Nashville judge makes habit of rejecting plea deals for young gu - WSMV News 4

Nashville judge makes habit of rejecting plea deals for young gun offenders

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Judge Bill Higgins has been on the bench in Davidson County for nearly 40 years and has seen crimes get deadlier and more violent.

He said when gun offenders come into his courtroom, he's not giving them the breaks that some attorneys often ask for.

Higgins said he was motivated to speak out after seeing Channel 4's report on the growing homicide rate and shootings in Nashville. So far this year, 42 people have been killed. Nearly 170 have been shot.

"What I'm seeing is that young folks come to court get caught carrying a loaded Glock pistol, have a little marijuana on them late at night, and the district attorney will make a plea bargain where they can go to school do a little community service work, get it dismissed and get their records expunged," Higgins said.

Higgins said in the last year, more people have been trying to get off with community service and a stint in a new program through the DA's office called Violence Interrupted. The program was started in 2016 and seeks to reform young gun offenders.

Channel 4 talked to the DA's office last week about the program they see as a successful reform method.

"The majority of people that come and speak at Violence Interrupted have been in system themselves," Assistant District Attorney Jenny Charles said.

Higgins said it's a pattern that sends the wrong message to the defendants and others like them.

"That's telling other young folk that hey, they're not going to do anything to you," Higgins said.

"I have a policy and I have for several years that I won't accept that type of plea bargain," Higgins said, adding that each case is different and requires different consideration. "Justice must be tempered with mercy, and I have mercy in my heart when it is appropriate, but if it's not appropriate, they need to hear the jail door slam."

One of the latest cases Higgins presided over was that of 18-year-old LaMontae Thomas. Police say they found him with marijuana, scales and a gun inside his home during a probation check.

Thomas' attorney tried to get a plea deal: 12 hours of community service and the Violence Interrupted class. Higgins rejected that offer.

Higgins said the program alone is not enough.

"I commend General (Glenn) Funk and his program Violence Interrupted," Higgins said. "They should all complete this program, but as far as punishment, that's not a slap on the wrist. They need to go to the program and hear the jail doors slam and be assessed a fine.”

Thomas' case has been re-set and will be scheduled to Judge Holt, who may also have to consider a plea deal.

"I do my best to try to change a defendant's behavior," Higgins said. "If I fail and they go out and shoot somebody, I've got the blood on my hands. And my selfish reason is I don't want the blood on my hands."

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