The RMF Community Bail Fund is tracking Senate Bill 487 in the General Assembly. Its provisions would prevent judges from releasing defendants on their own recognizance while they wait for trial. It would increase the number of pretrial detainees in the Boone County Jail despite years of efforts to decrease the jail population. It may contradict a 2019 Missouri Supreme Court order designed to limit pretrial detention and bail.
This bill comes up for a committee hearing on Monday, March 22. We are urging all Bail Fund friends to contact the Senate Committee on Judiciary & Civil & Criminal Jurisprudence.
Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer is Chair. Call 573-751-2183.
Sen. Bob Onder (SB487 sponsor) is Vice-Chair. Call 573-751-1282
Sen. Caleb Rowden is Majority Floor Leader; Call 573-751-3931
You may also register to provide written testimony at https://www.senate.mo.gov/senatewitnesssystem/Main.aspx. When the system asks “behalf” put “self,” as we are not asking you to testify on behalf of our group.
The bill states that “public safety shall be the paramount consideration” in decisions about bail and conditions of release. It also gives judges discretion to release defendants on their own recognizance (ROR). We favor ROR.
However, it goes on to limit a judge’s discretion over ROR under the following conditions that we think are much too severe:
1. Conviction of a felony, sexual offense, or violent (this is undefined) charge in the past five years. Conviction in the past five years may have no relationship to the current charge, which could be very minor and not warrant detention.
2. Failure to appear in court (FTA) once in the previous three years. Many people may have one FTA resulting from a variety of circumstances in their lives. This does not determine that they will fail to appear on the current charge.
3. Results of a risk assessment tool indicate that a person is “not low risk” (this is also undefined). In this case, a nationally marketed instrument based on indicators from a defendant’s past behavior, current life situation (e.g. homelessness), etc. could override a judge’s discernment that the defendant poses no risk to the public.
4. “Continuing or severe acts of arson, rioting, or looting, which may endanger public safety…”
We already have laws against arson and stealing, and there is no need for this provision. “Rioting” is not defined. “Rioting” charges could be aimed at protesters exercising their freedom of expression. All of these provisions are likely to lead to the detention of people who pose no danger to the public safety, which the bill’s sponsor said was the “primary consideration.”
They entail the punishment of incarceration before trial, which is harmful to the defendant, leads to jail overcrowding, and is costly to the taxpayers.