Ankle Monitors May Be Required for Some Domestic Assault Arrestees

The Tennessee General Assembly just passed a new bill, HB2692/SB1972, that will impact the bond conditions of people arrested for domestic violence and several other charges if it is signed into law by the Governor.

The Debbie and Marie Domestic Violence Protection Act sets out to protect victims of domestic violence from further harm by requiring their alleged attackers to wear a GPS monitoring device. Marie Varsos and her mother, Debbie, were murdered in 2021 by Marie’s estranged husband after he bailed out of jail on charges for choking Marie until she passed out. The Act seeks to prevent any such future atrocities by giving alleged victims of domestic violence a warning when their alleged attacker is within a certain distance from them or the places they frequent.

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How will this warning work, though?

The current law provides that, unless the court or magistrate finds that a defendant for domestic violence no longer poses a threat to the victim or the public, a no-contact order containing certain bond conditions (such as staying away from the alleged victim’s place of employment) must be issued prior to the defendant’s release on bail. This bill modifies domestic assault bond conditions by establishing that the court or magistrate must order the defendant to wear a GPS monitoring device prior to being released on bail. The judge may waive this requirement if it is established that the defendant does not pose a threat to the victim or public
safety. However, if the defendant is released without a GPS monitoring device, the court must make a reasonable effort to notify the victim of such.

The GPS monitoring device will be maintained by a monitoring entity that is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and is capable of immediately notifying law enforcement and the appropriate emergency communications dispatch center of any violation of the defendant’s bond conditions (i.e., coming too close to the alleged victim’s house). In addition, the GPS device will notify the alleged victim if the defendant is at or near a location the defendant has been ordered not to be or within a certain proximity of the alleged victim. In order for this victim-notification function to work, the alleged victim must be provided with a cellular device application or receptor device capable of receiving communications from the defendant’s GPS monitoring device. The victim will obviously have to consent to the use of this function. Therefore, not all domestic assault cases will be impacted by the victim-notification clause of the bill, since some alleged victims will elect not to participate..

In the case that the alleged victim does agree to participate in the victim-notification program, the defendant will be expected to pay the cost not only of their own GPS monitor, but also whatever cost is incurred for the victim’s notification device. Whereas domestic assault defendants who could not afford a GPS device could previously tap into the state’s Electronic Monitoring Indigency Fund, this new bill clarifies that said defendants are not eligible for assistance from the fund. Even indigent defendants will be required to pay all costs associated with maintaining and operating the defendant’s GPS monitoring device and the victim’s
application or device. As you might imagine, this cost can rack up quite quickly. Defendants will be responsible for paying such expenses, though, if they wish to stay out of jail.

The Debbie and Marie Domestic Violence Protection Act enjoyed widespread popularity amongst Tennessee’s legislators. It passed through the House with 93 Ayes and only 1 Nay, then quickly breezed through the Senate with 30 Ayes and not a single Nay. The bill must now be signed into law by Governor Bill Lee. If Governor Lee does approve the legislation – and he likely will, considering its near-unanimous support in the General Assembly – the new law will come into effect on July 1, 2024. This means that all arrests for domestic violence, violating an order of protection, or stalking that occur on or after July 1, 2024 could be subject to the newly required bond condition.

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Being charged with domestic assault is a stressful and complicated experience. This bond condition will be crucial to protecting victims of domestic violence, and it will also increase the financial and social burden of criminal charges for defendants. If you are charged with domestic violence or other charges affected by the new bill, you’ll need an experienced legal team to advocate for your freedom. Your defense attorney may even be able to request the court modify your bond conditions, potentially resulting in a waiver of the GPS monitor requirement.

When you need a criminal defense attorney, you need Best & Brock. Reach out at (423) 829-1055 or by filling out our online contact form to schedule a FREE consultation with one of our top-rated attorneys!

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