Supreme Courts issues new rules for municipal court fines in Missouri
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV.com) -- Changes to the municipal court fine system are on the way, which will grant more flexibility for those who have trouble paying.
The Missouri Supreme Court ruling requires judges to extend deadlines and break down fines into payment plans for those who may not have the cash to pay up front.
“It's a very terrible downward spiral for a lot of people in the low income community,” said John Ammann, a SLU Law Professor.
Municipal judges have always had the ability to extend leniency on fines for those who may not be able to afford them, but the new requirements mandated by the Missouri Supreme Court force municipal judges to consider income when working with defendants.
“A lot of people stay away from showing up for court dates because they don't have the money. A warrant is then issued. A warrant can interfere with a person's ability to find a job,” Ammann said. “A warrant can interfere with a person's ability to find housing.”
Under the new rule, if the defendant doesn't pay the fine, the judge can order them back to court to discuss a payment plan. If the defendant doesn't show up to that court date, the judge will then issue an arrest warrant and could send them to jail for up to thirty days.
The ruling does not require judges to use ability to pay as a factor when determining a punishment, rather only how and when the fine will be paid.
“They can't afford it. Give a person a chance to get it off your record because once it’s on your record - it’s on your record,” said Mitchell McClerking, a St. Louis resident. “It infuses a sense of compassion in the municipal court system that we really didn't have before.”
The City of St. Louis instituted a ruling in December ordering circuit judges to issue punishments proportional to the violators’ ability to pay. The changes officials go into effect July 1, 2015.