published Monday, March 24th, 2014

Court rules felons cannot be bondsmen

A state appellate court is using a Campbell County case to confirm felons cannot serve as bondsmen -- despite an opinion to the contrary by the Tennessee Attorney General's Office.

In a ruling issued last week, the state Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed a judge's decision to strip Phillip Cole Hatmaker of approval to write bonds.

In 2004, Paul G. Summers, who was the state's attorney general under then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, issued a legal opinion in which he stated felons could serve as bondsmen so long as their citizenship rights had been restored.

Hatmaker had been convicted in Knox County in 1998 of felony possession of more than 10 pounds of marijuana but successfully sought through a legal petition to have his citizenship rights, including voting privileges, restored.

In May 2011, Free U Bail Bonds filed a petition in Campbell County Criminal Court seeking Judge Shayne Sexton's approval to allow Hatmaker to serve as a bondsman for the firm.

A bonding company posts bail for the accused, charging the arrestee a percentage of the bond amount for that service. If the arrestee shows up for court, the bonding company walks away with that percentage as profit.

Citing the 2004 attorney general's opinion, Sexton approved the petition over the objections of prosecutors with the 8th Judicial District, which includes Campbell County.

In August 2012, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in an unrelated case the attorney general got it wrong. State law, the court held, bars felons from writing bonds even if their citizenship rights have been restored.

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