Metro Nashville Police Public Affairs Manager Don Aaron says Officer Ronald Bright “acted in good faith” when, in June of 2021, he arrested a citizen and charged with them with felony “habitual motor offender”, a law that was repealed by the state legislature over two years ago which carried a punishment of up to 6 years in prison. A magistrate even signed the warrant, jailed the citizen, and required them to post a large cash bond to get out of jail – on a charge that no longer existed. Scoop: Nashville learned this scenario has played out over 20 times in the last 17 months, leaving citizens at a loss for the money spent for high cash bond amounts, towing/storage fees, public humiliation, lost wages & jobs, and other expenses due to the invalid arrests.
The state of Tennessee repealed the Habitual Motor Vehicle Offenders Act (HMVO) effective July 1, 2019. The HMVO, prior to its repeal, provided that the licenses of drivers who were labeled “habitual offenders” would be revoked for at least three years. Drivers could not obtain a restricted license during this time. Further, any driver who drove on a revoked license, due to the habitual offender status, would be guilty of a Class E felony. Conviction of a Class E felony could mean up to six years in state prison.
Scoop: Nashville brought this to the attention of Metro Nashville Police earlier this week, who confirmed that while they do provide “periodic updates on law changes to officers, the deletion of this particular statute was not included in an update”. Via email, Don Aaron of MNPD continued “moreover, the charge was still available in the list of offenses in the computerized JIS menu from which the officer wrote the warrant affidavit”, and noted, as did we, that a Judicial Commissioner also erroneously signed the warrant presented by the officer.
The office of Howard Gentry, the Criminal Court Clerk, says the warrant template was just removed from the CJIS within the past few days, and MNPD says the District Attorney’s Office, Glenn Funk, failed to include the change regarding the statute to the updates for CJIS last year.
From a list of booking and bond outs exported from the JIS database since 01/01/2020, Scoop: Nashville was able to confirm at least 22 charges for felony habitual driving, with an incident date after the law was repealed by the state. Some of these are still moving the court systems, such as this case scheduled to be heard tomorrow, in which the defendant is out on a $5,000 bond, which he paid via a bonding company to be out of jail until his court date.
Once the cases make it to the trial date, the DA’s office has been marking the charges as ‘nolled’ (not prosecuted) but has not proactively assisted to expunge any charges from their records, which still show as a felony arrest on any public search or background check. MNPD did not respond to questions asking if the citizens who were inappropriate placed in handcuffs and jailed on an invalid charge would receive any apology or compensation from the city. Judicial magistrates contacted did not respond to questions asked for this story.
MNPD, via Don Aaron, released the following statement, in part:
It appears that Bright acted in good faith in charging Braden with being an habitual motor vehicle offender, which he would have believed was a valid charge. While the MNPD provides periodic updates on law changes to officers, the deletion of this particular statute was not included in an update. Moreover, the charge was still available in the list of offenses in the computerized JIS menu from which the officer wrote the warrant affidavit. As you have noted, the judicial commissioner also signed the warrant. Braden should have been charged with driving on a revoked license.
The Criminal Court Clerk’s Office has informed us that the warrant template for 55-10-616 was removed from the CJIS system within the past week or so. We are told that the District Attorney’s Office erroneously failed to include the change regarding the statute to the CJIS system in last year’s update.
This is a developing story, we expect more updates in the future.