New Missouri Law Could Free Hundreds from Mandatory Prison Terms

Yesterday, Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed a new law that could make hundreds of prisoners immediately eligible for parole, probation, or early release. The new law exempts some non-violent offenses from a state law that requires people to serve at least 40, 50, or 80 percent of their prison terms, depending on the number of previous convictions. These changes begin on August 28, when the new law goes into effect.

Governor Parson, a former sheriff, said that the bill would help bring “reform to Missouri’s criminal justice system.” Click here to read the full text of the new law.

National Trend

The new Missouri law reflects a national trend toward more lenient prison terms for some low-level criminals as governments shift toward alternative strategies focused on rehabilitation. It received strong support from both Republican and Democrats as it passed Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature earlier this year.

Decreasing Missouri’s Prison Population

Missouri’s prison population peaked at 33,243 in September 2007, but fell to 28,038 as of Monday. The Missouri Department of Corrections noted that the decrease is due to other recent changes to Missouri’s criminal sentencing laws.

The Department estimated that the new law could decrease Missouri’s prison population by 192 people this year and by 925 people by the 2023 fiscal year. That could save the State {and taxpayers} $1 million in avoided prison costs this year alone. And nearly $5.9 million by 2023.

Mandatory Minimums Still in Place for Violent Offenses

The measure would keep in place mandatory minimum sentences for murder, assault, rape, child sex crimes, and the most serious levels of arson, burglary, and robbery, as well as various other crimes. It also would subject people convicted of top-tier drug trafficking offenses to mandatory minimum sentences.

This is a positive change for our criminal justice system and our state’s economics. We will continue to monitor how this law is put into effect. It will be interesting to see how many non-violent offenders get released from custody and how much money this saves tax payers in Southwest Missouri.


Missouri’s New Rules for Setting Bond Take Effect

Missouri’s new rules on setting bond for criminal defendant’s went into effect on July 1–and some last minute tweaks by the Missouri Supreme Court might avoid some logistical problems that could have arisen.

Judge’s Must First Consider Non-Monetary and Least Restrictive Conditions

The most prominent aspect of the new bond regime is that, in general, once a suspect is arrested and confined, judges have an explicit 48-hour deadline to set bond at an initial appearance, whether in-person or on video. In that bond setting, a judge must first consider imposing conditions of release that are non-monetary and as unrestrictive as possible in order to secure the defendant’s appearance at trial or protect the community or victim.

Right to Bond-Review Hearing Within 7 Days

If, however, the judges do order further detention, they must be able to show clear and convincing evidence it is necessary — and in that case, the defendant will have a right to a bond-review hearing within seven days. Both this seven-day window and the 48-hour window exclude weekends and holidays.

Jackson County Presiding Judge David M. Byrn suggested that the new rules were prompted by a nationwide movement against the practice of holding defendants before trial only because they cannot afford to post a bond.

Under the new bond rules, a defendants ability to pay, his or her family situation, and the danger posed to the public by release are now crucial points for judges to consider.

These new rules also apply to probation violations. Under the old rules, these arrestees needed to have a hearing within 96-hours of re-arrest; that window has expanded to seven days, excluding holidays and weekends.

When Does the Clock Start Ticking?

The initial bond appearance must be held within 48-hours after the defendant is “confined under the warrant in the county that issued the warrant.” Because many counties do not have their own jails and send their pretrial defendants to neighboring counties, the clock starts running when they are confined “in a county with which the issuing county has a contractual agreement to hold the defendant.” Additionally, the initial appearances can occur via interactive video technology.

New Rules Apply Retroactive to “Backlog” County Jail Population

On June 11, 2019, U.S. District Judge Audrey G. Fleissig issued a preliminary injunction to several inmates in the city jail for an inability to afford bail in a class-action lawsuit against the St. Louis Circuit Court. Judge Fleissig cited evidence in a random sample of 222 cases in St. Louis Circuit Court, the duty judge set a bond 98 percent of the time, without any information about the defendant’s ability to pay.

In her opinion, Fleissig wrote: “These practices do no comport with applicable Supreme Court and Circuit precedent.” Moving forward, Judge Fleissig mandated that the court not only conduct initial appearance in compliance with the new bond rules–which would be required anyway–but also that the court hold bond-review hearings within seven-days for all defendants currently in jail who had been detained for longer than 48-hours. Click here to read Judge Fleissig’s opinion.

