Missouri SB 5: Modifies distribution of traffic fines and court costs collected by municipal courts

Missouri’s SB5 was a response to the protests in Ferguson following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown.

This Act significantly modifies various provisions related to local government revenue in Missouri, including the imposition and enforcement of fines and fees in municipal courts. The Act imposed a 20% cap on municipal court revenue from fines and fees everywhere in the state except St. Louis County, where the cap was 12.5%. However, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned this provision in 2017, ruling that it was unconstitutional for the state to impose different caps on different counties.

This Act works in conjunction with SB 572, as both Acts have several overlapping directives. You can read the full text of SB 5 here.

“Too often my audits identified blatant disregard for financial reporting requirements, and outright refusal to remit excess revenue owed to the state,” [Galloway] wrote, vowing to continue ensuring cities are not using courts “as the main source of revenue to prop up an otherwise unsustainable government.” —Auditor Nicole Galloway

Key Provisions
  • If the percentage of a city’s annual general operating revenue received from fines, bond forfeitures, and court costs for municipal ordinance violations and minor traffic violations exceeds 20%, the excess amount is sent to the state’s department of revenue, and the department will then distribute the excess money to schools in the county. St. Louis County revenues were capped at 12.5%.
  • All counties and cities must submit an addendum with their annual financial report to the State Auditor that breaks down their general operating revenue and total revenues from fines and fees.
  • The Missouri Supreme Court will develop rules regarding conflict of interest for any prosecutor, public defender, or judge that has a pending case before the municipal division of any circuit court.
  • Municipal courts must establish procedures (1) that allow indigent defendants to present evidence of their financial condition; (2) make use of community service alternatives instead of imposing costs; and (3) allow for the use of payment plans.
  • No fine can be imposed if, combined with other court costs, the fine will be greater than $300.
  • No court costs will apply if the court finds that the defendant is indigent or if the case is dismissed.
  • No municipal court can sentence a defendant to jail for a minor traffic violation unless the violation involves alcohol or controlled substances, it endangers the health or welfare of others, or it involves eluding or giving false information to a law enforcement officer.
  • A defendant cannot be jailed for failure to pay a fine or fee unless such nonpayment violates the terms of probation.
Eric Schmitt, Jamilah Nasheed, Tom Dempsey, Robert Cornejo
SB 5