- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 13, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday signed a bill that brings Missouri’s law on deadly force into compliance with a Supreme Court ruling from more than 30 years ago.

Nixon also signed measures that create new sentencing guidelines for minors convicted of first-degree murder and prohibit law enforcement agencies from requiring employees to issue a certain number of traffic citations.

The deadly force legislation brings state law into accord with a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that held that police may not shoot at a fleeing person unless the officer reasonably believes that the individual poses a significant physical danger to the officer or others in the community.

Missouri’s law did not previously specify that an officer must believe the fleeing suspect is dangerous. The discrepancy gained attention after the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. The grand jury considering whether to indict the officer initially received Missouri’s outdated law before getting updated guidelines.

“These are life-and-death decisions, and it is vital that Missouri statutes governing the use of force are clear and consistent with U.S. Supreme Court precedent,” Nixon said in an emailed statement about the bill signing Wednesday.

The measure on new sentencing guidelines for minors was a response to another U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said states cannot impose mandatory life sentences for juveniles. Missouri had lacked valid sentencing guidelines for juvenile murderers since the 2012 decision from the high court.

The new guidelines allow prosecutors to seek a term of life in prison with the possibility of parole or 30-40 years in prison. Life without parole would remain an option if a jury unanimously agrees that prosecutors have proven additional factors, such as torture of the victim. The bill also calls on courts to instruct jurors to consider defendants’ backgrounds and their likelihood of rehabilitation, any peer pressure they might have faced, and how their age might have affected their judgment.

Nixon also signed a bill that allows Missourians convicted of some crimes who don’t go on to break more laws to have their records sealed. Under the law, people convicted of felonies would have to wait seven years after completing their sentence to ask to have their records sealed. People convicted of misdemeanors would need to wait three years. Records of convictions for dangerous felonies, sex offenses and other violent crimes aren’t eligible to be sealed.

Applicants would have to pay a fee of $250, up from the current $100, although judges could waive the fee for those who can’t afford it.

“Missourians who have paid their debt to society and become law-abiding citizens deserve a chance to get a job and support their families,” Nixon said in the prepared statement. “This bill represents a reasonable, balanced approach and I’m pleased to sign it into law today.”

The ban on cities, counties and law enforcement agencies setting traffic ticket quotas follows criticism that some communities have been too reliant on raising money from issuing these and other citations. The issue also gained momentum after Brown’s death, although that incident didn’t involve a traffic stop.

A report from the U.S. Department of Justice cleared the officer of wrongdoing but said Ferguson’s municipal court system was profit-driven and frequently targeted blacks.

Nixon’s deadline to sign or veto bills is Thursday. If he doesn’t take action on legislation, it takes effect without his signature.


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