Avoiding Clogging the Courtrooms

Some critics have voiced concerns that these new bond rules will clog the courtrooms. However, some jurisdictions have already prepared for implementing the new rules. In the city of St. Louis, Presiding Judge Rex Burlison said that his court is setting up a standalone courtroom outfitted with a closed-circuit video system between it and the county jail to hold the mandated initial appearances within 48-hours. Judge Burlison said that this change will prevent the bond hearings from clogging up the courtrooms.

We will certainly be monitoring how courts in Southwest Missouri implement the new bond rules and the consideration judges give to non-monetary conditions of release. If you or someone you love gets detained on criminal charges, it is critical that you hire an attorney familiar with these new rules and as soon as possible after arrest to be represented by an attorney at the new mandatory bond hearings.


Click here to read the Rules on Bond for Misdemeanors.

Click here to read the Rules on Bond for Felonies.

Click here to read the Rules on Initial Bond Appearance for Felonies.

Springfield Criminal Defense Lawyer Adam Woody Discusses Medical Marijuana and Gun Ownership

As the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services continues to craft the rules and regulations regarding medicinal marijuana in Missouri, questions regarding the new Constitutional Amendment continue.  One primary concern prospective medicinal marijuana users have is whether it will impact their Second Amendment Rights.  The answer, of course, is somewhat up in the air.  There is unlikely to be any state regulation banning firearms possession by medical marijuana patients, but the conflict comes from the federal law.  Current federal law outlaws possession of a banned controlled substance while simultaneously possessing a firearm.  Although the federal government has been fairly lax with states that are legalizing marijuana, the substance is still illegal federally.  The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms has taken a hard-line approach when it comes to medicinal marijuana users and firearms possession.  Their position is: you can’t have both.  That is unlikely to change and will be the governing rule in Missouri.  Once a person gets a medical marijuana prescription, their name will go into a federal database.  When that person attempts to purchase a new gun, their name will come up on the exclusion list and they will be unable to purchase a firearm.

It appears in Missouri and other states that have legalized medicinal marijuana, those patients have a choice to make: prescription marijuana or their Second Amendment rights to own, possess and purchase a firearm.

Adam was recently interviewed by the local CBS affiliate KOLR10 on this topic.  You can watch that interview by clicking the link here.

Driving While Black: Attorney General Reports Black Missouri Drivers 91% More Likely to be Stopped

A report from Missouri Attorney General shows black drivers across the state are 91 percent more likely than white motorists to be pulled over by police. 

The Springfield NAACP says numbers from the report have launched leadership to start working with law enforcement to find solutions.

Local law enforcement does not agree. Lawrence County Sheriff Brad Delay doesn’t buy the report, stating “A lot of times, there area reasons for that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are probably those in there that don’t need to be in this profession, but the vast majority in them, this is being done again to show that we are not racially profiling.” Click here to watch Lawrence County Sheriff Brad Delay’s interview.

The data stands in stark contrast to Lawrence County Sheriff Brad Delay’s position. In Lawrence County, the disparity index for black drivers was 8.26. Anything over 1 indicates that there was an over representation of stops for the proportion of the population.

Meanwhile, the disparity index for white drivers was 0.97. Anything under 1 indicates that there was an under representation of stops for the proportion of the population. Click here and scroll to page 585 to see Lawrence County’s statistics.

Driving While Black: Southwest Missouri Statistics

The data does not lie.

In Greene County, the disparity index for black drivers was 2.82. Anything over 1 indicates that there was an over representation of stops for the proportion of the population. But the disparity index for white drivers was 0.97, indicating that there was an under representation of stops for the proportion of the population. Click here and scroll to page 413 to see Greene County’s statistics.

In Stone County, the disparity index for black drivers was 21.21! While the disparity index for white drivers was 0.99. Click here and scroll to page 1035 to see Stone County’s statistics.

In Christian County, the disparity index for black drivers was 7.38. But the disparity index for white drivers was 0.98. Click here and scroll to page 203 to see Christian County’s statistics.

In Laclede County, the disparity index for black drivers was 5.88. But the disparity index for white drivers was 0.99. Click here and scroll to page 547 to see Laclede County’s statistics.

In Taney County, the disparity index for black drivers was 3.15. But the disparity index for white drivers was 1.03. Click here and scroll to page 1061 to see Taney County’s statistics.

