- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Missouri Legislature has voted to create new sentencing guidelines for minors convicted of first-degree murder, a response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said states cannot impose mandatory life sentences for juveniles.

Missouri has lacked valid sentencing guidelines for juvenile murderers since the 2012 decision from the high court. Without constitutional sentencing options, the state’s prosecutors have had to charge juveniles with second-degree murder, said Rep. Robert Cornejo, the St. Peters Republican who handled the bill in the House.

The new guidelines would 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.

Under the proposal, people who are currently serving a life sentence for first-degree murder committed as a juvenile could get a parole hearing after serving at least 25 years.

The legislation won broad support; it passed 145-1 in the House and unanimously in the Senate. But some Democrats said the proposal was still too harsh.

Rep. Kim Gardner, a Democrat who is running for St. Louis circuit attorney and voted for the legislation, said that while some cases warrant life without parole, most juveniles still haven’t fully matured and sometimes deserve more leniency.

“To me, 30 years is a life sentence,” she said.

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.

“It’s very easy, when we talk about matters of criminal justice… to rely on slogans: fry ‘em all, lock ‘em up and throw away the key,” said Rep. Shamed Dogan, a Republican from Ballwin. This legislation allows courts to consider cases’ individual circumstances and move away from a one-size-fits-all approach, he said.

The measure now goes to Gov. Jay Nixon.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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