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Missouri's Criminal Code May Soon See New Class of Felony, Misdemeanor

Lessening the penalty for drug possession is one recommendation; House Bill 210 does not include that
Missouri capitol
The Missouri Captiol building in Jefferson City. (Photo credit: jacob_shane via Flickr)

As part of a massive overhaul planned for Missouri’s criminal justice system, the state’s laws themselves could see some major changes this year. It’s been over 30 years since the criminal code was updated, and that’s led to some problems, as one might imagine: new crimes have arisen, and some laws have essentially duplicated others. A bill that would drastically reorganize the state's laws on crime has been filed in the Missouri House, and that bill relied heavily on recommendations from a committee appointed by The Missouri Bar.KSMU’s Jennifer Davidson has this report.

The committee that tackled rewriting Missouri’s criminal code was made up of prosecutors and defense attorneys, as well as lawmakers. They took four years to draft the proposal they’ve released to the legislature, and the public.

Their work was tedious: they went law by law, trying to streamline the criminal code and make it leaner, more relevant to today, and more consistent.

They’re suggesting the state reform its laws on crimes from sexual and domestic assaults to littering.

Chris Hatley was on the committee.He works as a public defender in Greene County. He said one major change involves creating a new class D of misdemeanor, and also a new class of felony.

“Right now, there are four classes of felonies:there’s A, B, C and D. The proposal would create an ‘E.’ And basically, what that would do would be to close some of the gaps. Because right now there exists a pretty large gap between a Class C and a Class B felony.A Class C Felony carries a maximum [sentence] of seven [years], and a Class B carries five to 15 [years],” Hatley said.

Despite their different backgrounds, Hatley said the committee was good about reaching common ground.One compromise was to recommend reducing drug possession charges to the new, Class E felony.The committee felt that this move was warranted, given that the state is buckling at the expanding prison population.

But the bill introduced in the House by Representative Stanley Cox, H.B. 210, didn’t include that recommendation. Hatley said while the bill does include many of the committee’s suggestions, it also left out another one.

“Another thing we had agreed up on would be: a first time possession of marijuana would be a fine only. So, it would not carry the possibility of any sort of jail time—which, for the public defender system is very good, because it relieves our attorneys of the burden of handling those cases. If you’re not facing jail time, you’re not entitled to a public defender’s service.So, a first time offender on a misdemeanor marijuana possession would be fined only under our proposal. House Bill 210 does not do that; it leaves it as a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in the county jail,” Hatley said.

Senator Jolie Justus is also expected to file similar legislation in the Senate.

We tried to reach out to both Senator Justus and Representative Cox for comment, but we did not hear back by deadline.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Davidson.

You can read the summary and the full text of H.B. 210 by clicking here.