Local sheriffs upset over "catch and release" rules handed down by Missouri Supreme Court

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GAINESVILLE, Mo. -- Violent offenders would have a warrant issued for their arrest, and likely, a high bond set. But some sheriffs say lower level criminals are getting off way too easily, due to new rules handed down by the Missouri Supreme Court on July 1.

Some of the new rules require the associate circuit judge to issue a summons instead of a warrant with a bond, if the suspect is not a threat to the victim or the community.

But at least four local sheriffs-- all in rural Missouri-- are frustrated with the new rules. They say, for instance, someone could go out into the county, steal a bunch of farm equipment, possibly tens of thousands of dollars worth, and instead of getting a warrant issued for their arrest, and a high bond set, they'd just get a summons-- possibly even to a fake address-- and then they may or may not ever show up for court.

"I work for what I got. The people in this community work for what they have and it seems like our Supreme Court is worried about the rights of the offender, what about the rights of the good people in our community!" said Douglas County sheriff Chris Degase. Laclede County sheriff David Millsap has also expressed similar concerns.

“The Missouri Supreme Court has basically given a free pass to those who are repeatedly breaking into our houses, our businesses, stealing vehicles or dealing drugs. When we make an arrest, regardless of how many burglaries you have committed in the past, or vehicles you have stolen, if you have no violent crime in your criminal history, and you make it to your court dates, you will get a summons to appear in court, instead of sitting in jail waiting to have your case go through the court system,” Millsap said.

With the issuance of a summons and no bond required, Millsap predicts the number of criminals not appearing will go up.

“At least with a warrant and a bond if you did not appear the person holding the bond came after you. Now the failure to appear will fall on the sheriff, who will have to expend manpower to track a suspect down.”

In Ozark County, Sheriff Darrin Reed fears that citizens might take the law into their own hands.

"There's no threat that if you don't straighten up, you're going to go to the Department of Corrections. That threat is slowly going away."

Law officers who deal much in drug and theft cases feel like new rules from the Missouri Supreme Court means judge's hands are tied on locking up criminals because they didn't physically hurt someone, even though they threatened someone's livelihood.

"This guy here was released from Christian County because of the non- violent offense and he came and stole $22,000 worth of side by sides in our county, and a pick-up in Wright County on July 11 and 12," explained Sheriff Degase. "There has to be consequences for your actions. There have to be penalties for what you do, and they have to fit the crime, otherwise, you are not going to change these people."

Missouri's Criminal Justice Task Force released this to KY3. Click HERE to read it.

Johnson Co. Prosecutor Robert Russell shared this statement:

"The rules are not new law, the rules are simply a restatement of the current Federal and Missouri law which had not been done since 1978. The Constitution and the Missouri Constitution require the least restrictive conditions of release be imposed. Such has been the law since at least 1926 that any bail which is more than reasonably necessary is excessive under the Eighth Amendment. The Missouri Supreme Court has echoed the Federal courts on this issue. As an officer of the State, my duty is to uphold the Constitution and Missouri Constitution. It is improper to set a monetary bond so high the defendant, who is presumed innocent, cannot get released. Defendants at this stage of the proceedings are presumed innocent. An arrest does not presume guilt or prove guilt . Until a defendant is found guilty by a jury or judge or pleads guilty, this presumption of innocence prevents the imposition of punishment. Some may want to punish the defendant before they are found guilty. Neither law enforcement or prosecutors are judge or jury. I have found a conviction is the surest and swiftest message I can send to a defendant they will pay for their crimes. As a rural prosecutor, and the chief law enforcement official of the county, I take my oath and duty to my citizens, and crime victims very seriously. Defendants are not called to answer for their crimes by being arrested. They are called to answer when tried in a court of law and convicted. Until that conviction, they like all citizens, are presumed innocent. Our job in law enforcement is to prove them guilty, not just arrest them. To do otherwise is a disservice to victims and the taxpaying citizens of the county.

There is nothing in the rules which prevents a warrant being issued. Law enforcement have an obligation to state sufficient facts in the probable cause statement to allow a judge to issue a warrant. The probable cause statement also must state sufficient facts to impose the necessary conditions upon defendants to satisfy the two goals of pre-trial detention or release. If a court finds law enforcement failed to state sufficient facts in the probable cause statement, the court has no choice but to issue a summons.

No amount of money will prevent a defendant from re-offending, failing to appear or protect the safety of a victim. Money does not stop bullets, stop thieves or prevent defendants from running away. The new rules give prosecutors better tools. A violent defendant can now expressly be held without bail until trial when they are a danger to victims or have shown they will not come to court. For non-violent offenders, the rules set forth expressly allowed conditions such as ignition interlock for DWI offenders awaiting trial, GPS monitoring to track a defendant's movements and to exclude them from areas such as parks, schools and playgrounds when child safety is a concern, electronic house arrest at the defendant's cost to save county's money in jail costs, work release, where a defendant will spend his nights at the jail and is still able to work to pay for his jail costs and attorney, supervision by a person designated by the court to make sure the defendant is complying with the court's orders. None of these conditions were expressly allowed before the re-write of the rules. And these are not the complete list of possible conditions.

As Justice Rehnquist said, "In our society liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without trial is a carefully limited exception." These rule changes fulfill Justice Rehnquist's mandate and give law enforcement and prosecutors valuable tools to protect victims, the public and compel the attendance at court of the defendants."