The chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court announced new rules Wednesday requiring judges to first consider non-monetary conditions for pretrial release, a shift aimed at reducing court costs that can sometimes derail the lives of low-income defendants.

Judges still will be able to set bail if needed, but only at an amount necessary to ensure either public safety or that the defendant will appear in court, Chief Justice Zel Fischer said his State of the Judiciary address to lawmakers at the Capitol. The changes take effect July 1.

He said it’s the responsibility of judges “to ensure that those accused of crime are fairly treated according to the law, and not their pocket books.”

“Too many who are arrested cannot afford bail even for low-level sentences and remain in jail awaiting a hearing,” Fischer said. “Though presumed innocent, they lose their jobs, cannot support their families and are more likely to reoffend.”

Fischer said courts may not order a defendant to pay costs associated with conditions of their release, such as the costs of an ankle monitoring bracelet, without first considering reducing or waiving those costs.

Judges will only be allowed to order defendants to be jailed before trial without bail or another opportunity for release if they determine it’s necessary for public safety.

Fischer called the changes “extensive and meaningful.”

Other changes that Fischer announced include a new rule that took effect Jan. 1 that allows spouses of active-duty service members assigned in Missouri or nearby states to apply for temporary admission to practice law in the state. Spouses need to have licenses in good standing in another jurisdiction to qualify.

Fischer also announced a new pilot program to waive annual attorney enrollment fees for retired lawyers whose only work is to represent indigent clients for free.

Fischer also praised Republican Gov. Mike Parson for his pledge not to build another prison and called on lawmakers to give the judiciary more funding to expand drug treatment courts across the state.

Missouri Supreme Court
Kurt Parsons

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