Pine Lawn debtor's prison

Krista Jackson appeared on a TV screen in the Division 26 courtroom in the Carnahan Courthouse downtown.

Jackson is being held in the St. Louis Justice Center for having two failure-to-appear charges, which stem from a possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia charge in February 2018. Circuit Judge Thomas A. McCarthy asked the 30-year-old white woman what bond amount she could pay at her detention hearing on Monday, June 17.

“Nothing,” Jackson said. “I’m homeless.”

McCarthy then set her bail at $500, lowering it from the initial $2,500 amount.

“The court finds that you will not come back to court on a written promise to appear,” McCarthy said. “So I’m trying to set a bond that you can afford. Maybe you can come up with that.”

In another case, McCarthy heard from a 40-year-old black man who is being charged with possession of drugs and an illegal gun. The judge determined that he could be released on a cash bond. McCarthy then asked the man, Andre Griffin, what bond amount he could pay. Griffin replied $2,000. The judge set the bond at 10 percent of $50,000, or $5,000.

What the judge essentially did was set a bond amount to hold a person, said District Defender Mary Fox, who observed Griffin’s hearing. This goes directly against a federal court ruling that just came down this month, she said, which found that the 22nd Circuit Court cannot hold people in jail just because they can’t pay the bond amount.

“It’s in violation of the Constitution, and U.S. Judge Audrey G. Fleissig was very specific in court on Friday when she said that cash bonds cannot be set when the person cannot make them,” Fox said. “That is a de facto detention – without a finding that a person needs to be detained.”

At a Friday, June 14 hearing, U.S. Judge Audrey G. Fleissig ordered the City of St. Louis and the 22nd Circuit Court to hold 30 detention hearings a day, Monday through Wednesday. This is an attempt to get the approximately 700 pretrial inmates sitting in one of the city’s two jails the opportunity to tell a judge whether or not they can afford the bond amount that has been set for them. These hearings are a right that the city court has been denying people who are accused — but not convicted — of a crime and are awaiting a hearing or trial, Fleissig ruled. McCarthy was among five judges holding detention hearings on Monday morning. A spokesman for the 22nd Circuit Court said the court is not able to discuss or comment on the cases McCarthy heard because they are pending.

Fleissig’s June 14 order comes after she issued a preliminary injunction on June 11 in David Dixon, et. al., v. City of St. Louis, et. al., requiring the City of St. Louis to give a fair bail hearing to every person arrested within 48 hours of their arrest  — and judges must take into account a person’s financial situation.

“What this means for St. Louis residents is that they no longer face sitting in jail for as many as 291 days just because they can’t make bail,” according to a statement from the groups who brought forth the case, including ArchCity Defenders, Advancement Project National Office, Civil Rights Corps and Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.

The injunction also grants class certification status, expanding the plaintiffs beyond the four people who originally challenged the constitutionality of the city’s cash bail system.

However, after watching some of the detention hearings on June 17, District Defender Mary Fox said, “I am concerned that the judges have not put a procedure in place that complies with Judge Fleissig’s order.”

Her other concern is that the court has not been giving notice to the public defenders and private defense attorneys when the detention hearings will be held.

“I’m here at noon on Monday, and I have no idea what cases are going to be heard tomorrow or Wednesday,” Fox said. “And no one seems to be able to tell me who is making the decisions as to what cases will be heard.”

The court’s spokesman said he could not comment on Fox’s complaint, but said that at around 1:30 p.m. the presiding judge receives a list of court cases from the Circuit Attorney’s Office for the following day. The presiding judge divides up the names and sends them out to the five judges who will be holding the detention hearings the next day. The divisions then notify the defense attorneys of the time and place, he said.

The Circuit Attorney’s Office has been cooperative with the Public Defender’s Office, Fox said, and has been trying to provide the public defenders with the hearing information. But the court has not been communicating with Fox’s office at all, she said.

“Part of Judge Fleissig’s order is that the defendant has the right to rebut and present the evidence at these hearings,” Fox said. “If you don’t know the hearing is going to happen, how do you get evidence together to present and rebut?”

You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.