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St. Louis municipal court limits cash bail

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The city of St. Louis has pledged to let most people charged with municipal offenses go home without having to pay bail.

These changes are part of a court order finalized earlier this month. They were prompted in part by a federal lawsuit from the MacArthur Justice Center over the way people protesting Jason Stockley's acquittal of first-degree murder were treated by the police and courts. That lawsuit has since been dismissed.

“We are glad to know that the City has revisited its cash bail practices, not just in protest cases but in all City Municipal Court matters,” the MacArthur Justice Center wrote in a letter to City Counselor Julian Bush earlier this week. “This is an important first step to reform in our City, and we are grateful to [St. Louis Administrative Judge Newton] McCoy for his careful reconsideration of the situation.”

McCoy’s order limits cash bail to cases that involve domestic violence or if the person has outstanding warrants. Cash bond may also be required if, “in the reasonable judgment of the Division of Police, release of the person presents a danger of harm to the person arrested, another person, or the property of another person.”

That exception bothered Mae Quinn, the director of the MacArthur Justice Center in St. Louis.

“It seems very subjective,” she said. “It also seems to abdicate the role of the court to the police officer in a situation where that should not be. Speculating about what might happen in the future shouldn’t be left up to an individual officer on the beat.”

The center will monitor how often police determine that someone is dangerous, Quinn said. Quinn also plans to pay attention to how often the process of arrest and booking is used to punish protesters and others arrested on municipal charges.

“We have seen people arrested on protest-related offenses being moved from station house to station house to prevent people from finding them, folks being sent to the Justice Center unnecessarily,” Quinn said.

McCoy, the administrative judge for the municipal court, did not respond to a request for comment.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.