- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri senators voted Thursday to tighten the laws on when police can use deadly force, bringing them in line with parameters set by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that police can use deadly force only when an officer believes a fleeing felon poses a serious threat to others. But Missouri’s law does not specify that a fleeing felon has to be dangerous - a discrepancy that gained attention after a white Ferguson officer fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, in 2014.

The confusing instructions to the grand jury that considered indicting the officer demonstrated that the law needs clarification, said Sen. Bob Dixon, a Republican from Springfield who was one of the bill’s sponsors. The grand jury did not indict the officer, and the U.S. Justice Department cleared him in the shooting.

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Senators voted 30-2 to send the legislation to the House. The Senate passed a similar overhaul last year, but the Legislature never passed a final version.

The Missouri Department of Public Safety says police training materials already detail the discrepancy between state law and the court ruling.

Nevertheless, a police officer could invoke the looser Missouri statute in a criminal defense, said Chad Flanders, a law professor at Saint Louis University. That’s because the Supreme Court ruling stemmed from a civil rights case, he said, and it does not nullify Missouri’s law.

And a difference between state law and jury instructions - which the Missouri Supreme Court have written in a way that notes the U.S. Supreme Court standard - could also be grounds for a police officer to appeal a criminal conviction, Flanders said.

Missouri is one of 12 states whose statutes or case law create different use-of-force rules than the U.S. Supreme Court standard, Flanders said, while 37 have laws in line with the court ruling.

The bill also would allow anyone who believes his or her constitutional rights have been violated to bring a lawsuit in state court. That provision would safeguard rights, such as the right to bear arms, that have stronger protections in the Missouri Constitution than the U.S. Constitution, Dixon said.

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