MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tennessee lawmakers joined Memphis and Shelby County leaders Friday to announce a push for a constitutional amendment that would allow judges to deny bail for many violent crimes.
Currently, Tennessee’s constitution states judges have the discretion to deny bail only for capital offenses, which effectively means first-degree murder, House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said. That can allow a defendant in a violent crime to get out on bail and commit more crimes.
The proposed amendment would allow judges the discretion to deny bail for other violent offenses, he said. Judges and district attorneys also would also have to explain why they denied or accepted bail.
Sexton said the text of the amendment was still under development but would be filed by early next week.
Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) said a constitutional amendment is a complicated process, but he believes it is the right solution.
“We believe in Memphis. We want Memphis to be successful,” Johnson said. “Tennessee cannot reach its full potential if Memphis does not reach its full potential.”
Mayor Paul Young said the amendment would get violent criminals off the streets, and would be paired with crime prevention and intervention strategies in Memphis.
“When we talk about crime in Memphis, we are looking at holistic strategies, which includes changing laws that are impacting who gets out and who’s out on the streets,” he said. “We want to make sure those that need to be off the streets, are off the streets.”
District Attorney Steve Mulroy agreed, with one caveat.
“As long as it is clear that judicial discretion is maintained, then I am supportive,” he said.
But some don’t see this as a solution to the crime problem in Memphis. Democrats want to see more focus on guns.
“(For) the Republican super majority in Tennessee to come in here heralding themselves as as beacons of hope and public safety is as contradictory as possible. This is the same party that has legislative bills to authorize guns in trunks, as well as permitless carry throughout the state,” said Richard Massey with Tennessee Young Democrats. “We need safe storage laws, extreme risk protection laws, and we need to end permitless carry as we know it.”
Sexton said gun legislations was not part of the plan.
“We’re gonna take guns away from criminals, but I don’t think we should take guns away from law abiding citizens,” he said.
Several officials from heavily Democratic Memphis noted the bipartisan collaboration with state Republicans as they gathered together for the announcement at Memphis City Hall.
“We might not agree on everything, but we all agree that we need to break the cycle of violence,” Mayor Young said. “I’m glad we have partners in the state who want to work with us to achieve that goal.”
State Sen. Brent Taylor said he has brought leaders from across the state to Memphis so they can see that “Memphis is more than a headline. It is an asset worth investing in.”
Taylor said Gov. Bill Lee has assured him that he will be a partner in fighting crime in Memphis.
“We are ready to work with the state to solve our crisis in crime,” Taylor said.
Memphis set another new homicide record last year with 397 killings. The city also is experiencing a wave of auto thefts and smash-and-grab robberies.