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Messenger: Public defender alleges Missouri judge is ignoring double jeopardy protections

Messenger: Public defender alleges Missouri judge is ignoring double jeopardy protections

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Jason Sharp has a warrant out for his arrest.

Call it a Valentine’s Day gift from Caldwell County Associate Circuit Judge Jason Kanoy.

I first wrote about Sharp last month. Seven years ago, he fell behind about $350 in child support. He was charged with a misdemeanor, and did 30 days in jail because he couldn’t afford bail.

He pleaded guilty and received time served and a $1,500 bill for his jail time. He was given two years of probation to be supervised by a private probation company. Twice in the past seven years, long after his child support was caught up, he was arrested and jailed again for failing to pay his jail bill.

He is one of hundreds, if not thousands, of Missourians tied to the court system for years after their cases have been adjudicated. Judges call them in month after month for “payment review hearings” in an attempt to collect bills for time spent behind bars.

Sharp’s last court date was scheduled for Feb. 7. That day is significant. It was the day after the Missouri Supreme Court held arguments in two cases similar to Sharp’s in which the Missouri State Public Defender’s Office, Attorney General Eric Schmitt, the American Civil Liberties Union and several other civil rights organizations are arguing that the process that tethers people like Sharp to court for years is illegal.

A winter storm with heavy ice moved into northern Missouri on Feb. 7. Court was canceled.

“I called several times and tried to find out the new court date,” Sharp told me. “No one would tell me.”

A week later, on Feb. 14, Kanoy held a payment review hearing for Sharp, who didn’t show up.

There is no record on the state’s public site that shows a hearing was scheduled. There is no record that the court tried to let Sharp know about his hearing.

Kanoy issued a warrant for his arrest anyway.

“How can they cancel a court date then issue a warrant without even telling you the new court date?” Sharp wonders.

It’s a good question.

So is this one:

Why is Kanoy ignoring the Missouri Supreme Court?

In January, the court issued a preliminary writ telling Kanoy to take no further action against Apollo L. Brown, who has been tied to Kanoy’s court since 2013, when he pleaded guilty to violating an order of protection, a misdemeanor. Brown did about a month in jail and received a bill for around $2,000. As is his practice, Kanoy started setting monthly hearings for Brown to make payments or explain why he couldn’t.

Like Sharp, he missed hearings. In 2015, Kanoy issued a warrant, had Brown arrested and put him in jail for two days for contempt of court.

He went back to scheduling show-cause hearings for payments, threatening contempt of court each time Brown didn’t show up.

But he can’t do that, argues Matthew Mueller, the senior bond litigation counsel for the Missouri Public Defender’s Office. It’s “double jeopardy” Mueller argued in a brief to the Missouri Supreme Court. That’s the constitutional prohibition against a citizen being prosecuted twice for the same offense.

In his brief, Mueller asked the court to stop Kanoy from continuing to bring Brown to court month after month under the threat of a contempt of court charge for which he has already gone to jail.

In January, the court “commanded” Kanoy “to take no further action” in Brown’s case.

But he did.

Brown was scheduled to appear in court at the same Valentine’s Day hearing that Sharp didn’t know anything about. In Brown’s case, the hearing was continued. Now he’s scheduled to return to court in March.

Twice now, Mueller has written the Missouri Supreme Court to let them know of what he calls “violation” of the court’s writ.

In his own court filing, Kanoy argues it’s in the “public interest” for the court to let his debt collection scheme continue.

“If judges did not allow payment plans, more defendants would surely be sentenced to incarceration, further exacerbating the over-incarceration problem that exists in this country,” his brief argues.

That’s rich. In order to reduce jail population, Kanoy wants the court to keep letting him put people in jail because they’re too poor to pay the bills from the first time he sent them there.

It’s Debtors Prison Monopoly:

Go directly to jail. Pay $2,000, or go to jail again.

Jailed for being poor is Missouri epidemic: A series of columns from Tony Messenger

Tony Messenger has written about Missouri cases where people were charged for their time in jail or on probation, then owe more money than their fines or court costs. 

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