- Associated Press - Monday, April 18, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri senators on Monday endorsed changing the state’s sentencing guidelines to eliminate the mandatory sentence of life in prison for minors convicted of first-degree murder.

Lawmakers voted to alter the guidelines to bring them into line with a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found mandatory life sentences for minors unconstitutional. Bill sponsor Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, says that ruling left Missouri with no valid laws guiding such punishments.

Under the bill, a 16- or 17-year-old could be sentenced to a minimum of 50 years without parole, and somebody 15 years old or younger could face a minimum of 35 years.

Condemning a juvenile whose brain hasn’t fully developed to 50 years in prison is tantamount to a life sentence, said Sen. Jill Schupp, a Democrat from Creve Coeur. She proposed making them eligible for parole after 25 years.

Allowing parole eligibility would still keep the most dangerous people behind bars, she said, while giving others a meaningful incentive for improving themselves.

Dixon said first-degree murder covers the most heinous crimes, and prosecutors already have the discretion to charge juveniles with lesser offenses.

“The hope is that they can be corrected,” he said. “But it might take longer for some folks.”

Past attempts to change the law have stalled over disagreements on the length of the minimum sentence.

The 143-page crime bill would also make it a felony for an undocumented immigrant to enter the state if they have previously been deported for committing a crime.

Sen. Mike Cunningham, the Rogersville Republican who proposed the measure, said the federal government’s inability to safeguard the public from dangerous immigrants compels the state to act.

He also sponsored a separate bill that would affect only immigrants who are deported for a crime and, after illegally returning to the country, commit a felony or violent misdemeanor. The bill, which the Senate endorsed Monday, would allow a punishment for “illegal re-entry” of three to ten years in prison.

“I just think this is people who are scum of the Earth,” he said. “If they’ll abuse a person, assault a person, murder somebody, rob a bank, sell some type of felony-related drug - I just think they deserve more than a slap on the hand.”

Dixon said he has been talking with Rep. Robert Cornejo, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and he expects the House to produce substantially different legislation.

The bill needs another vote before going to the House.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide