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Hill v. Hall

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

October 7, 2019

JAMARIUS HILL, Petitioner,
SHERIFF DARON HALL, Davidson County Sheriff's Office, and HERBERT H. SLATERY, III, Tennessee Attorney General and Reporter, Respondents.



         Before the court is Jamarius Hill's Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 (Doc. No. 1), challenging the constitutionality of Hill's continued pretrial detention at the Davidson County Correctional Development Center. For the reasons set forth herein, the court will deny the petition.

         Also before the court is the Attorney General's request to be added as a respondent in this case under Rule 2 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in United States District Courts. The law is clear that Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall, as “the person having custody over [the petitioner], ” 28 U.S.C. § 2242, is the appropriate respondent in this case. See also 28 U.S.C. § 2243; Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426, 434-35 (2004). However, having been granted leave to do so (Doc. No. 16), the State Attorney General's Office filed the Answer, presenting the State's position on the bail issue raised by the petitioner. In furtherance of the ends of justice, see Rule 2, Advisory Notes, that Attorney General's request will be granted, and the Clerk will be directed to add the Attorney General as a respondent.


         On October 8, 2017, 16-year-old Debrianah Begley was shot and killed. On December 12, 2017, when he was also 16 years old, petitioner Jamarius Hill was arrested and charged with her murder and, in light of his youth, held in the Juvenile Detention Center. He was released a few days after his arrest, for lack of probable cause. (Doc. No. 1-2, at 5-6.)

         Following a hearing conducted in the Juvenile Court on May 30, 2018, on the State's Motion to Transfer Hill for trial as an adult, the Juvenile Court found probable cause for arrest and put Hill back in detention. Two months later, the Juvenile Court entered an Order transferring Hill's case to the Criminal Court for Davidson County, Tennessee for trial and setting a $150, 000 secured bond as a condition of his release. (Id. at 6.) Hill remained in custody at the Juvenile Detention Center until he turned 18 years old on December 21, 2018. Shortly thereafter, he was moved to the Davidson County Correctional Development Center, a jail facility operated by the Davidson County Sheriff's Office.

         Meanwhile, on October 22, 2018, a Grand Jury had charged Hill and co-defendant Antonio Donte Jenkins with two counts of first-degree murder (premeditated and felony), in violation of Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-202, and one count of reckless endangerment, in violation of Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-103. (Doc. No. 14-1.) A separate, previous indictment charged two other adult individuals, Tomaz Kerley and Mohamed Miray, with first-degree murder of the same victim. (See Doc. No. 1-2, at 6 (referencing No. 2017-D-2868).) Of these individuals, Jenkins and Kerley, whose bail amounts were set at $150, 000 and $200, 000, respectively, were able to meet bail. (See Doc. No. 1-3, at 25-28.) They were released on bail subject to house arrest, GPS monitoring, and other conditions. (See Doc. No. 1-4, at 23, 24; Doc. No. 3, at 8.) Although Miray's bail was reduced from $500, 000 to $75, 000, he was not able to make bail. (See Doc. No. 1-4, at 25; Doc. No. 1-3, at 28.)

         Counsel was appointed to represent Hill on November 15, 2018, after he had been in pretrial detention for over five months. Counsel promptly filed a Motion to Modify Conditions of Pretrial Release. (Doc. No. 1-2.) Counsel argued that the Juvenile Court had improperly set bail at $150, 000 without any consideration of Hill's ability to pay or the factors relevant to his likelihood to appear in court if released pending trial. Counsel argued that the detention violated Hill's statutory and constitutional right to bail, as it amounted to, and operated as, a detention order, without the court's having made the findings required for a valid detention order. The motion sought the removal of the financial requirement and Hill's release on his own recognizance or on an unsecured bond with such non-financial conditions of release as the court found necessary to secure his appearance in court and to mitigate any risk of danger to the community.

