A Missouri State Supreme Court ruling is set to take effect July 1 that likely will lead to more defendants out on bail.
The court ordered local judges to consider non-monetary means of assuring a defendant would appear in court before financial ones.
“We all share a responsibility to protect the public — but we also have a responsibility to ensure those accused of crime are fairly treated according to the law, and not their pocketbooks,” Chief Justice Zel Fischer said in an address to the Missouri General Assembly in January.
According to Fischer, if a judge does set a monetary bond, it must be the minimal amount to ensure the defendant’s return and the public’s safety.
The new order states that those arrested will be eligible for bail, “unless the court determines such release will not secure the appearance of the defendant at trial, or at any other stage of the criminal proceedings.”
Another component of the new regulations involves the costs of any conditions of release that a judge may order. According to Bail Agent Norman Clark, defendants often have to pay for the cost of any monitoring devices they’re ordered to wear.
Under the latest ruling, judges must consider reducing or eliminating those costs.
”The court may not order a defendant to pay any portion of the costs of any conditions of release without first considering how to minimize or whether to waive those costs,” Fischer said.
Some state legislatures, like California, have moved to end cash bail. Clark said some states, like Nebraska and Illinois, don’t allow bounty hunters to retrieve those who’ve failed to appear after being bonded out by bail agents.
He added that one of the main advantages for the bail industry is that agents have an incentive to retrieve defendants. If a defendant doesn’t appear in court, Clark said the bail bond company will forfeit the amount it paid to the court promising the return of the defendant. Because of this, defendants who use a bond company often waive many constitutional rights, giving the bail bonds company increased authority.
”If the police come to your door they need a warrant to enter,” Clark said. “If we come to your door, and you don’t let us in, we’ll get in.”
He said defendants typically pay a premium, about 10 or 20 percent of the total bond, to a bail bondsman.
The bail company then posts the rest of the bond, and the defendant is free on any conditions a judge imposes. Clark said defendants don’t get the premium back, even if they’re ultimately found innocent.
The new ruling also sets a clear precedent for cases where someone is held without any sort of pretrial release. According to Fischer, judges must find “clear and convincing evidence” that no conditions would assure the defendants’ return.
”The court shall set and impose the least restrictive condition or combination of conditions of release,” part of the new ruling states.