New changes coming to Missouri’s court system will be requiring that judges first seek alternatives to bail as a part of conditions of someone’s release.
Starting July 1, Missouri courts will now be required to first consider non-monetary conditions of release, such as travel restrictions, regular check-ins and drug tests, before deciding to set bail or jail them prior to a court hearing.
While judges still can set bail or order pretrial detention, they must now determine with convincing evidence that doing so will ensure the person’s appearance in court and helps maintain public safety.
“If this person presents a danger to the community or to a person or things like that, again, that person is not going to be released,” said Buchanan County Judge Dan Kellogg.
Kellogg said rules changes were a hot topic of discussion between the state’s 46 judges at their semi-annual meeting held last week as they evaluate the changes and implement new plans for assessing conditions of release.
“What are the ways we can ensure that they’re behaving in lawful behavior and that they will report or return to court on their appropriate date,” Kellogg said. “Things like drug treatment, drug testing, restrictions on where you can and can’t go, not contacting certain people.”
Kellogg thinks that conditions of release like these are appropriate things to consider when assessing a person’s situation and whether they can be released before their eventual court hearing.
In a State of the Judiciary address made by Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Zel Fischer in January, news outlets reported that changes were being made to help low-income defendants who have been arrested get back on their feet by considering conditions other than financial requirements first.
Proponents of the change say that people who are forced to wait in jail until their court date because they couldn’t afford bail are at times prevented from working, supporting their families and getting back on track.
Kellogg said that some of the overall concern stems from a system where certain circuits were issuing warrants for people who didn’t pay their board bill, which is a fee paid by offenders for the cost of being incarcerated.
“That was not happening here but ... but some circuits were and it just gets people caught into a vicious trap,” Kellogg said.
Another significant change revises how long a defendant can be detained prior to a court hearing and ensures a speedy trial for those who are in jail.
Now, if a person has been arrested, they must be seen before a judge within 48 hours, and have a trial within 120 days — a potential complication that Kellogg says will require structural, logistical and scheduling changes to accommodate.
For Missouri’s rural circuits, where only one judge at times can oversee upwards of five counties, the jury is still out on how some will adjust to the requirements.
The use of Polycom, a video conferencing system, that allows people to appear before a judge while in jail, could be one way the cases are handled by rural circuits according to Kellogg.