Arrest warrants and monetary bail will be limited statewide under new Missouri Supreme Court rules going into effect July 1.
The order from the Supreme Court directs lower courts, including the Warren County Circuit Court, to use the least restrictive methods necessary to get criminal defendants to show up for their court dates. Changes include issuing more court summonses instead of arresting defendants, and requiring monetary bail only as a last resort for those who are arrested.
Missouri Chief Justice Zel Fischer first announced the changes in January, saying the changes were being made to ensure those accused of crimes are being treated fairly, no matter how much money they have.
“Too many who are arrested cannot afford bail even for low-level offenses and remain in jail awaiting a hearing,” Fischer explained. “Though presumed innocent, they lose their jobs, cannot support their families and are more likely to reoffend.”
Presiding Judge Jason Lamb, who oversees the 12th Circuit courthouses in Warren, Montgomery and Audrain counties, said each case will be treated individually when determining how to hold defendants accountable for their court dates. That includes considering a defendant’s financial ability to pay any bond, along with many other factors.
“Our local judges have been working very hard in anticipation of these new rules for a smooth transition,” Lamb said. “We will ensure that our local procedures move cases through the criminal justice system expeditiously, and that the due process rights of criminal defendants are balanced with the constitutional rights of crime victims and public safety.”
Previously, arrest warrants have often been coupled with fairly standardized bond amounts for various types of felony charges. Lamb said that system will no longer be used. Rather, judges will now default to issuing summons unless a prosecutor provides evidence that an arrest warrant is necessary to ensure court attendance or protect public safety.
Courts also are free to issue arrest warrants for people who fail to show up for a summons, Lamb added.
For those who are arrested, another new rule requires that most defendants receive an initial court hearing within two working days. Lamb said court schedules for associate judges in each county are being rearranged to have time for criminal hearings every two days.
The courts are also staying in touch with local prosecutors, sheriffs and county commissions to receive feedback as the new court procedures are implemented, Lamb said.
Warren County Sheriff Kevin Harrison said he is afraid that reducing or eliminating bail for criminal defendants will mean law enforcement will have to deal with more repeat offenders.
“Our history shows us that they go out and reoffend and continue to do bad things,” Harrison said. “If they are not being charged and incarcerated, we are going to be dealing with them again on the street. But we have no choice in it. The rules are what they are.”
The sheriff said about 1 in 3 inmates currently at the jail were arrested because of failure to appear at a previous court date. Those inmates, along with people accused of violent crimes, will probably still be stuck in jail even after the new rules take effect, Harrison said. He believes first time drug and property crime offenders are more likely to be released without bail.
For the victims of those “lesser” crimes, seeing someone who was arrested for burglary or transporting drugs being released from jail days later will cause frustration, Harrison said. He fears local law enforcement and prosecutors will become the focus of that frustration.
Warren County Prosecuting Attorney Kelly King was not available to comment on this story.
Summary of the changes
Below are the major impacts of the new rules issued by the Missouri Supreme Court to govern pretrial arrest and detention.
Limiting arrest warrants — If a prosecutor requests an arrest warrant, they must provide reasonable grounds to believe a defendant will not appear for a court summons, or else poses a danger to a crime victim or the community. A judge must agree with the prosecutor’s justification before issuing an arrest warrant.
Right to release — Defendants held in jail on a warrant in most cases must receive an initial court hearing within two working days. With rare exception, defendants must be given reasonable conditions for release pending their trial.
The court’s default position will be that defendants are released without bail, with the only requirements that they appear for all hearings, obey court orders and commit no new offenses. Additional conditions for release will not be added unless the court determines they are necessary to ensure trial attendance or protect public safety.
Monetary bail may not be considered as a condition of release unless no other conditions will be sufficient. Bails that exceed the defendant’s ability to pay are “impermissible.” Other conditions for release will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Bail hearings — Defendants who are unable to meet the conditions set for their release have a right to request a bail hearing for those conditions to be modified. The victims of crimes must be notified of such hearings and given a chance to testify.
Long-term jail, speedy trials — If a judge has “clear and convincing” evidence to believe that no conditions of release will do enough to protect crime victims or public safety, they may order that a defendant be held in jail without release until their trial. In such a case, the defendant is entitled to receive a trial within 120 days of a written request.