For the first time, Mississippi has one set of rules for handling criminal cases in the state. There are concerns some judges aren't complying with the changes.
The new set of rules for criminal cases approved by the Mississippi Supreme Court took effect July 1. Mississippi School of Law Professor Matt Steffey says the changes create more transparency, consistency and accountability.
"We hope to see more uniformity that a person charged with a drug crime doesn't get a low bond in one jurisdiction and an impossibly high bond in another. So, there's been reform targeted at the amount of bonds," said Steffey.
Steffey says rules require people appear before a judge within 48 hours and indigent defendants be appointed a lawyer without unnecessary delay. Cliff Johnson with the MacArthur Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law says judges fell into the habit of requiring money bail in all cases, which is unconstitutional. One new rule is: if someone isn't a flight risk or a danger to the community they shouldn't be required to pay bail.
"We think that's very important. It's a significant change in Mississippi. It comports with the law and it avoids the situation where people with money get to leave court when they're accused with a crime and people who don't have money wind up in jail," said Johnson.
Several Mississippi communities have been sued for being accused of operating debtor's prisons. Johnson says now the court must determine if a person's inability to pay fines and fees is willful or the result of poverty. They just can't lock people up. Johnson says trained monitors are going around the state to see if judges are complying with the new rules. He's getting reports some are not. Johnson says those that don't, run the risk of being reported to the Commission on Judicial Performance.