Missouri Senate OKs Bill Amending Sentencing Rules for Minors in Murder Convictions
Oct 9, 2015
St. Peters, MO, (Law Firm Newswire) October 9, 2015 – Measure seeks to address high court rulings that Missouri’s state law was unconstitutional.
The Missouri Senate on April 15 approved a bill that would establish more lenient sentencing standards for minors convicted of first-degree murder than the current requirement of life in prison. The measure seeks to reform the sentencing requirements in the wake of a state Supreme Court ruling that found them unconstitutional as well as a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012 that found mandatory life sentences for minors to be unconstitutional.
Under Senate Bill 200, which is sponsored by Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, juries would be allowed to sentence 16- to 18-year-olds to 50 years in prison without parole or life without parole. Minors under the age of 16 would face at least 35 years in prison under the bill.
Missouri’s sentencing law now reads to permit the trying of minors between the ages of 12 and 17 as adults. If convicted of first-degree murder in adult court, minors between the ages of 12 and 17 would be sentenced to life in prison without parole. First-degree murder defendants 11 and younger are tried in juvenile court, and only adults 18 and older can receive the death penalty in Missouri.
“While the bill seeks to address the flaws within the state’s sentencing requirements it still holds open the possibility in some cases for a sentence of life without parole,” said Charles James, a prominent criminal defense attorney in St. Peters, Missouri. “And that is a harsh potential sentence for a minor.”
Some senators remain unhappy about the measure’s provision for a minimum sentence of 50 years in prison without parole for minors between the ages of 16 and 18, and they have criticized it as essentially a guarantee of life behind bars for some teens.
Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, has sponsored a bill reflecting the aforementioned position. Under Keaveny’s measure, juveniles ages 16 or 17 at the time of the crime would face 14 to 30 years in prison if convicted of first-degree murder while those minors under the age of 16 at the time of the crime would face 12 to 30 years if convicted. Keaveny’s bill has yet to come to a vote in committee.
A second full vote must be held on Dixon’s bill before it can proceed to the House for consideration
“Several states including Missouri have had to pull back from the mandatory life sentence requirements that blossomed in the period when tough-on-crime lawmakers were demanding that juveniles be tried as adults,” James said. “Regardless of which bill ultimately becomes law, minors charged with a crime will still be up against strongly empowered state lawyers eager to convict them.”
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