         The Davidson County Criminal Court conducted a hearing on the motion on December 6, 2018. At the hearing, Hill's aunt, Latrice Hill, testified that the petitioner had lived with her off and on over the years, as his own mother was struggling with addiction, and Latrice Hill was a family member who was willing to take care of him. (Doc. No. 1-3, at 8.[1]) She testified that Jamarius's father was incarcerated and that, if the court decided to release Jamarius pending trial and to set conditions, he could come to live with her. (Id. at 9.) She also testified that he would be required to work and go to school and that she never allowed firearms in her home. (Id. at 10- 12.) She also testified that the bail set in the case, $150, 000, was outside of her financial ability and that neither Jamarius nor any of his other family members had the money or assets that would allow them to meet that bail amount. (Id. at 13-14.) She testified specifically that she would be willing to have Jamarius live at her home with a GPS monitoring device on his leg and would do whatever else was required to help him abide by any conditions set by the court. (Id. at 15-16.) She also testified that Jamarius had done well when staying with her in the past. (Id. at 16.)

         Officer Michael Craig, Director of Safety and Security for the Davidson County Juvenile Court, testified for the State. He testified that on April 9, 2018, following the probable-cause hearing in that court for both Jamarius Hill and co-defendant Jenkins, there was an “altercation” involving Hill, Jenkins, their family members, and the victim's mother. (Id. at 30.) Craig testified that this confrontation, which he described as a “tangle, ” consisted of the various family members “cussing and being loud and causing a disturbance out in front of the courthouse, ” which he was called upon to break up. (Id. at 32-33.) There was no testimony that Jamarius Hill, personally, was cussing or behaving inappropriately.

         Officer Craig also testified regarding an incident that occurred at the May 30, 2018 hearing, at which the juvenile court ruled that Hill would be taken back into custody. The witness saw that Hill was surprised and upset about being taken into custody; he also overheard him ask his attorney why she had not warned him that that was a possibility. (Id. at 38-39.) Hill was allowed to make a telephone call from the courtroom. After another officer grabbed Hill by the arm, a struggle ensued. The result of it was that Hill “ended up making [his way] out into the hallway of the Court. He made it down the steps where warrant officers and G4S staff caught him at the bottom of the steps.” (Id. at 34.)

         There was no evidence that Hill failed to appear in court at any time between his initial arrest in December 2017 and the hearing on May 30, 2018.

         The Criminal Court for Davidson County issued a written order on January 28, 2019, denying the Motion to Modify Conditions of Pretrial Release. (Doc. No. 1-4.) The order summarizes the evidence presented at the hearing, including Latrice Hill's testimony that she could not post bail of $150, 000, that the defendant had no assets or even a driver's license, and that none of his other family members had the resources to post bail. (Id. at 3.) The court also considered, over Hill's objections, the petitioner's redacted juvenile record and a recording of the transfer hearing in Juvenile Court.[2]

         According to the Order, there was testimony at the transfer hearing from several witnesses concerning the evidence underlying the criminal charges. In addition, Hill's probation officer testified that the petitioner had been placed on probation after being adjudicated delinquent for aggravated robbery, criminal trespass, failure to appear, possession of a handgun, evading arrest, and theft of property. He was ordered to stay away from Metropolitan Development and Housing Authority (“MDHA”) property, which included the James Cayce Homes, where the shooting death occurred. After being placed on probation, Hill had been arrested on charges of assault and criminal trespass for being on MDHA property. While on probation, he was involved with the Gang Resistance and Intervention Program (“GRIP”), the gang and community service work portions of which he successfully completed, as well as the gun safety class. In order to be referred to GRIP, an individual must have a confirmed or suspected gang affiliation. At the time of the transfer hearing, Hill was not enrolled in school or employed. The probation officer also testified that Hill had communicated with her and had been available, respectful, and cooperative while being supervised by the probation officer.

         Based on the evidence before it, the Criminal Court declined to modify the conditions. The only condition of release provided by the Order was that Hill pay a secured financial bail of $150, 000, which was beyond his financial means. In conducting its analysis of the motion to modify conditions, the court recognized that both the United States and Tennessee Constitutions provide guarantees of equal protection of the laws and, more specifically, that “the Court must apply strict scrutiny” to the issue of pretrial incarceration “in order to determine whether the Defendant's constitutional rights are violated by his continued detention where a monetary bond has been set. In order for strict scrutiny to be satisfied, the State must ‘demonstrate that its [action] has been precisely tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest.” (Doc. No. 1-4, at 14 (quoting Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 217 (1982)).) The court continued:

Regarding the government's interest, this Court has identified two primary interests that have led the State to seek a monetary bond-assuring the appearance of the Defendant at future court dates and ensuring the safety of the public. The Court must next consider whether the State's action of placing financial conditions on the Defendant's bond is narrowly tailored.

