Gavel

A Supreme Court decision from December of last year ruled that, as of July 1, arrest warrants and monetary bail for felony crimes will be limited statewide.

What this ruling does is forces the lower courts, such as the Lincoln County Circuit Court, to use the least restrictive holding methods for all those accused of committing a crime. 

An example of this is instead of cash bonds associated to felonies, there will be a summons and a court date.

According to a statement issued by Sheriff John Cottle on the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office website, “the ruling anticipates that criminals will show up for court in place of incarceration for court.”

In the statement, Cottle says, “if you are the victim of a burglary, assault, theft or any other crime where traditionally an arrest is made and a warrant is sought by law enforcement then issued by the court, you can now expect the perpetrator of the crime to be released without a bond (in most cases), given a summons and a date to appear in court.”

Cottle’s statement says that the only exception to this new rule would be if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the defendant wouldn’t appear upon a summons, is a flight risk or if the defendant poses a threat to a crime victim.

Cottle suggests that this legislation was enacted in order to ensure that “the courts are trying to ensure those accused of crimes are being treated fairly, regardless of their financial status.” 

The statement also notes that this is a Supreme Court, statewide, ruling and not a policy change enacted by the Lincon County Sheriff’s Office. Cottle’s statement goes on to say, “Although Lincoln County may deal with re-offenders more often under this ruling, the Sheriff’s Office must operate within the confines of this ruling.”

The statement also notes that it will not be uncommon to see first time offenders not receiving jail time, but instead a summons to court.

“It is highly likely first time drug, burglary and property crime offenders will be issued a court date in lieu of bond and jail time,” Cottle said. 

To further clarify the ruling, the Missouri Supreme Court released the following letter on the situation:

It has come to the attention of the undersigned chairs of the Missouri Task Force on Criminal Justice that accurate information is needed to clarify the recent amendments to Missouri pretrial release rules and the process involved in developing these changes. 

Article V, section 5 of the Missouri Constitution provides the Supreme Court of Missouri with authority to adopt and establish rules related to practice and procedure in all courts of the state. Pursuant to this authority, the Court over the past two years brought together a broad group of criminal justice experts – judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement officials, directors of the departments of correction and insurance, academics, and court officials – who spent countless hours identifying common-sense changes to Missouri’s bail practice and procedures that will keep our citizens safe and ensure defendants appear in court. 

Following numerous meetings, the Task Force recommended several amendments to existing Supreme Court rules regarding pretrial release procedures consistent with the rights guaranteed by the constitutions of the United States and the state of Missouri. The proposed changes then were considered by the state’s Committee on Procedure in Criminal Cases, which reviews and offers updates for the Supreme Court’s criminal rules and criminal jury instructions 

Many, if not most, of the recommended changes to the existing rules were adopted by the Court by order in December 2018. Pursuant to article V, section 5 of the Missouri Constitution, the amended rules were published for six months before they became effective. As with all the Court’s orders amending rules, these changes were made available to the public on the Missouri Courts website. On January 30, 2019, then-Chief Justice Zel Fischer announced the rule changes in his state of the judiciary speech to the Missouri General Assembly. The text of his speech (linking to the Court’s December 2018 order) and a video of the joint legislative session in which it was delivered also are available to the public online. 

Following Chief Justice Fischer’s announcement, and during the more than six months before the changes became effective, numerous judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement officers, and other individuals and entities made timely and notable suggestions concerning the rule changes. The Task Force considered these suggestions and proposed certain modifications to the rule changes. Once again, the Task Force recommended the Supreme Court adopt these corrections, and the Court adopted many, if not most, of the recommended corrections in late June. The rule changes the Court adopted in December 2018 became effective July 1, 2019, while the modifications the Court subsequently adopted will become effective January 1, 2020. 

The new pretrial release rules reflect Missouri courts’ constitutional responsibility to protect the public from those who are dangerous and to ensure those accused of crimes are treated fairly according to the law, not their pocket books. These changes were implemented to increase public safety and equality in our criminal justice system. Here are some highlights: 

• Pursuant to the rights our Missouri Constitution guarantees to crime victims, a defendant may be held without bail between arrest and trial when evidence shows no pretrial release conditions will ensure the safety of the community. The rules also incorporate the Missouri legislature’s statutory requirement that a defendant held without bail is entitled to a speedy trial. Before the Court’s amendments, the rights guaranteed to crime victims had not been incorporated into its rules, and dangerous defendants with financial resources were subject to release from custody, posing a threat to crime victims, witnesses and the community. 

• In setting conditions of any release, the judge first must consider the least restrictive conditions in light of the circumstances of each individual defendant and the crime(s) charged. Conditions of release may include regular reporting to law enforcement or court personnel; curfew; release only for employment, school or substance abuse treatment; house arrest; or electronic monitoring. 

• Unlike approaches taken in other states, the Court’s amended rules do not eliminate or prohibit the use of monetary conditions but permit monetary conditions to be imposed only when necessary under the facts and circumstances of each individual case. After determining the defendant’s ability to pay, monetary conditions imposed cannot exceed the amount necessary to ensure safety to the community, crime victims, and witnesses as well as the defendant’s appearance at future court dates.  

• Determinations regarding pretrial release are to be made with the best information available. A defendant who is incarcerated because he or she is unable to comply with the conditions of release set in the warrant for arrest must come before a judge in a timely manner. The judge then must hold a hearing at which the prosecutor and defendant can present evidence regarding appropriate conditions of release. 

• While the Task Force recommended the use of an evidence based risk assessment tool for a judge to consider, but not be required to follow, in all cases excluding sex crimes and domestic violence, at this time, there is no risk assessment tool approved by the Supreme Court for consideration by judges. The assessment tool remains under review, subject to Missouri validation. 

 • While the rules establish factors and procedures for a judge’s consideration of whether it is appropriate to release a defendant pending trial as well as any conditions of pretrial release, nothing in the new rules mandate any particular result or otherwise remove a judge’s discretion to make decisions under the law. 

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