It's been several decades since the last update was done to Missouri's criminal statutes but it looks like the public won't have to wait much longer for changes to be implemented. A substantial overhaul of the state's existing criminal justice system is planned by legislators who recently floated a new bill before the General Assembly that would make several important changes.
The bill currently before members of the Missouri House was drafted with significant input from a committee that had been formed years ago by the Missouri Bar to study the state's existing laws and recommend much needed changes.
The committee spent four years batting around ideas and coming up with the final draft language that has just been released to legislators and the public alike. The committee spent time combing through the state's statutes, recommending changes and tweaks as the case may be. Changes were proposed to a wide variety of individual offenses, ranging from littering to domestic assaults.
One of the biggest changes contained in the legislation, known as House Bill No. 210, is the addition of a new class of felony. Currently, Missouri Revised Statutes 557.016 lists four classes of felonies in Missouri: A, B, C and D. The new legislation would add a fifth, Class E, to the list. The goal is to close some of the currently large gaps in the existing four categories. A good example of the problem is found in Missouri Revised Statutes 558.011 which says Class C felonies carry a maximum prison term of seven years, while class B felonies come with between five and 15 years behind bars. To help make the transition between these felony gradations less jarring, the bill proposes creating a Class E which would allow for a better distribution of sentencing times.
Class E felonies would require a prison term not to exceed four years. This would mean that Class C would change to a term of between three and ten years while Class D felonies would not exceed seven years in prison. Additionally, misdemeanors would also be given a new category, Class D, for similar gap-closing reasons.
Though there were many changes contained in the new legislation, it did not contain all of the recommendations of the committee formed by the Missouri Bar to study the criminal code. One suggestion that the committee agreed should be included in the legislation, but which was ultimately left out is that those arrested for first time possession of marijuana should only be subject to a fine.
This would change existing state law which allows for the possibility of jail time. The committee hoped that such a change would reduce the heavy burden on state jails by directing such low risk criminals away from the penal system and instead subjecting them only to fines. It would also help alleviate pressure on the overstretched public defender system given that individuals not facing jail time would no longer be entitled to a public defender's help. Sadly, the existing laws will stay in place which means that those arrested for first time marijuana possession in Missouri will be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, a crime which is punishable with up to a year in jail.
If you've had a run in with the law and find yourself in need of a Missouri criminal defense lawyer capable of aggressively protecting your interests, contact our St. Louis criminal defense law firm today at (314) 863-0500.
Source: "Missouri's Criminal Code May Soon See New Class of Felony, Misdemeanor," by Jennifer Davidson, published at KSMU.org.