NASHVILLE — State Senators voted on Thursday to approve legislation which helps ensure innocent individuals are not arrested and jailed on felonies just because someone else has a grudge against them and uses the judicial system to carry out their feud in court. The bill, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), calls for a law enforcement officer to sign an affidavit of complaint for a felony arrest before a warrant can be issued unless the accusations include domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
“If a serious felony has been committed it deserves to be properly investigated and prosecuted by members of law enforcement,” said Senator Overbey. “This bill will require an officer to sign the affidavit, thus ensuring they have investigated the case at least to the point where probable cause exists. This should reduce the number of people that are wrongfully charged and provide greater protections for innocent citizens.”
Under current law any private citizen can give a statement to an officer, take that statement to a judicial commissioner and swear out a warrant against another private citizen with a simple signature. The judicial commissioner is asked to make a probable cause determination based only on one side of the story. This situation results in too many innocent individuals being arrested and imprisoned until they can make bond and push through the judicial system.
Overbey said the situation was portrayed in detail with the Keith Bullock arrest last year. The case was dismissed within weeks by an Assistant District Attorney, after a cab driver had him arrested for robbery.
Senate Bill 1434 still allows for a private individual to obtain a misdemeanor warrant on their signature alone, but a presumption is created encouraging a citation or summons so people are not arrested and forced to make bond just because another private individual says they should be without any law enforcement investigation at all. Private individuals would still be able to obtain a felony or misdemeanor indictment through the Grand Jury process.
“This bill will free up valuable law enforcement and judicial resources so they can focus on actual criminal actors,” added Overbey.