The 2018 report found the statewide search rate for black and Hispanic drivers were greater than white individuals (black: 8.93; Hispanic: 8.44; white: 6.04). Interestingly, the contraband hit rate was higher among white drivers (black: 33.82; Hispanic: 29.15; white: 35.68). But arrest rates were higher for black and Hispanic people (black: 6.37; Hispanic: 6.26; white: 4.25).

“A Report is Not Enough. Actions Must Be Taken.”

Lawmakers and activists immediately called for swift action in the wake of the report. Sara Baker, ACLU Legislative and Policy Director, addressed the report, stating that “For the eighteenth year in a row, the Missouri Attorney General’s office has released a report that shows black communities, and people of color are disproportionately stopped and searched by law enforcement. A report is not enough. Actions must be taken.”

But yesterday, the Missouri Sheriff’s Association pushed back. Kevin Merritt, Executive Director of the Sheriff’s Association, said that “Race alone is not dispositive of why the stop was made; neither is a disparity index.” Merritt called for expansion include data related to whether the officer knew the race of an individual before the stop was made.

“We appreciate any and all feedback on the Vehicle Stops Report as we are continuously working to improve the data collection and accuracy,” Chris Nuelle, a spokesman for the attorney general, said in a statement to The Missouri Times. “With the 2020 Census approaching, we’re looking into best ways to integrate the most accurate data possible moving forward. Additionally, we hope the proposed changes to this year’s vehicle stops report will provide the most accurate and insightful analysis of stops in Missouri since the report’s inception in 2000.”

The Special Committee on Criminal Justice announced that it plans on holding public hearings in Kansas City and St. Louis on racial profiling and civil asset forfeiture before the General Assembly convenes next year. Source.

It will be interesting to see how Southwest Missouri law enforcement responds to this Report and whether it makes any changes in the way it trains officers in implicit bias and the way it targets vehicle stops.

Click here to read the full Attorney General Report.

Illinois State Legislature the First in the Country to Legalize Recreational Use of Marijuana

Illinois is one step away from enacting a bill legalizing the use of marijuana, making it the first state to do so through the legislature. Ten other states approved recreational use of marijuana through ballot initiatives, including Colorado, California, Massachusetts, Oregon, Nevada, Vermont, Alaska, Maine, Michigan, and Washington. But this is the first time a state legislature in the United States has taken such an action.

The Bill is on the Governor’s Desk for Signature

The bill is on Governor J.B. Pritzker’s desk. It passed the state House of Representatives by 66 to 47 vote. Governor Pritzker indicated that he plans on signing the bill. He estimated that it would make the state $170 million in the first year alone.

High Sales Tax

Users will have to pay heavy sales taxes on the cannabis they purchase in Illinois. There will be a 10% tax on marijuana products containing less than 35% THC, and a 25% or more tax on products with a higher concentration.

Details of the Law

Under the proposed law, Illinois residents 21 and older, beginning on January 1, 2020, will be able to legally possess up to 30 grams of cannabis–a little more than an ounce–and will be able to purchase it from licensed marijuana dispensaries. Non-residents can possess about half the amount of weed that residents can possess.

Under the new law, residents of Illinois convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana can petition for expungement, so long as the offense was not associated with violent crime. The Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council estimated that approximately 770,000 Illinois residents could qualify to get their records cleared of low-level marijuana crimes.

But critics have voiced concerns. Republican Representative Norine Hammond noted concerns that former felons might be allowed to possess guns and dealers may have their records cleared, as well as the lack of a field sobriety test for pot.

Illinois is well on its way to becoming the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana. It will be interesting to see if Missouri joins the trend by passing a bill legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

Attorneys Must Now Remove Their Bras To See Their Clients in Jackson County Jail

New security measures at the Jackson County Detention Center in Kansas City aimed at reducing illegal drugs and contraband have caused controversy. This week, female attorney Laurie Snell complained that she was required to remove her underwire bra to pass a metal detector on her way to see a client.

After setting the alarm off, Ms. Snell removed her jewelry and glasses, but it still went off. Ms. Snell was required to remove her bra, place it in the bin, and pass through the metal detector. Once inside the jail, she had nowhere to put it back on, so she put it back on in the elevator on the way to see her client.

“People are Going Nuts”

The public’s criticism of the policy has reached the legislators. Jackson County Legislator Crystal Williams noted that something has to change because “people are going nuts.” Williams is still reviewing the new security policy, but stated that it is obvious that there is an “undue impact on women.” Williams stated that “There are a lot of women who use underwire bras. It seems unseemly that we are discussing this.”

