Silouette of Handcuffs

Like a lot of other states Missouri has been flirting with the notion of eliminating cash bail during the past year. Anti-bail lobbyists have been busy working the corridors of power in Jefferson City trying to convince lawmakers to do just that. But while they debated the issue activists judges on the Missouri Supreme Court went ahead and changed the law themselves, imposing new rules in July that compelled courts to release more people on their own recognizance. One of those who was allowed to walk without bail in September was 23 year old Javier Alatorre.

The No-Bail Bonds Chickens Come Home to Roost

Alatorre has a long history of run-ins with the law. And when he stood before a Kansas City judge that day in September prosecutors urged the court no either detain him or impose a sizable bail. Instead the judge, acting on guidance from the Missouri Supreme Court, simply released him. Last week Alatorre was alleged one of two men who walked into a bar called Tequila KC in the wee hours of the morning and opened fire. The result: four dead and five wounded.

The People Have Had Enough

In the aftermath of the shooting public outrage was directed at the Supreme Court and some lawmakers also expressed their deep dissatisfaction at a result many considered inevitable. State Senator Justin Hill (R) was quoted as saying he was “furious”. Speaking to the Missouri Times Hill went on to say that “The court went around the welfare of the people of Missouri”. He said he plans to file legislation specifically aimed at undoing the changes wrought by the Missouri Supreme Court. “They disregarded the welfare of the public - It’s so offensive.” Hill said.

How Did We Get Here?

When Alatorre was arraigned back in September assistant prosecuting attorney for Jackson County Stephanie R. Sang tried in earnest to block the bond reduction proposed by his lawyer. She argued that he posed a significant flight risk and that his record was littered with missed court appearances. She also cited his long arrest history and stated her belief that Alatorre represented a danger to the public.

But Circuit Court Judge Kevin D. Harrell ignored Sang’s warnings and released Alatorre on his own recognizance. The prosecutor was stunned but powerless in the face of the judge’s decision. And Alatorre walked out of the court that day a free man. Now with four people dead and five wounded it seems the anti-bail bonding chickens may have finally come home to roost.

Opposition to Catch and Release Intensifies

All across the country states that have either abolished the bail system or eliminated it in many instances have seen alarming increases in crime. At the same time the number of those failing to appear for their court date has skyrocketed. In the wake of the Tequila KC mass shooting Rep. Jeff Shawan (R) wrote a letter to the Missouri Supreme Court in which he expressed his dismay at the lack of common sense at the heart of the Court’s recent anti-bail guidance. “It is a danger to the public and peace officers to expect those who have been habitually arrested for violent crimes to behave lawfully upon release.”

He was referring to the oft-stated notion cited by bail reform advocates that people like Alatorre are somehow victimized by having to post bail. His letter went on to state that “The case of Mr. Alatorre is an example of this problem, and there will be more tragedy to come, in my opinion. Something must be done.” Senator Hill - a former police officer from O’Fallon - agreed with Shawan, stating that if changes to the Supreme Court’s rules are not enacted another situation like that which occurred at Tequila KC was likely.

Representative Dottie Bailey from Eureka also concurred, placing blame for the mass shooting squarely on the shoulders of the judge that released Alatorre. Said Bailey: “We can’t just stop holding people for bond - That the judges aren’t catching more fire for this is a little irritating.” She also said that she and other representatives were going to take a close look at the Supreme Court’s guidance, which she believes results in dangerous felons not being held accountable. “It’s not safe at all” she said. “It’s just not right when this could have been stopped.”

Has Bail Reform Run its Course?

The Tequila KC mass shooting is just the latest outrage visited upon unsuspecting Americans by the so-called “bail reform” movement. A movement largely championed by a former Enron executive by way of his family slush fund known as the Arnold Foundation.

But recently the Arnold Foundation did an abrupt about face and is now seemingly moving away from calling for an outright ban on the bondsman. Instead they’ve announced they’re going to become a for-profit organization rebranded as “Arnold Ventures” and that they’re going to look for other methods to ensure people aren’t detained unfairly while awaiting their day in court.

That’s great and long overdue. And hopefully we’ll never again see the likes of the Arnold Foundation and their lobbyists in Adams County, Broomfield County, Weld County or Denver. But it won’t bring back the four people killed in Kansas City last week. Nor will it provide justice to victims across the country who stood in court like fools over the past couple of years waiting for defendants released without bail who never showed up.