House bill would repeal Supreme Court bail rules

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JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court went too far. That’s what Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis, said last Tuesday about rules the state high court created to avoid jailing people simply because they’re poor.

Hill sponsors HB 1937, which would repeal rules that the state’s high court created last year to regulate pretrial releases and bail. He said the court overstepped its authority.

“I’ve thought we needed to have this discussion,” Hill told the House Judiciary Committee. “However, we did not get an opportunity to have this discussion because it was effectively legislated by the Supreme Court through their rule-making process.”

The goal of the state high court’s rules was to change the pretrial release system so that it did not punish low-income people by making them sit in jail because they could not afford bail.

Hill agreed that people should not be stuck in jail simply because they cannot afford bail, but he contended that the new rules have had a major consequence: an increase in crime.

“We essentially now just have a catch and release system,” Hill said.

Several sheriffs from across the state testified about the effect the new rules have had on their jurisdictions, and some supplied anecdotes about increases in warrants for people not showing up for their court dates.

Sheriff Scott Lewis of St. Charles County said there has been a 30% increase in crime in his county since the rules were enacted, and that with these changes and the increase in warrants, officers have to locate and apprehend the missing defendants.

“There is no incentive to show up for court, so we are spending our manpower and our transportation costs driving around the state, driving around the United States, bringing these people back to St. Charles County,” Lewis said.

The sheriffs said the changes have impacted public safety. For example, Sheriff Shawn Webster of Clark County said he arrested a man last week for burglary. The man was released and arrested for burglary again later that week, Webster said.

However, those in opposition to the bill said the court’s rules don’t force judges to release defendants with no bail, nor do the rules prohibit bail from being set.

“All the court has to do if they feel that cash bail is warranted under the circumstances is list why that is,” said Rep. Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis. “It doesn’t say you can’t do it. All that it says is that if you’re going to do it, you need to let us know why.”

Hill’s bill follows a letter he sent to the Supreme Court in January condemning the new rules and the way the court went about creating them. More than 80 lawmakers co-signed the letter.

This report is written by Missouri School of Journalism students and editors for publication by MPA member newspapers in print and online.

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