(ST.JOSEPH,MO)A new decision from the Missouri Supreme Court will soon limit how high bail bonds can be set for those accused of non-violent crimes. The plan proposed by Missouri Supreme Court require judges across the state to consider non-monetary options when posting bond.
For individuals who don’t have the financial means to post their bond and pose no threat to the community or a victim of that specific crime, judges are encouraged to consider alternative options to insure the defendant appears in court without being detained in the county jail.
Buchanan County Prosecuting Attorney Ron Holliday said the goal is to avoid detaining people for their inability to pay.
“The Supreme Court is wanting to make sure that we aren't keeping people in jail just because they don’t have any money," Holliday said. “Debtors prisons are unconstitutional and unlawful in America, and I think that's what the court is trying to adress; to make sure that we don't keep people in jail simply because they don't have the means to post a $500 bond."
Buchanan County District Defender Shayla Marshall said the current cash-based bond system can leave defendants residing in a county jail for months waiting for a trial.
“They can be held for months, because they can not make bond on non-violent offenses such as passing a bad check, or not paying their child support," Marshall said.
Marshall said for many defendants, their inability to pay bail is costing them much more than just their time.
"While they're sitting and waiting their jobs have to be filled. Say this person is a waitress, well a waitress job is not going to hold that person's job while they fight their case from jail. They lose their apartments, they lose everything," Marshall said.
Holliday said most prosecutors are concerned about how the alternative pre-trial options will be funded.
“Our main concern as prosecutors is the cost,” Holliday said. “If we have pretrial services and supervision, how are we going to pay for that? How are we going to implement programs to do that if the legislatures doesn’t appropriate money? It’s another cost to the county that we really can’t afford.”
Marshall said Missouri isn’t the first state to implement a reduced bail protocol.
“There have been a lot of pilot programs, one in Washington D.C. that got rid of cash bail in the 1990s. There is one in Indiana that got rid of cash bail,” Marshall said. “In those studies, it shows that most people do come back to court whether or not there is a cash bond.”
The plan proposed by Missouri Supreme Court will reduce the population inside county jails and give non-violent defendant's pretrial options like in-house arrest while they await trial.
“Sometimes people pose a significant risk to their crime victim or to society and they need to be held in jail awaiting trial, because they pose that risk. That’s one of those factors that they can still be remanded or held without bail, ”Buchanan County Sheriff Bill Puett said. "If we can reduce jail population then that helps, but it's really difficult because the decision for bail and the conditions for bail, and if somebody needs to be held in custody awaiting trial; those are all decisions made by the court and they have a set of criteria that they have to evaluate."
Marshall said based on a judges discretion in a case, fewer people will be restricted by their ability to pay unattainable bail.
"The prosumption will be release, instead of the presumption, as it is now, that you're held until you can afford to pay to get out. I think this will change so many lives," Marshall said.
Changes to the Missouri bail system will take effect beginning July 1,2019.