Missouri Lawmakers Vote to Ease Prison and Jail Sentences

Yesterday, Missouri lawmakers passed a measure that could reduce the number of people in local jails and state prisons. The legislation passed the Missouri House of Representatives by a vote of 138 to 11, and unanimously passed the Senate by a vote of 32 to 0 last week. Now, it goes to Missouri Governor Mike Parson’s desk to officially sign it into law.

Once signed by Governor Parson, the Bill will eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for some non-violent offenses. Perhaps most importantly, it would bar people from being put back into jail for not paying the costs of their previous incarceration.

Current Statute Permits Imprisonment for Failure to Pay

First, under the current law, a prosecutor or Court can require a defendant to “show cause” as to why he should not be imprisoned for failure to pay. If no “good cause” is shown, then the court can imprison the defendant for various lengths of time depending on whether the offense was a felony or misdemeanor. For felonies, courts could imprison the defendant for up to 180 days for a felony. For misdemeanors, courts could imprison the defendant for 30 days. Source.

New Law Will Eliminate Imprisonment for Failure to Pay

This Bill eliminates “show cause” orders for failure to pay and takes away the Court’s authority to imprison the defendant for failure to pay. Instead, when a defendant fails to pay a fine or an installment, the fine or installment may be collected by any method authorized for civil money judgments, i.e. judgment, collection, garnishment.

The new law authorizes the Court may waive the fines entirely. In no event can the recovery of costs be the subject of any condition of probation. And the failure to pay costs cannot be the only basis for the issuance of a warrant.

This comes after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in March that local courts cannot put people in jail for not paying previous debts. Click here for more on that Supreme Court ruling.

The legislation reflects a national trend toward more lenient prison terms for some drug offenders and low-level criminals, as states place a greater emphasis on alternative strategies for rehabilitation.

It will be interesting to see how these changes in the law effect cases in Southwest Missouri. If you or someone you love is in jail, these changes in the law could be the ticket out of jail. It is critical to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to take advantage of these changes in the law. Contact The Law Office of Adam Woody at (417) 720-4800.

Click here to read the full text of the Bill.