(Update) Woman Freed After Indigent Defense Rules, Borrowed Bond Snafu
A St Joseph woman who was jailed briefly on Thursday is once again free on bond awaiting a preliminary hearing in the death of her ailing child.
Alexandra Schurr is charged with involuntary manslaughter for allegedly leaving her ailing daughter unattended in October. The child, who suffered from cerebral palsey, suffocated from complications caused by her feeding machine.
Officials say Schurr’s grandmother was able to borrow the 10% fee required for Schurr to post $50,000 bond.
But Schurr then discovered that she could not afford to hire her own attorney. Under the current rules of the Public Defender’s Office, which are in part borne out by state statute, Schurr no longer qualified as an indigent defendant, and thus could not be represented by a public defender.
On Thursday, Buchanan County Associate Circuit Judge Ronald Taylor revoked Schurr’s bond, ordered the Public Defender to represent her, and told her that once the Public Defender took over the case, he would likely set a lower bond. In the meantime, Schurr was detained at the Buchanan County Jail.
Later in the day, St Joseph lawyer Tim Warren entered his appearance in the case and requested the bond be reinstated. Judge Taylor did so, and Schurr was freed Thursday.
Courthouse observers differed on how to interpret Schurr’s case. Some, including Buchanan County Prosecuting Attorney Dwight Scroggins, suggest that defendants should be warned that posting bond can make them ineligible for representation by the Public Defender. Others suggest that the judge could hold a hearing to formally determine whether a defendant is indigent, regardless of whether a family member is willing to lend her the money to pay a bail bondsman.
The rules governing who qualifies for a public defender in Missouri are set by statute:
600.086. 1. A person shall be considered eligible for representation…when it appears from all the circumstances of the case including his ability to make bond, his income and the number of persons dependent on him for support that the person does not have the means at his disposal or available to him to obtain counsel in his behalf and is indigent as hereafter determined.
But, the statute does include an opportunity to avoid this kind of conflict.
600.086. 3. The determination of indigency of any person seeking the services of the state public defender system shall be made by the defender or anyone serving under him at any stage of the proceedings. Upon motion by either party, the court in which the case is pending shall have authority to determine whether the services of the public
defender may be utilized by the defendant. Upon the courts finding that the defendant is not indigent, the public defender shall no longer represent the defendant.
Schurr is scheduled for a preliminary hearing January 3.