Tennessee Bail Laws

1. Applicable Statutes

Tennessee Code Annotated Title 40: Criminal Procedure, Chapter 11 Bail, Parts 1-4.

The regulatory body is the Department of Insurance.

2. Licensing Requirements

All applicants for licensure as professional bondsmen must obtain and submit a copy of their criminal history to the Department of Insurance. [T. C. A. 40-11-317]
Every professional bondsman licensed to do business in this state shall, not later than January 15 and July 15 of each year, file with the clerk of the circuit or criminal court of each county in which the bondsman is furnishing bail or bonds securing costs and fines, etc., a report of the bondsman's assets and liabilities as of the preceding December 31 and June 30, respectively. [T. C. A. 40-11-303]
Each professional bail bondsman or bonding agent shall obtain eight (8) hours of continuing education credits during each twelve-month period beginning on January 1, 1997. . [T. C. A. 40-11-401]

3. Notice of Forfeiture

If the defendant fails to appear, the court having jurisdiction shall enter an order declaring the bail to be forfeited. Notice of such order of forfeiture shall be forthwith sent by certified mail, restricted delivery, return receipt requested, by the clerk of the court to the defendant at the defendant's last known address. The defendant's surety will be served with an order to show cause why the forfeiture should not be entered as a judgment. . [T. C. A. 40-11-139]

4. Forfeiture to Judgment

After the expiration of one hundred eighty (180) days from the date:

The surety is served with the order to show cause; or
The order is returned to the clerk unserved or undelivered;
the court may enter judgment for the state against the defendant and the defendant's sureties for the amount of the bail and costs of the proceedings. [T. C. A. 40-11-139]

5. Defenses to Forfeiture

After the liability of the bail bondsman or surety has become fixed by forfeiture, and before payment, the bail bondsman or surety may be exonerated from the liability by the surrender of the defendant and the payment of all costs; but may be exonerated from costs also if, in the opinion of the court, the bail bondsman or surety has been in no fault.

It is left to the sound discretion of the court whether the bail bondsman or surety shall be relieved from the liability of bail to any and to what extent.

No forfeiture or conditional forfeiture of any appearance or bail bond shall be rendered in any case where a sworn statement of a licensed physician is furnished the court showing that the principal in such bond is prevented from attending by some mental or physical disability, or where a sworn affidavit of the jailer, warden or other responsible officer of a jail, workhouse or penitentiary in which the principal is being detained shall be furnished the court.

The appearance or bail bond shall remain in full force and effect until the principal is physically or mentally able to appear, or until a detainer against the principal is filed with the detaining authority. On the filing of such detainer, the bondsman and sureties shall remain liable for the expenses of returning the principal to this jurisdiction for trial when the principal is released by the detaining authority. The liability of any bondsman or surety shall not exceed the amount of the bail bond. After trial, however, if it is necessary to return the principal to the detaining authority in another jurisdiction, all expenses incurred in such return shall be paid by the state of Tennessee . [T. C. A. 40-11-203]

6. Remission

Except as provided in subsection (b), the judges of the general sessions, circuit, criminal and supreme courts may receive, hear and determine the petition of any person who claims relief is merited on any recognizances forfeited, and so lessen or absolutely remit the same, less a clerk's commission of five percent (5%) of the original paid final forfeiture or one thousand dollars ($1,000), whichever is less, and do all and everything therein as they shall deem just and right, and consistent with the welfare of the state, as well as the person praying such relief.

This power shall extend to the relief of those against whom final judgment has been entered whether or not the judgment has been paid, as well as to the relief of those against whom proceedings are in progress. Cities, which have adopted home rule, may elect to authorize their city court judges to lessen or remit forfeitures in accordance with the provisions of this section if those judges have jurisdiction to hear state misdemeanor cases.

(b) In counties having a population of more than seven hundred thousand (700,000) according to the 1990 federal census or any subsequent federal census, the clerk's commission authorized by this section shall be ten percent (10%) of such forfeiture or one thousand dollars ($1,000), whichever is less.

