release program.

Read the full filing:

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Sheriff Daron Hall” by Davidson County Sheriff’s Department; and “Martesha Johnson” is by the Davidson County Public Defenders’ Office.





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