Big Changes Coming For Missouri’s Criminal Statutes?

Missouri’s current criminal code dates back to the late 1970s.  But social conditions have changed greatly since then, and the law needs to change along with it.  Things that may have been emphasized in the laws in 1970s may need to be updated, changed, or otherwise modified.

Missouri’s SB 491 is sponsored by our former law school classmate and long time friend Senator Jolie Justice and is intended to make these much needed changes.  It is an ambitious, 1100 page bill, and it would make significant changes to how the criminal justice system works in Missouri.

“It’s forty years in the making,” Missouri Sen. Dixon recently said. “The important thing is that we are making an attempt to be more effective on crime, smart on crime, making sure the punishment actually fits the crime.”  A committee had been formed by the Missouri Bar several years ago to examine possible changes to Missouri’s criminal code, and some of those recommendations have apparently been adopted.

According to proponents of the bill, the new code would “distribute justice and punishment differently” in the sense that first time offenses would carry less weight, while repeat offenses would face an escalating set of possible punishments.  A first time marijuana offense, for example, would not be an offense punishable by jail.

This signifies the new bill’s increased focus on rehabilitation in the field of drug offenses.  There is also an increased focus on “child protection”, in the sense that some offenses committed with a minor will be classified as aggravated.

The new code would, in some cases, distribute justice and punishment differently since some first-time offenses would carry less weight and repeat offenses would carry more. There is also proposal to reorganize the classification scheme for felonies and misdemeanors.

Adding a new class of felony seems to be a significant proposal.  Currently, Missouri Revised Statutes 557.016 specifies four classes of felonies:  A, B, C, and D, which are broken down in order of severity of punishment.  The new legislation would propose to add a fifth category of felony (E) to the list, which would carry a possible maximum punishment of no more than four years.  There would also be created a new class of misdemeanor, Class D, in addition to the current number of three misdemeanor categories.  The goal here was to make for more of an even “stair step” increasing of punishment severity between the felony and misdemeanor offenses.  Under the current classification scheme, there is a great deal of overlap between the four categories.  Proponents of the new scheme say that this can generate uncertain outcomes at sentencing.  The creation of a fifth category is intended to address this problem.

While no one can predict for certain the results of new legislation, it seems beyond question that a criminal code that dates to 1978 could use a major overhaul.  In the end, however, it is not a code that makes a system function effectively, but the knowledge, diligence, and efficiency of the people who work within it.  We are experienced defense attorneys.  Call us for a consultation.

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