Whether a Missouri Senate bill would give opportunities for intervention in the lives of troubled youth or just send more youth into adult incarceration was not readily quantifiable Monday, but those different possible outcomes shaped testimony for and against the proposal.
Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, is sponsoring SB 824, which would add the offenses of armed criminal action and unlawful use of a weapon to the list of alleged crimes that mandate a hearing for juveniles on whether they should be tried as adults.
Wallingford on Monday told the Senate’s Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee “this was one of the governor’s priorities and was brought to me.”
Testimony in support of the bill also included that on behalf of the group of mayors Gov. Mike Parson has worked with to try to address violent crime.
Under current law, a juvenile court can choose to have a hearing on whether a child 12-17 years old, who has allegedly committed an offense that would be considered a felony, if committed by an adult, should be tried as an adult.
That includes armed criminal action and unlawful use of a weapon, Wallingford said.
Certain alleged crimes remove the choice and require a court to have a hearing on whether a juvenile should be tried as an adult — including first- or second-degree murder, first-degree assault, first-degree rape, first-degree sodomy, first-degree robbery, manufacturing drugs, or having committed two or more prior unrelated offenses that would be considered felonies if committed by an adult — but either way, such a hearing does not automatically certify a juvenile as an adult.
Wallingford’s bill would add armed criminal action and unlawful use of a weapon to the list of alleged crimes that mandates a certification hearing.
Jimmie Edwards — the City of St. Louis’ public safety director — testified in support of the bill, and said he was also there on behalf of the mayoral working group.
Edwards hoped the bill would help reduce recidivism related to the use of weapons and give courts an opportunity to get involved in a child’s life — basically, to give youth a wake-up call to their future if still on the same path, and be counseled by judges on rehabilitation options.
He said he did not believe the bill would disproportionately affect poor youth or youth of color.
When asked by committee Chairman Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, if he had numbers on how many minors would be certified as adult offenders because of the bill, Edwards said, “I think that number would be nominal.”
Supporting the bill are the city of Springfield; Sandra Karsten, director of the Department of Public Safety; and associations representing Missouri’s prosecutors and sheriffs supported the bill.
ACLU Missouri’s legislative associate Mo Del Villar and Empower Missouri’s executive director Jeanette Mott Oxford testified against the bill.
Del Villar said the ACLU’s “strong opposition” is over two concerns: The definition of “dangerous instrument” in the law about armed criminal action is too broad or vague, and mandatory minimums increase mass incarceration.
Oxford said “we have not seen good results produced” when youth are certified as adults — youth being more likely to be assaulted or die by suicide in adult facilities, she said.
She didn’t deny the opportunity for a conversation with a judge might help youth, but “it’s seldomly a one-time conversation that helps,” especially when there are issues of severe trauma involved, and she wanted more work to raise the age that mandates being charged as an adult.