(Id. (citing Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-11-118(b)).)

         In light of the Tennessee Constitution's bail guarantee to all defendants not facing capital offenses, the court considered the guidelines established by the Tennessee Bail Reform Act of 1978, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 40-11-115 through -118. The court recognized that all of the factors listed in § 40-11-115 “relate solely to the State's interest in assuring the continued appearance of the defendant in court.”[3] (Doc. No. 1-4, at 15.) Only if the reviewing court finds, based on the relevant statutory criteria, that release upon recognizance or unsecured bond is not appropriate may the court impose conditions to help insure a defendant's appearance in court. One of these conditions is the requirement of monetary bail. (Id. at 15 (citing Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-11-116).) If the magistrate determines that bail is necessary, the amount must be set “‘as low as the [magistrate] determines is necessary to reasonably assure the appearance of the defendant,' in consideration of the factors provided.” (Id. at 16 (citing Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-11-118).)

         The court observed that the § 40-11-118 factors are “very similar to the factors provided in § 40-11-115, ” the chief distinction being that “the magistrate is to set the bail amount at the lowest amount necessary to not only assure the appearance of the defendant, but also to protect the safety of the public.” (Doc. No. 1-4, at 16 (citing Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-11-118(b)).) Otherwise, the judge noted that § 40-11-118 also required consideration of the defendant's financial status as “one of the factors” to be “considered in setting the bail amount.” (Doc. No. 1-4, at 16.)

         Based on this review of Tennessee's statutory procedure, the court concluded that Tennessee's method of determining the conditions of pretrial release was narrowly tailored and thus did not violate the Equal Protection Clause. That is, in weighing the statutory factors, including the defendant's financial status,

the magistrate is to set the least restrictive conditions of release so as to protect both the Defendant's fundamental liberty interest and the State's compelling interests in assuring the Defendant's presence and protecting the safety of the public. Put another way, the magistrate is required, by the statute, to precisely tailor the conditions of release, based on each defendant's particular circumstances.

(Id. at 16.)

         From there, the court determined that the manner in which the defendant's release conditions had previously been set was “precisely tailored to the State's compelling interests.” (Id.) Without any discussion of the juvenile court's actual decision, the court concluded both that a magistrate setting bond must follow Tennessee's statutory process and that the “process has been applied to the Defendant.” (Id. at 17.) The judge held that Hill's right to equal protection had not been violated by the fact that he had not previously been released on personal recognizance. (Id.)

         Next, the court turned to the question of whether “the Defendant's due process rights have been violated by his continued detention on a monetary bond.” (Id.) To find that those rights had not, the court articulated the relevant federal standards and found, first, that the detention was remedial rather than punitive and that “the mere fact that a defendant is unable to raise a set bail amount does not render the amount punitive.” (Id. at 18 (quoting State v. Wiggins, No. W2000-02766-CCA-R3-CD, 2001 WL 1690193, at *8 (Tenn. Crim. App. Dec. 14, 2001)).) Second, the court concluded that

the State's interests both in assuring the Defendant's continued presence at future court dates and protecting the safety of the public from the dangers of substance abuse [sic] qualify as interests that outweigh that liberty interest.[4] Based on the rationale discussed in finding these to be compelling interests in its equal protection analysis, the Court also finds that both interests outweigh the Defendant's liberty interest in the instant case. Thus, the Court is of the opinion that the Defendant's substantive due process rights have not been violated.

(Doc. No. 1-4, at 18.)

         Turning, third, to the question of procedural due process, the court found that the hearing and proceedings before it satisfied the requirement that the defendant be given notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard prior to any deprivation of his liberty interests and that the defendant's “procedural due process rights have not been violated by the setting of this bond.” (Id. at 19.)

