A state appeals court has released a ruling that scolds sheriff’s department officers in Cleveland, Tenn., for breaking state law regarding due process, but at the same time said those actions really don’t violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of those rights.
Judges who decided the case include Herschel Franks, center-front; Charles Susano (right-front); and S. Michael Swiney (2nd from right in back)
“We hold the trial court was correct when it held that the Bradley County sheriff’s department had violated Tenn. Code Ann. [Paragraph] 40-11-150,” said the ruling from Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville.
“However, violation of the statute did not deprive Mr. Hopkins of his due process rights under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
The “Mr. Hopkins,” is Jeremy Hopkins, who told WND he’ll pursue an appeal of the decision to the Tennessee Supreme Court, and possibly up to the U.S. Supreme Court, because of the precedent that appears to give law enforcement a pass on following the law.
“This means the state of Tennessee can jail any law-abiding citizen against their will without violating the U.S. Constitution and without the citizen having recourse,” he told WND.
The situation developed like this, according to the court’s documents: Hopkins was involved in a custody fight following a divorce, and he was accused falsely of domestic violence. The count later was expunged, he reported.
But at the time the claim was made, he found out about the arrest warrant, and made arrangements for bond, then turned himself in to law enforcement, expecting to have the proper paperwork processed and to be released.
Instead, sheriff’s officers refused to recognize his bond until 12 hours had passed.
“Plaintiff was incarcerated in jail on an arrest warrant that authorized bail of $1,500.00, which defendants failed to honor until the elapse of a 12-hour period,” the court noted. “The trial judge held the defendants violated the statute … and that the violation amounted to a constitutional violation entitling the plaintiff to damages.”
The appellate opinion said the trial judge was correct that the sheriff’s officers broke the state law by holding Hopkins for 12 hours before allowing bond, but it said the illegal confinement didn’t amount to a constitutional violation.
Appellate judge Herschel Pickens Franks wrote the opinion and Charles Susano Jr. and D. Michael Swiney joined.
Hopkins had sued the Bradley County sheriff’s office, Sheriff Tim Gobble and 10 officers for the wrongful detention.
He explained he reported to the sheriff’s office on Dec. 22, 2006, for a warrant dated the day before.
“The warrant provided for his release from jail on a $1,500.00 bond, and he claimed that he was willing and able to post the bond but the sheriff department officers informed him that, because the allegations against him involved domestic violence, the department was required to hold him in custody for 12 hours following his arrest before he would be allowed to post bond and be released,” the court’s ruling explained.
That, however, was wrong, the ruling said.
“The sheriff’s department policy was based on a misreading of the statute and, therefore, inappropriate,” the decision said. “The statute provides only that the arrestee ‘shall not be released within 12 hours of arrest if the magistrate or other official duly authorized to release the offender finds that the offender is a threat to the alleged victim.'”
No written findings existed in Hopkins’ case, the court admitted.
The decision from the lower court confirmed, “The statute was not followed, and findings were not made. Without a finding of a threat to the victim, the offender is to be released. … Therefore, the policy of the Bradley County sheriff’s department violates plaintiff’s due process rights when the policy violates the statute.”
The appeals court agreed: “The 12-hour holding period … only applies to an alleged domestic offender who has been found by a magistrate to be a threat … . Thus, the Bradley County sheriff’s department’s policy to hold all alleged domestic violence offenders for 12 hours after arrest … was not in accordance with [state law.]”
But hold on, wrote the appeals court; it’s one thing to have a sheriff’s office operating with a policy that violates state law, but another to call it a due process violation that creates a liability to the plaintiff.
“The Bradley County sheriff’s department obviously misconstrued the meaning of [state law] and held Mr. Hopkins for 12 hours. However … this mistake or negligent act is not a violation of Hopkins’ due process rights,” the opinion said.
Hopkins, a licensed attorney who never has been convicted of any wrongdoing, resolved the underlying custody dispute with an agreement for equal custody. But he warned of the precedent the court decision sets.
“I was illegally held by the sheriff after a judge ordered me to be released,” he said. “The Tennessee appellate court [now] has ruled that the U.S. Constitution does not protect citizens from false imprisonment by state officials.”
“I don’t know how they can elevate the law above the Constitution.”