Senate Committee Hears Legislation on Sentencing Juveniles

How do you sentence offenders younger than 18 who commit first-degree murder?  That was the question this week as the Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee considered two proposals dealing with juvenile offenders. The committee heard public testimony on SB 280, sponsored by Senator Joe Keaveny (D-St. Louis), which would set up a tiered system of 12-30 years for young offenders, dependent on their age, background, and circumstances of the crime. The committee also heard testimony on SB 200, sponsored by Senator Bob Dixon (R-Springfield), which would also set up a tiered system of 35 or 50 years imprisonment, depending on the age of the offender.

Missouri’s existing statue sets the punishment for first-degree murder at either death or life imprisonment without parole.  However, two U.S. Supreme court rulings on juveniles below the age of 18 have outlawed the death penalty and mandatory life without parole sentences for young offenders.  This leaves Missouri in a quagmire with no enforceable sentence for juveniles who commit this crime.

The MCC testified before the Judiciary committee in support of SB 280 and in opposition to SB 200.  The MCC maintained that SB 280 is a better policy for young offenders, as it takes into account the brain development of youth and their potential for rehabilitation.  Speaking against SB 200, the MCC stressed that because offenders in prison don’t tend to live as long as people in the general population, the legislation would be a de facto death sentence for most young offenders, which would violate the intent of the Supreme Court rulings.

At this time, the committee has taken no further action on either proposal.

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