hile courts all over the state are following new pretrial release rules for suspects charged with crimes, the Missouri Task Force on Criminal Justice has released clear-cut procedures for criminal trial court judges burdened with setting a defendant’s bail.
Over the past two years, a task force comprised of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, directors of the department of corrections, court officials and law enforcement officers have identified necessary changes to Missouri’s bail practice. More specifically, the amount of money or conditions that can be placed against a defendant by the court to guarantee the individual will appear for future criminal proceedings.
“Following numerous meetings, the task force recommended several amendments to existing Supreme Court rules regarding pretrial release procedures consistent with the rights guaranteed by the constitutions of the United States and the state of Missouri. The proposed changes then were considered by the state’s Committee on Procedure in Criminal Cases, which reviews and offers updates for the Supreme Court’s criminal rules and criminal jury instructions,” wrote Judge Michael Noble, Amy Fite and J.R. Hobbs, the co-chairs of the Task Force.
In December 2018, those recommended changes to pretrial releases were adopted by the court. Before the amended rules went into effect, they were made public on the Missouri Courts website. Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and law enforcement officers “made timely and notable suggestions concerning the rule changes.”
After active listening to their feedback, the Task Force recommended the Supreme Court adopt these modifications.
“The new pretrial release rules reflect Missouri courts’ constitutional responsibility to protect the public from those who are dangerous and to ensure those accused of crimes are treated fairly according to the law, not their pocket books,” wrote the co-chairs of the task force.
Even though the Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive bail and gives people the right to a bail hearing to request a deduction in bail, judges still have much discretion when setting a defendant’s bail.
Some of the changes written by the co-chairs of the task force are as follows:
•“Pursuant to the rights our Missouri Constitution guarantees to crime victims, a defendant may be held without bail between arrest and trial when evidence shows no pretrial release conditions will ensure the safety of the community. The rules also incorporate the Missouri legislature’s statutory requirement that a defendant held without bail is entitled to a speedy trial. Before the court’s amendments, the rights guaranteed to crime victims had not been incorporated into its rules, and dangerous defendants with financial resources were subject to release from custody, posing a threat to crime victims, witnesses and the community.”
•“In setting conditions of any release, the judge first must consider the least restrictive conditions in light of the circumstances of each individual defendant and the crime(s) charged. Conditions of release may include regular reporting to law enforcement or court personnel; curfew; release only for employment, school or substance abuse treatment; house arrest; or electronic monitoring.”
•“Unlike approaches taken in other states, the court’s amended rules do not eliminate or prohibit the use of monetary conditions but permit monetary conditions to be imposed only when necessary under the facts and circumstances of each individual case. After determining the defendant’s ability to pay, monetary conditions imposed cannot exceed the amount necessary to ensure safety to the community, crime victims, and witnesses as well as the defendant’s appearance at future court dates.”
•“Determinations regarding pretrial release are to be made with the best information available. A defendant who is incarcerated because he or she is unable to comply with the conditions of release set in the warrant for arrest must come before a judge in a timely manner. The judge then must hold a hearing at which the prosecutor and defendant can present evidence regarding appropriate conditions of release.”
•“While the task force recommended the use of an evidence based risk assessment tool for a judge to consider, but not be required to follow, in all cases excluding sex crimes and domestic violence, at this time there is no risk assessment tool approved by the Supreme Court for consideration by judges. The assessment tool remains under review, subject to Missouri validation.”
•“While the rules establish factors and procedures for a judge’s consideration of whether it is appropriate to release a defendant pending trial as well as any conditions of pretrial release, nothing in the new rules mandate any particular result or otherwise remove a judge’s discretion to make decisions under the law.”