Earlier this week Adam, on behalf of the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, had the honor of speaking before the Missouri Senate Judiciary Committee at the state capital in Jefferson City in opposition to a bill it has before it for review. As you may recall, earlier this month Governor Parson called a special session for the house and senate to reconvene in an effort to “address violent crime.” The main crime bill that the Senate is considering, Senate Bill 1, is problematic in many ways. It addresses things from admitting hearsay statements at trial in certain instances, as well as adding additional offenses for which a juvenile must go through a certification hearing to possibly be sent straight to adult court. MACDL is opposed to these unnecessary modifications, as it really seems more like an attempt at election year politics.
Also in the bill is a provision that would remove the residency requirement for St. Louis police officers. Current law requires police officers in the municipality of St. Louis City to live within the city limits. The change would allow police officers to live within 60 miles of the city. The vast majority of the speakers present at the capital earlier this week were there to discuss that, and everyone was generally in favor of the change. We are unsure how this provision got put in the middle of a crime bill, but it unfortunately buried some of the important crime measures. We are concerned that the committee may pass the entire bill because of this provision, as it is an all or nothing proposition.
Specifically in regard to the juvenile certification issue, there are just a few types of offenses that currently require a child to have a hearing in juvenile court to determine whether their case should be moved to state court. They are the very serious offenses such as homicide and robbery. What this bill is attempting to do is to add unlawful use of a weapon and armed criminal action to that list. The scary thing about it is that armed criminal action, in adult court, is mandatory prison time. The statute allows anywhere from 3 years in the Department of Corrections to life. What this means is that if a child is certified to adult court for armed criminal action, which this bill would more readily allow, that child MUST go to prison for a minimum of 3 years. It is hard to fathom the benefit of putting a child as young as 12 in prison along with the hardest adult criminals. Surely our legislature could come up with something better to divert these children away from the system, rather than requiring their placement right in the middle of it. Rather than spend money to build more prisons, which this in conjunction with recently passed Senate Bill 600 will inevitably require, why not spend money on social programs for children, after school education programs for example, aimed at diverting these kids away from a criminal lifestyle. Not to mention that this bill, as designed, will target low income children and those of racial minorities.
MACDL continues to keep a close eye on these types of bills and do our part every day to thwart inequitable legislation. We are monitoring this bill closely and hope it does not pass.
To view coverage of the special session by Fox 4 News click here.