         Finally, the court turned to the question of whether the petitioner's continued detention was warranted under the Tennessee Bail Reform Act. The court found that release on personal recognizance or unsecured bond was not appropriate, “based primarily upon the defendant's juvenile record which includes delinquent adjudications for a number of offenses” which “create an increased concern for a greater risk for the likelihood of the Defendant's appearance at future court dates and the safety of the community.” (Doc. No. 1-4, at 19.) The court also found that the weapons found at Hill's mother's house, an “area where the Defendant ha[d] access, ” as well as “the nature of the alleged offense, the probability of conviction, and the likely sentence” upon conviction “weigh[ed] significantly against the Defendant on this issue.” (Id. at 20.) Based on those factors, the court found that release under § 40-11-115 was “inappropriate.” (Doc. No. 1-4, at 20.) It then turned to the possibility of imposing conditions of release, under Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-11-116, noting that “[o]ne of the conditions of release that the Court can consider is the imposition of the deposit of bail.” (Doc. No. 1-4, at 20 (citing Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-11-116(b)(3)).). The court recognized that, in setting bail, it was “required to set bail at an amount that is ‘reasonably necessary to assure the appearance of the defendant while at the same time protecting the safety of the public.'” (Id. (quoting Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-11-118).)

         The court recognized that the factors relevant to the setting of bail, itemized in § 40-11-118, are similar to those set forth in § 40-11-115(b), and, in light of the court's “great concern for the Defendant's prior juvenile record, the nature of the offense, probability of conviction and likely sentence, ” all of which it found relevant to the setting of bail, the court found the current bail amount of $150, 000 to be appropriate. It therefore declined to reduce the bail amount and denied Hill's Motion to Modify Conditions of Pretrial Release.

         The petitioner thereafter filed a Motion for Review of the trial court's order. (Doc. No. 1-5.) The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals denied the appeal, finding that the trial court's order showed that it had considered the “applicable statutory guidelines” when ruling on the petitioner's motion, summarized the proof presented at the hearing, and held that the petitioner did not qualify for release on his own recognizance or an unsecured bond. State v. Hill, No. M2019-00414-CCA-R8-CO (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 21, 2019), slip op. at 6 (Doc. No. 1-6, at 7). The appellate court recognized that the trial court “did not list out each statutory factor in its order” but nonetheless found that the lower court had conducted an individualized inquiry into the defendant's condition, as required by the state statute. Id. The court then turned to the trial court's consideration of the petitioner's constitutional argument: that the denial of bond violated his constitutional rights in light of his indigent status. The court rejected that argument too, quoting at length from a previous opinion addressing the same issue:

Primarily, the Defendant makes a constitutional argument that her constitutional rights under both the Tennessee and United States Constitutions are being violated by denying her pre-trial release by making her pay a “money bail.” The Defendant argues that if a person charged with a crime has no means to make a bail of any kind then the constitution requires they be released upon their own recognizance. However, the Defendant offers no authority to support this position. While the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits excessive bail, there is no explicit right to pre-trial bail created. United States. v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 754-55 (1987). The Tennessee Constitution addresses bail through two provisions: Article I, Section 15 stating “[T]hat all prisoners shall be bailable by sufficient sureties, unless for capital offenses . . .” and Article I, Section 16 stating “[T]hat excessive bail shall not be required.” Differing from the United States Constitution, the Tennessee Constitution does guarantee a right to pre-trial bail in most cases, but does not guarantee the right to pre-trial release upon [one's] own recognizance for persons of limited means. The arguments of the Defendant exceed the constitutional rights granted. While the bail may not be “excessive, ” there is no absolute right to release.

Id. at 6-7 (quoting State v. Pritchett, No. W2017-02190-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Dec. 18, 2017) (Order)). Ultimately, the court found that the trial court had not abused its discretion in setting the conditions for the petitioner's pretrial release. Id. (citing State v. Melson, 638 S.W.2d 342, 358 (Tenn. 1982) (“Even if the [bond] amount set was more than [the Defendant] was in fact able to raise, there is no showing that the court's purpose in setting such amount was to prevent [the Defendant] from gaining his freedom rather than properly to assure that he would appear in court.); State v. Wiggins, No. W2000-02766-CCA-R3-CD, 2001 WL 1690193 (Tenn. Crim. App. May 28, 2002)).