Other Alternatives are Available

Legislator Tony Miller wondered whether different technology would help, such as using whole-body screeners that are now common at airports. At the very least, accommodations should be made for lawyers who visit clients in the jail. All attorneys have passed criminal background checks.

For now, no change is planned. But legislators are not likely to drop the issue. Chairwoman Theresa Galvin stated that “We need to come up with a better solution, because this is not good.”

It will be interesting to see if legislators address the public’s concern over the jail’s new policy requiring female attorneys to remove their bras to visit their clients. So far, no jail in Southwest Missouri has adopted a similar policy.


New Greene County Circuit Judge Needs Governor Approval

Greene County judicial district is on track to get its first new Circuit Judge since 1976. Previous fights failed.

Over the past twenty years, Greene County has added three new Associate Circuit Judges because the number of Associate Circuit Judges per county is based upon population growth. On the other hand, Circuit Judges are ultimately based on political pull and must be approved by the Governor.  The good news for Greene County is that current Governor Parsons has strong ties to Southwest Missouri and Springfield.

Circuit Judges handle felony criminal cases, as well as some civil lawsuits. Underneath the Circuit Judges are the Associate Circuit Judges. Those judges handle misdemeanor criminal cases, conduct preliminary hearings for felony cases, and work on some civil lawsuits.

County leaders say that adding a new Circuit Judge would reduce the amount of time people spend in the overcrowded Greene County Jail awaiting trial or a plea deal.

Greene County Presiding Judge Michael Cordonnier reports that it would allow the county “to divide the caseload and provide more access to judges.”

Others are not as hopeful. Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott noted his concern that criminal cases might not move any faster without adding more public defenders or prosecutors in the new Circuit Judge’s courtroom.  The real problem right now, however, is not due to lack of enough Circuit Judges, public defenders or prosecutors.  The real problem right now is that the Greene County Prosecutor’s Office is systematically eliminating one of the circuit judges using their right of a change of judge.  One judge in particular made a ruling that their office did not like, so they are now changing out of that judge in every single criminal case for which he is assigned, causing tremendous gridlock and pressure on the other sitting Judges.  Because of this, there is even more necessity to add an additional Circuit Judge.

The Greene County Courthouse already has a spare courtroom to use and the county has budgeted money to build new space for the future.

We are looking forward to Governor Parson’s decision about adding a new Greene County Circuit Judge. It will be interesting to see if adding this new Circuit Judge alleviates the overcrowding in both the Greene County courtrooms and the Greene County Jail.


Expungement Basics

Expungement (also called “expunction“) is a court-ordered process in which the legal record of an arrest or a criminal conviction is “sealed,” or erased in the eyes of the law. When a conviction is expunged, the process may also be referred to as “setting aside a criminal conviction.”

The availability of expungement, and the procedure for getting an arrest or conviction expunged, will vary according to several factors, including the state or county in which the arrest or conviction occurred. In some jurisdictions, it’s not possible to get an expungement.

Legal Effect of an Expungement

An expungement ordinarily means that an arrest or convictions “sealed,” or erased from a person’s criminal record for most purposes. After the expungement process is complete, an arrest or a criminal conviction ordinarily does not need to be disclosed by the person who was arrested or convicted. For example, when filling out an application for a job or apartment, an applicant whose arrest or conviction has been expunged doesn’t need to disclose that arrest or conviction.

In most cases, no record of an expunged arrest or conviction will appear if a potential employer, educational institution, or other company conducts a public records inspection or background search of an individual’s criminal record.

Are Expunged Records Completely Gone?

An expunged arrest or conviction is not necessarily completely erased, in the literal sense of the word. An expungement will ordinarily be an accessible part of a person’s criminal record, viewable by certain government agencies, including law enforcement and the criminal courts.This limited accessibility is sometimes referred to as a criminal record being “under seal.” In some legal proceedings, such as during sentencing for any crimes committed after an expungement, or in immigration/deportation proceedings, an expunged conviction that is “under seal” may still be considered as proof of a prior conviction.

Factors Determining Eligibility for Expungement

Whether you may get a criminal record expunged depends on a number of factors, including the jurisdiction; the nature of the crime or charge; the amount of time that has passed since the arrest or conviction; and your criminal history. Some states, including New York, don’t allow for the expungement of criminal convictions at all.

