The associate circuit judge is the entry point for criminal cases in Missouri circuit courts, and these judges are charged with quickly assessing the danger of the accused as well as the rights of the accused.
Two tools these judges can use are bonds and early or pre-trial release programs. The goal of bonds and early-release programs are to avoid overwhelming jails with minor offenders while also protecting public safety and offering those who may have been falsely accused an opportunity to keep their job and home.
Democrat Scott Evans and Republican Brian Stumpe are running for the new associate circuit position in Cole County in the Nov. 3 general election.
Evans owns the Law Office of Evans Crow Halcomb, which he has operated since 2014. Stumpe currently serves as Jefferson City's municipal judge after his election in April 2019; he held the position of Jefferson City municipal prosecuting attorney from 2011-19.
Both said, if they are elected, there are rules they would have to follow in deciding how to use these tools.
"Bonds are controlled by Supreme Court rule, and a judge must follow that rule and give proper consideration," Stumpe said. "There are several types that can be used such as cash bonds, surety bonds (this is when you use a bondsman and generally pay 10 percent of the bond to the bondsman and they then guarantee your appearance in court), no bonds (generally reserved for people that are a sincere danger to society) and pre-trial release bonds."
"In 2019, the Missouri Supreme Court looked to address the overcrowding of jails with defendants awaiting trial who either could not post the bond set for them or were not given a bond," Evans said. "This was particularly relevant to minor and non-violent offenses. Judges must now first consider non-monetary conditions for pre-trial release when setting bond conditions. Bond may still be set but only to ensure the defendant will appear in court and to protect the public safety."
Stumpe said in the case of setting a bond to make certain the person will come to court is often not an issue.
"However, if a bond is required, then it has to be large enough that if someone leaves town and is trying to avoid prosecution that the bondsman is willing to go get that person," Stumpe said. "On the matter of if a person is a threat to society, when someone is arrested, they are subject to a 24-hour hold, pursuant to the Revised Statutes of Missouri, while awaiting charges to be filed for a variety of offenses including domestic assault, felony sexual assault and felony resisting arrest."
Evans said he intends to call upon the county's pre-trial services as an alternative to cash or surety bonds — but only in appropriate cases.
"I do not believe in setting a cash bond for someone for the sake of appearance," Evans said. "If the intention is for the defendant to remain incarcerated awaiting trial, I won't simply set a cash bond so high they can't afford it. I'll come right out and deny bond, including the reasons why bond was denied.
"Another option for the courts is a property bond that allows the defendant to use property instead of money to post bond," Evans added. "I only believe a property bond would be appropriate when the goal is to ensure the defendant's appearance at court. I do not believe a property bond is a proper deterrent to protect crime victims and the community."
Stumpe said once charges have been filed and the person has not posted bond, the judge will see the person in 48-72 hours. At that time, a pre-trial release evaluation will have been done for the judge to review to determine if bond is appropriate or if the person is a good candidate for pre-trial release. The study will look at a person's criminal history, flight risk, home study, severity of crime and history of offense, creating a risk assessment scoring system contemplating probability of re-offending, flight risk, and danger to society and grading the person as a low, moderate or high risk.
"The thing that is unique and attractive about the pre-trial release program is that it allows the jail to be utilized for holding people pre-trial that are truly a threat to society and allows those that are not a threat to society to continue keeping a job, going to drug or alcohol treatment, to be monitored by GPS while they are out," Stumpe said.
Evans noted the benefits of the pre-trial release program for first time offenders in Cole County, as well as for minor and non-violent offenses.
"This program helps provide oversight during the court process while not burdening the jails and protecting the defendant's rights awaiting trial.
"Through pre-trial release, we can also conduct an investigation prior to release to better assure compliance with the conditions, a suitable plan upon release, and to make sure the victims and community are adequately protected should the defendant be placed in the program," Evans concluded.
Stumpe said: "I will utilize all of the tools in my tool box, but each case must be fact specific.
"One cannot make a blanket statement how they will determine a bond for a type of case as each case is unique and has facts that are different from any other case. A judge must not just make a ruling on bond one time and move on, but the defendant is entitled to have additional hearings on bond issues and the judge must be fair and apply the facts of each individual case when making bond determinations," he said.