With only two hours left in this year’s legislative session, it appears unlikely that the Missouri General Assembly will pass a new sentencing scheme for juveniles under the age of 18 who commit first degree murder. Because of U.S. Supreme Court rulings Missouri is barred from using the two options currently in our statutes–the death penalty or mandatory life without parole.
Sen. Bob Dixon (R-Springfield) introduced SB 200, which took a punitive approach to sentencing juveniles. The bill set up a tiered system of either 35 or 50 year sentences (depending on the age of the juvenile) or life without parole. The MCC opposed SB 200 because it didn’t reflect the potential of youth to change or provide them a meaningful second chance at life.
When SB 200 came over to the House in the last weeks of session, the House Committee on Civil and Criminal Proceedings changed the sentencing scheme in the bill due to constitutional concerns. They set the sentence terms at 25-40 years, regardless of age, and allowed the option of life with the possibility of parole. The MCC supported this approach to the issue.
HCS SB 200 was on the House calendar for debate when the session ended, so the issue will wait until next year. In the meantime, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear a case this fall related to the issue, so the high court might provide more guidance on juvenile sentencing that will be helpful to Missouri’s deliberations next session.
Posted: May 15, 2015