[T. C. A. 40-11-204]

7. Bail Agent's Arrest Authority

The bail bondsman or surety may arrest the defendant on a certified copy of the undertaking, at any place either in or out of the state, or may, by written authority endorsed on such copy, authorize another person to make the arrest. [T. C. A. 40-11-133]

8. Other Noteworthy Provisions

In addition to the requirements of part 3 of this chapter regulating professional bondsmen, approval of a professional bondsman or other surety may be withheld, withdrawn or suspended by any court if, after investigation, it appears that a bondsman:

(1) Has been guilty of violating any of the laws of this state relating to bail bonds;

(2) Has a final judgment of forfeiture entered against such bondsman which remains unsatisfied; or

(3) Is guilty of professional misconduct as described in 40-11-126.

(b) Any court withholding, withdrawing or suspending a bondsman or other surety under this section shall notify the bondsman in writing of the action taken, accompanied by a copy of the charges resulting in the court's action. If, within twenty (20) days after notice, the bail bondsman or surety files a written answer denying the charges or setting forth extenuating circumstances, the court shall call a hearing within a reasonable time for the purpose of taking testimony and evidence on any issues of facts made by the charges and answer. The court shall give notice to such bail bondsman, or to the insurer represented by the bondsman, of the time and place of the hearing. The parties shall have the right to produce witnesses, and to appear personally with or without representation by counsel. If, upon such hearing, the court determines that the bail bondsman is guilty as alleged in the charges, the court shall thereupon withhold, withdraw or suspend the bondsman from the approved list, or suspend the bondsman for a definite period of time to be fixed in the order of suspension.

(c) The clerk of the court and the sheriff of the county shall be notified of the action of the court and the offending bondsman stricken from the approved list.

9. Noteworthy Appellate Decisions

State v. Davis , 173 S.W.3d 411 ( Tenn. ,2005).

The bonding company issued a $1,750 bond for the defendant. The defendant appeared for his sentencing, served his two day sentence, but then failed to both pay the fines assessed him and to appear for a later probation hearing. The bonding company claimed that its obligations had been fulfilled, while the state contended that the entire bond should be forfeited because the defendant failed to appear. The Supreme Court of Tennessee ultimately declared that the bonding company's obligations had been fulfilled and reversed the forfeiture.

State v. Shredeh , 909 S.W.2d 833 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1995).

The defendant was released on a $50,000 bond, but failed to appear. The trial court ordered the bond partially forfeited and the sureties appealed, and petitioned for remittal of the bond. The appeals court held that the bonding companies had failed to show that the return of the defendant was impossible and held that a petition for remission of forfeited bond is only to be granted in the most extreme cases, such as where the sureties cannot produce the principal on account of his death or some other condition of affairs which make it equally impossible for them to surrender him.

10. Bounty Hunter Provisions

[T. C. A. 40-11-318]

"Bounty hunting" is defined as a person who acts as an agent of a professional bondsman who attempts to or takes into custody a person who has failed to appear in court and whose bond has been forfeited, for a fee, the payment of which is contingent upon the taking of a person into custody and returning such person to the custody of the professional bondsman for whom the bounty hunter works; provided, that "bounty hunting" does not include the taking into custody of a person by a professional bondsman.

No person who has been "convicted of a felony" shall serve as a bounty hunter in the state of Tennessee . Persons having been convicted of a felony who perform the services of a bounty hunter as defined in this section commit a criminal offense, punishable as a Class A misdemeanor.

Before a bounty hunter takes into custody any person who has failed to appear in court, such bounty hunter shall comply with 40-11-401, make a good faith effort to verify the person's address, and present to the office of the appropriate law enforcement officer of the political subdivision where the taking will occur:

A certified copy of the underlying criminal process against the defendant;
A certified copy of the bond or capias;
Proper credentials from a professional bondsman in Tennessee or another state verifying that the bounty hunter is an agent of a professional bondsman; and
A pocket card certifying that the bounty hunter has completed the training required by this section or, if the bounty hunter is from a state other than Tennessee , proof that such bounty hunter successfully completed an equivalent amount of training in the bounty hunter's home state within the last year.

Failure to present all of the proper credentials as specified in this section to the office of the appropriate law enforcement officer prior to taking any person into custody shall be punishable as a Class A misdemeanor.

A professional bondsman, who knowingly employs a convicted felon to act as an agent of such bondsman for purposes of taking into custody a person who failed to appear in court, commits a Class A misdemeanor.