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Messenger: Warren County woman highlights private probation abuses in Missouri

Messenger: Warren County woman highlights private probation abuses in Missouri

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WRIGHT CITY — This is a story about how Aimey Stude almost lost her toe.

The tale begins on June 13, 2015.

That was the day that Stude and her husband, Michael, had an argument at their Wright City home.

Here’s how the Warren County Sheriff’s deputy described what happened:

“During the disturbance, (Aimey) struck (Michael) in his right arm several times and threw beer bottles across the bedroom. During a conversation with (Aimey), she told me that is exactly what happened.”

Indeed, Stude told me the same thing.

Her husband wasn’t hurt. She’s not even sure why he called the police. At the time, she thought he was joking. But he did. So she went with the deputies to the police station. They were very nice, she remembers. Her father picked up the kids for the night. The next day they were all back at home and all was well.

The Studes don’t have a history of domestic violence at their home.

Aimey has no record, except for a couple of traffic tickets.

But five months later, out of the blue, she was charged with third-degree domestic violence, a misdemeanor. Stude had one thought when she found out she had been charged with a crime.

“Are you kidding me?”

She was assigned a public defender, and eventually Warren County Prosecuting Attorney Kelly King agreed to drop the charge to a misdemeanor peace disturbance. In January 2017, Stude pleaded guilty. She was sentenced to two years’ probation.

In Warren County, as in most counties in Missouri, that means paying a private probation company for its monthly services, including for drug tests and any other requirements imposed by a judge. The for-profit companies have a built-in incentive to find violations of probation, and that’s what they often do.

So it was in Stude’s case.

Two months short of completing her 24-month probation, the private company, EMASS, reported her to the court for a probation violation. Stude had already advanced to the part of probation where she no longer had to show up in the office once a month, just send in a form in the mail. But she moved, and something happened with the change of address. The form didn’t make it in. She called to try to straighten it out. Too late.

Stude was called back before Warren County Associate Circuit Judge Richard Scheibe. He extended her probation by a year.

There is a quirk in Missouri law that worked against Stude.

Had she been charged with a felony, she already would have been off of probation. People charged with a felony in Missouri are supervised not by private probation companies, but by state probation officers. And for every month of “good behavior” on probation, a month is knocked off the back end. Two years of probation becomes one if a defendant doesn’t violate his or her conditions.

For two years now, state Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake Saint Louis, has been trying to extend the same law to cover misdemeanors. Last year, opposition from private probation companies blocked the bill. Hill has filed it again this year.

“In Missouri, misdemeanors are treated worse than felonies in some cases,” Hill says. “This case is a prime example. It’s just ridiculous. It’s just nonsense that we’re keeping people like her in the system.”

The reason, of course, is money.

Money to the private probation company, and, eventually, money to the counties that charge for time in jail. Eventually, that’s where Stude ended up.

In March and April, life happened. Her grandmother died. A close friend of her son died. There were funerals to attend. Then she had oral surgery.

“It was three weeks of complete hell,” Stude says.

She missed a couple of check-ins with her probation officer. In May, she showed up to court, with funeral notices and doctor’s receipts, ready to explain herself. “It’s not like I was out doing bad things,” she says. She wasn’t represented by an attorney. The public defender’s representation ends after disposition of the original case.

Thinking back on it, Stude doesn’t know exactly what happened that day. She says she was confused. “I had no clue what I was doing.”

Scheibe sentenced her to six months in jail for the probation violation.

“I was led off in handcuffs, and that was it.”

Stude spent half of last year in the Warren County Jail.

“I was the only person sitting in there on a misdemeanor,” she says.

She got out on Thanksgiving.

Nine days earlier she had stubbed her toe. An infection set in. She kept asking for medical attention. A nurse rubbed some Neosporin on the toe. The day after she got out of jail, she went to the doctor. He had to cut off a growth on the toe that had become horribly infected. She still limps.

Oh, and now she owes Warren County about $10,065 for her time in jail.

Justice exacts a toll in rural Missouri.

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