GUEST COMMENTARY: State Criminal Code revision would provide critical tools for public safety

Saturday, February 22, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST

For the past eight years, Missouri’s prosecutors have been leaders in the effort to revise the Criminal Code. In recent years, we partnered with The Missouri Bar to tackle the revision of the Criminal Code because we know it is the right thing to do.

The Criminal Code revision that is currently being debated in the General Assembly modernizes antiquated statutes, harmonizes numerous duplicitous provisions and gives us an important new tool in the form of a fifth felony class.

We endorse this revision, and we would not do so if it didn’t promote public safety.

Take the following examples:

  • It has the strongest approach to assault crimes ever seen in Missouri’s history. Those who commit violent felonies may have their punishments increase on their second offense, not their third offense as in current law.
  • Habitual driving while intoxicated offenders who threaten the safety of the community will be treated as dangerous felons and will be required to serve 85 percent of their sentence before being eligible for parole.
  • Currently, an intoxicated driver who kills his or her passenger in a vehicle crash can receive up to seven years in prison. This revision increases the maximum available sentence to 10 years in prison.
  • Missouri’s laws relating to child sexual abuse are strengthened and will give us more tools to imprison child sex offenders.

We endorsed this bill as a package because we know that it strikes the right balance between violent and nonviolent offenses. We continue to stand by this endorsement.

The House and Senate versions differ in some respects on drug crimes, but there is no decriminalization of drug offenses. As prosecutors, we believe both versions maintain and promote public safety and accountability with respect to drug crimes.

This project has been thoroughly vetted, perhaps more than any other single piece of legislation.

For four years, a team of veteran prosecutors and defense attorneys labored line-by-line over the entire body of Missouri’s criminal law and crafted a draft based upon consensus and practical application to modern reality in the criminal justice system.

The draft was reviewed and endorsed by both the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and The Missouri Bar.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2012, a special joint interim committee conducted public hearings on the draft.

During the 2013 legislative session, Sen. Jolie Justus and Rep. Stan Cox each filed versions in the two chambers of the Missouri General Assembly. Each bill was again the subject of new public hearings in the judiciary committees of each chamber.

In an overwhelming show of bi-partisan support, the House of Representatives passed its version last year by a vote of 150-7.

This fall, the Senate Judiciary Committee held yet another interim hearing on the bill.

Thus far in 2014, the drafts have again each received new hearings in the House and Senate Judiciary committees. Both committees have voted the versions out, and they are now poised for debate on the floor of each chamber.

Twenty-five public hearings have been held on the Criminal Code revision in the Missouri legislature.

Prosecutors, The Missouri Bar, public defenders and victim advocates have testified in support of this bill numerous times. It is safe to say that no other piece of legislation in recent memory has been so thoroughly vetted by the General Assembly.

Chief Justice Mary Rhodes Russell encouraged the General Assembly to tackle this project in her recent State of the Judiciary address.

Without doubt, the size of the bill is daunting. That’s why the legislature has correctly taken the measured approach of numerous hearings and two sessions to consider the matter.

However, the time has come to pass the bill. When legislators consider the bill, they should consider the confidence a majority of their colleagues and their elected prosecutors have placed in the original drafting process and the legislative vetting process.

This revision gives us the tools we need to keep violent criminals off the street longer and to allow us to be more efficient with respect to true nonviolent offenses.

The bottom line is that Missouri’s prosecutors stand by this revision. On behalf of Missouri citizens, Missouri’s prosecutors need this revision.

Those who would stand with us in protecting the public and seeking justice should support this revision.

Dan Knight, Boone County prosecuting attorney,

Mike Fusselman, Randolph County prosecuting attorney,

Mark Richardson, Cole County prosecuting attorney,

Doug Abele, Cooper County prosecuting attorney,

Chris Wilson, Callaway County prosecuting attorney,

Jacob Shellabarger, Audrain County prosecuting attorney,

Shayne Healea, Moniteau County prosecuting attorney,

On behalf of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys

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Skip Yates February 23, 2014 | 5:45 p.m.

One must be carfeful of laws that have unintended consequences. There is a great difference in the big guy that blows .21 on a breathalyzer and the young 110 pound girl that does .08 after 3 glasses of wine in an hour. As a matter of fact, many states argued the .08, Missouri being one, until all caved in because the government said they'd hold highway funds from those states that didn't comply. MADD, I think, wants that lowered to .04, and they are a very powerful interest group. What is, and used to be, a misdemeanor is now treated as a felony. We should be very careful in lowering the bar on what constitutes a felony.

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