A Black St. Louis woman is facing six months behind bars over a speeding ticket she thought she had resolved, only to find out there was a warrant out for her arrest.
The nightmare for Precious Jones, 34, began Mother’s Day weekend in 2017 when she was stopped by the Missouri Highway Patrol for going 120 mph. Jones received a ticket and was sent on her way but wound up missing her August court date.
“It slipped my mind,” she told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Jones said she turned herself into the police and paid the bond on her outstanding warrant before scheduling a new court date. She thought she was in the clear and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of going at least 26 miles over the speed limit. Still, the judge “threw the book at me,” Jones told the Post-Dispatch.
“Associate Circuit Court Judge Kelly Rose gave her a six-month jail sentence and two years probation,” the newspaper reported. “The jail sentence would be suspended if Jones did 20 days ‘shock time’ in jail, on consecutive weekends.”
Though shocked by the harsh sentencing, Jones still managed to hitch a ride every Friday to serve out her time at the Lafayette County Jail — a nearly three-hour drive from her home in St. Louis County. One day in May, Jones arrived an hour late due to work-related issues. On a separate incident in June, her car broke down.
She alerted the jail and wasn’t able to make it to Lafayette County until the next day. The jail then kept her for two full days.
By July, Jones figured she had served her time and paid off her debts. She was dealt a huge blow in September, however, when she received a letter in the mail from Lafayette County saying there was a warrant out for her arrest. It turned out prosecutor Kristen Hilbrenner was seeking to revoke her probation for the time she was late to jail, despite the fact that Jones had stayed and served her full time.
Jones is now facing another six-month sentence and warrant with a $2,500 bond attached to it, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Jones told the newspaper. “They’re just not going to let me go. They keep coming back for me.”
Jones’ case is the latest example of the widespread issue in Missouri’s rural courts where mostly low-income defendants of color are hit with probation violations and fees meant to keep them tied up in the legal system for years in an effort to boost local revenue. In 2016, a St. Louis suburb was forced to pay a $4.7 million settlement for running a modern-day debtor’s prison by illegally jailing 2,000 people who were unable to pay costly jail fees.
Jones could face a similar fees if she ends up doing more jail time in Lafayette County. Her license has since been suspended, forcing her to ask for rides wherever she goes.
The St. Louis woman has reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP in hopes that they can help her avoid a new jail sentence.
“I’m losing everything,” she said.