Expungement vs. Having Your Records Sealed

Having your criminal records sealed is similar to having them expunged, but much less “hidden.” If your records are sealed, then it means they are not available to the public; this would include private investigators, credits, and employers. However, these records still exist in the context of the criminal justice system. For example, the sealed convictions will still be considered prior offenses if you are arrested in the future.

Get Legal Help with Your Questions About Expungement

The laws relating to expungement are highly variable and different jurisdictions may have different requirements that need to be met before an expungement can be granted. Contact our office today at 417-720-4800 to find out more information about expungement in Springfield, Missouri.

Assault and Battery Overview

We’ve all heard the phrase on TV or in movies: “You’re under arrest for assault and battery.” The commonly heard phrase conjures up images of bar fights and parking lot brawls. But what are the legal definitions of the crimes? Did you know there are two separate legal terms of art at play: assault is one and battery is the other? The terms are actually two separate legal concepts with distinct elements. Some states split them up while others combine the offenses.

In most states, an assault/battery is committed when one person: 1) tries to or does physically strike another, or 2) acts in a threatening manner to put another in fear of immediate harm. Many states have a separate category for “aggravated” assault/battery when severe injury or the use of a deadly weapon are involved. Assaults and batteries can also be pursued via civil lawsuits (as opposed to criminal prosecution).

In short, an assault is an attempt or threat to injure another person, while battery is the act of making contact with another person in a harmful or offensive manner. Below is a more in-depth look at both offenses and their elements, which helps explain how these two offenses are so closely tied together.

Assault: Definition

The definitions for assault vary from state-to-state, but assault is often defined as an attempt to injure to someone else, and in some circumstances can include threats or threatening behavior against others. One common definition would be an intentional attempt, using violence or force, to injure or harm another person. Another straightforward way that assault is sometimes defined is as an attempted battery. Indeed, generally the main distinction between an assault and a battery is that no contact is necessary for an assault, whereas an offensive or illegal contact must occur for a battery.

Assault: Act Requirement

Even though contact is not generally necessary for an assault offense, a conviction for assault still requires a criminal “act”. The types of acts that fall into the category of assaults can vary widely, but typically an assault requires an overt or direct act that would put the reasonable person in fear for their safety. Spoken words alone will not be enough of an act to constitute an assault unless the offender backs them up with an act or actions that put the victim in reasonable fear of imminent harm.

Assault: Intent Requirement

In order commit an assault an individual need only have “general intent.” What this means is that although someone can’t accidentally assault another person, it is enough to show that an offender intended the actions which make up an assault. So, if an individual acts in a way that’s considered dangerous to other people that can be enough to support assault charges, even if they didn’t intend a particular harm to a particular individual. Moreover, an intent to scare or frighten another person can be enough to establish assault charges, as well.

Battery: Definition

Although the statutes defining battery will vary by jurisdiction, a typical definition for battery is the intentional offensive or harmful touching of another person without their consent. Under this general definition, a battery offense requires all of the following:

  • intentional touching;
  • the touching must be harmful or offensive;
  • no consent from the victim.

Battery: Intent Requirement

It may come as some surprise that a battery generally does not require any intent to harm the victim (although such intent often exists in battery cases). Instead, a person need only have an intent to contact or cause contact with an individual. Additionally if someone acts in a criminally reckless or negligent manner that results in such contact, it may constitute an assault. As a result, accidentally bumping into someone, offensive as the “victim” might consider it to be, would not constitute a battery.

Battery: Act Requirement

The criminal act required for battery boils down to an offensive or harmful contact. This can range anywhere from the obvious battery where a physical attack such as a punch or kick is involved, to even minimal contact in some cases. Generally, a victim doesn’t need to be injured or harmed for a battery to have occurred, so long as an offensive contact is involved. In a classic example, spitting on an individual doesn’t physically injure them, but it nonetheless can constitute offensive contact sufficient for a battery. Whether a particular contact is considered offensive is usually evaluated from the perspective of the “ordinary person.”

Some jurisdictions have combined assault and battery into a single offense. Because the two offenses are so closely related and often occur together, this should probably come as no surprise. However, the basic concepts underlying the offense remain the same.

More Questions About Assault and Battery? An Attorney Can Help

In an assault or battery case there are important defenses that may apply, especially in cases where two people were involved in a mutually heated exchange. If you or someone you know is concerned about a criminal assault or battery charge, it’s critical to contact a criminal defense lawyer as early as possible to better understand the charges and the possible penalties that come with a conviction. Contact our office today at 417-720-4800.



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.