Revised criminal code gets new push

Missouri’s prosecuting attorneys and representatives of several victims’ advocate groups spent Tuesday afternoon visiting with Missouri senators — urging them to support the proposed rewrite of the state’s entire criminal code.

The last major revision was finished in 1977, and went into effect on Jan. 1, 1979.

“While I have great nostalgia for the music of the ’70s, I think we all benefit from laws that are drafted to be of the present day,” said ” Colleen Coble, director of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Coble was one of 11 people explaining the need for lawmakers to pass a revised criminal code.

“Victims rely on clarity in law, as they seek justice through our courts system,” she explained. “The revisions in the criminal code bill advance that work, to ensure that victims of crime are afforded safety, and justice and that offenders are held accountable.”

Emily van Schenkhof, deputy director of the group Missouri Kids First, called the proposed law “one of the most important bills being considered by the Missouri General Assembly.”

“No penalties for individuals who harm children have been rolled back in the revision of the code,” she said. “It allows for increased penalties for those who harm children, increased prison time and, ultimately, increased safety for Missouri’s children.”

The bill is about 1,100 pages long — many used in deleting current criminal laws, so that they can be moved and rearranged in the revised collection of the state’s laws.

“Currently, the maximum (prison sentence) you can get for killing someone by driving drunk is seven years,” said St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce. “Under this criminal code revision, that would be increased significantly, and they would have to spend a decade in prison.”

But the new code does not create mandatory sentences like those found in the federal criminal code.

Final sentences still would be left to the judge, who can weigh individual cases, arguments from prosecution and defense attorneys and the recommendations of the state Board of Probation and Parole.

Some lawmakers have worried the bill eliminates or reduces some crimes, or is “softer” on crime than current laws.

Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, told reporters: “I want to make it clear, there is no decriminalization of anything in this code, and nothing is less of a crime.”

However, she added: “There are shifts in the penalty provisions, and we are looking at those closely.”

The proposed law first was introduced to lawmakers three years ago, and the House passed a version last year.

Justice noted the proposals are the result of four years of intense study by a Missouri Bar committee.

“Prosecutors, public defenders and the criminal defense bar from all over the state spent over four years looking at this piece of legislation,” she said.

Jack Brady, a Kansas City lawyer who is the Bar’s current president, said the revision is needed because, “There’s been a lot of bills that have been passed since (1979) that create some inconsistencies.”

With a couple dozen members of his group standing behind him, Stone County Prosecutor Matt Selby, president of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, noted: “This criminal code revision modernizes antiquated statutes. It consolidates duplicative statutes.

“And it brings new tools for prosecutors to use, so that we can successfully prosecute cases and do what is right in every case and in every situation.”

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, expects Senate debate to begin on the bill this week or next.

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