Williams case an example of changes in bond guidelines

Diamond Williams is a prime example of the effect of recent changes in Missouri law.

As of July 1, courts will no longer be able to detain certain nonviolent offenders before trial because of an inability to afford the bond requirements.

In essence, many nonviolent criminals like Williams, who stole more than $1,200 worth of clothes from J.C. Penney at the Tiffany Springs Market Place in July 2018, had her bond reduced.

She posted her bond for stealing and when her next court date rolled around, she didn’t show up.

Diamond Williams

Diamond Williams

That is happening more and more not only in Platte County but throughout the state and it is troubling for prosecuting attorneys like Eric Zahnd.

The Missouri Supreme Court set the new rules and did so without allocating any money to provide oversight once the offenders have been released from custody.

When the court date rolls around to reappear again, many are just not showing up.

The Missouri Times reported the Supreme Court tasked judges to consider non-monetary conditions of release unless deemed necessary for public safety.

In essence it put an end to people with low-level crimes sitting in county jails for weeks or months because they couldn’t afford the cash or surety bond tied to the case.

A precursor to the change came when a federal judge ruled that St. Louis couldn’t keep people in prison simply for being unable to afford bail.

Williams, 22, of Kansas City, was allegedly one of four females who stole Nike clothes from J.C. Penney at 9100 NW Skyview Avenue in Kansas City North on July 30, 2018. That same group was arrested for attempting the same thing at Kohl’s near Liberty about an hour later.

Court documents show that Williams admitted to carrying clothes out of J.C. Penney without paying for them and didn’t cooperate when asked if she would return the stolen merchandise.

Williams, with help from Bart Cooper Bail, posted a $7,500 bond on April 17 and was given a court date. She didn’t show up and a failure to appear warrant was issued for $10,000 the next month.

In June she was taken into custody and had a $10,000 bond, but the court ordered it be reduced to $7,500.

A bond reduction hearing was held and it was reduced to $2,000 cash/surety bond. Anytime Bail Bonds paid the $2,000 and Williams was out of jail again paying her 10 percent to the bondsman.

She didn’t show up for her court date again and another failure to appear warrant was issued for her arrest with a $5,000 cash only bond.

As of press time, the warrant is still active and the Kansas City woman continues to avoid jail or showing up for her court date to have the case tried.

While Williams’ crime was a property crime there is still a victim. In the case of a stolen car or a burglary, Zahnd said the owner of the car or house can feels like a victim even if its a nonviolent crime.

“I fully support making sure we only incarcerate pre-trial those who are threats to public safety and will not otherwise appear in court,” Zahnd said. “The issue is every state that has successfully had bond reform — the federal government have done so with providing millions of dollars — they support and supervise giving pre-trial release. Missouri has provided zero money to support it. I’m very concerned it will jeopardize public safety and we will have hundreds not show up for their court date and ultimately the sheriff or other law enforcement agencies have to get out and go arrest them for a second time.

“If we are going to release people prior to trial we have to have resources to supervise them and support them. The federal government pre-trial service for every federal defendant has a probation officer pre-trial to make sure they are being supervised and those with drug addiction problems are getting the treatment they need. Millions and millions go into the federal government program. Missouri has tried to implement it with no money and I have grave concerns.”

Zahnd said there has been a ‘fair number’ of people who have been given a lower bond or released on their own recognizance who haven’t come back for court.

That turns into added expenses when law enforcement officials have to try to serve a warrant and that also can turn into a dangerous situation. Six officers shot in Philadelphia made national headlines last month and the situation started when officers tried to serve a warrant.

“Something could go wrong every single time and the more you require the sheriff’s office and other police officers to do it is more likely something will go wrong,” Zahnd said. “And the impact of the new law, it is going to happen more frequently.”

Ultimately the decision on bond falls on the judges, but the county prosecutor’s office makes recommendations. More people have been held without bond while awaiting trial recently if the court believes there is a threat to public safety or the subject might not appear in court.

In the past, those cases involved very high bonds — upwards of $1 million for murder suspects — essentially so high they were forced to stay in jail.

Zahnd is worried about the public safety threat when failures to appear continue to increase. He supports the new change, but without the funding to implement it the onus of something bad happening with someone out on bond increases.

“It is just a matter of time before someone gets killed fleeing law enforcement because they got a warrant,” Zahnd said. “I worry about that every day and I had a conversation with the sheriff (Mark Owen) and that is one of his concerns.”