Missouri Senators Propose Reduced Sentences for Convicted Minors
Two state senators proposed bills to reduce the sentencing for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder on Tuesday.
Under the current law, the sentence is life in prison without parole for all convicted persons under the age of 18. Individuals between the ages of 16 and 18 could also be sentenced to death.
The Supreme Court ruled both of these sentences as unconstitutional in separate cases. Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, and Sen. Joseph Keaveny, D-St. Louis, proposed bills to reduce these sentences.
Dixon’s bill calls for convicted juveniles of 16 or 17 years old to be sentenced to 50 years or life in prison without parole. The sentence for anyone under 16 would be for at least 35 years or life in prison without parole.
Keaveny’s bill allows for a more lenient punishment for juveniles. A 16 or 17-year-old would be sentenced to at least 14 years with a maximum of 30 years in prison. Anyone under the age of 16 would be sentenced to at least 12 years with a maximum of 30 years in prison. All sentences allow for parole.
Supporters of Keaveny’s bill claim that the minimum sentences proposed in Dixon’s bill are too harsh for anyone under the age of 18.
“For Sen. Dixon’s bill, with a minimum of 50 years, it’s going to be hard for them to actually lead a life at age 67 or 66,” supporter Sarah Rossi said. Rossi is the director of advocacy and policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. “That’s at least two-thirds, probably three-quarters of that person’s life.”
Dixon said some of his supporters believe that 50 years didn’t go far enough.
“We feel that it’s not only constitutional, but it is practical for the kinds of crimes that we’re talking about,” Dixon said. “There needs to be enough separation between second-degree murder and first-degree murder sentencing standards.”
Keavney said it’s important to take into account that these are juveniles, and their brains are not fully developed.
“In my own mind, when you sentence a 16-year-old boy, or girl, to prison for 50 years, that is effectively locking them in prison forever,” he said.
Dixon believes this is an urgent matter because the current law is unconstitutional. “This is year three now that we have 83 to 84 juveniles around the state who were between 16 and 18 at the time they committed the crime,” Dixon said. “They have been convicted, but they cannot be sentenced.”
The senators proposed the bills to the Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence committee.