         Upon the conclusion of the state court proceedings, Hill filed his Petition in this court, asserting that his continued pretrial detention by the Davidson County Sheriff on a $150, 000 bail violates his constitutional right to equal protection and due process, because the state court did not make an express finding about Hill's ability to pay the bail amount and did not find that he is a flight risk or “poses an immitigable danger to his community.” (Doc. No. 3, at 6.) He requests that the court issue a writ of habeas corpus ordering his release or, in the alternative, grant a conditional writ pending a “thorough adversarial hearing that complies with the requirements for preventive detention” required by the Supreme Court. (Doc. No. 1, at 2.) His motion is supported by a Memorandum of law. (Doc. No. 3.) The State Attorney General has filed an Answer on behalf of the petitioner's custodian, asserting that the petitioner is not entitled to the relief request (Doc. No. 14), and the petitioner has filed a Reply (Doc. No. 16).


         28 U.S.C. § 2241 authorizes a district court to entertain an application for the release of any person “in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(3). See Phillips v. Court of Common Pleas, 668 F.3d 804, 809 (6th Cir. 2012) (“We have long recognized that pretrial detainees pursue habeas relief . . . under § 2241.”). The Sixth Circuit has expressly recognized that Section 2241 is the appropriate vehicle for a pretrial detainee to challenge an alleged constitutional violation regarding the right of bail. Atkins v. Michigan, 644 F.2d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 1981); see also Hairston v. Franklin Cty. Court of Common Pleas, No. 2:17-cv-00353, 2017 WL 2972151, at *1 (S.D. Ohio July 12, 2017) (“The protection against unreasonable bail pending trial is one of a handful of special circumstances that may warrant pre-conviction habeas intervention by a federal court.”).

         “Unlike exhaustion under § 2254, exhaustion under § 2241 is not a statutory requirement.” Phillips, 668 F.3d at 810 n.4. However, “in the § 2241 context, ‘decisional law has superimposed such a requirement in order to accommodate principles of federalism.'” Id. (quoting United States ex rel. Scranton v. New York, 532 F.2d 292, 294 (2d Cir. 1976)). Therefore, a petitioner must first exhaust available state court remedies before filing a § 2241 petition. See Urbina v. Thoms, 270 F.3d 292, 295 n.1 (6th Cir. 2001) (recognizing exhaustion requirement for petitions filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 but finding the government waived the claim by failing to raise it on appeal). In Tennessee, pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 39, presentation of claims to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals is sufficient for exhaustion. Adams v. Holland, 330 F.3d 398, 403 (6th Cir. 2003).

         However, the extremely deferential standard of review afforded to state court proceedings under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), does not apply to proceedings under § 2241. Phillips, 668 F.3d at 810. Instead, this court “must conduct a de novo review of the state court proceedings in addressing” a properly exhausted § 2241 petition. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         The petitioner argues that his rights to equal protection and both substantive and procedural due process were violated when the state trial court ordered his continued detention on a bail set in excess of what he could afford to pay or post security for, without making an individualized determination of his ability to pay the bail amount, whether he posed a risk of flight or danger to the community, and whether there existed alternative conditions of release that could reasonably mitigate those risks. He insists, in sum, that (1) he is indigent and being detained solely because he is indigent and unable to pay a certain sum of money, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause; (2) to satisfy due process, the government may deprive an individual of his pretrial liberty only upon showing that the detention is narrowly tailored to further a compelling government interest, and the court in this case failed to make the requisite determination that Hill's detention was required in furtherance of the government's legitimate objectives; and (3) the setting of an unattainable money bail is the equivalent of an order of detention without bail, which requires an express finding that no condition or combination of conditions of release can reasonably assure the defendant's appearance at trial and the safety of the public. (Doc. No. 3.) He also argues that the trial court was required to find by clear and convincing evidence that no non-monetary conditions of release could satisfy the purposes of bail.

         The respondent maintains, to the contrary, that the trial court properly articulated the relevant statutory factors, after considering all of the evidence, and that its decision to impose bail in the amount of $150, 000 established that it had determined that no non-monetary conditions or combination of conditions could satisfy the purpose of bail. (Doc. No. 14.) In his Reply, the petitioner argues that the government reads into the trial court's order findings that simply do not exist. Further, he maintains that the court's “silence or lack of explicit findings on the issue” is not sufficient to satisfy due process.

         A. ...

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