A bill to offer options for sentencing a juvenile guilty of first-degree murder is one priority in the final week of the legislative session.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled juveniles cannot be sentenced to death, and life without parole cannot be the only possible sentence for them, as is presently the case in Missouri.
The House is ready to debate a Senate bill that would eliminate life without parole for minors guilty of first-degree murder and let them be sentenced to life with the possibility of parole or 25-40 years in prison.
Nikola Nable-Juris with the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth told lawmakers eliminating life without for minors is a good idea.
“We really do think kids can grow and change. No matter what their crime is, there’s space for growth,” Nable-Juris told Missourinet. She said she would like to see a shorter sentencing range, but said, “this version would at least give people parole eligibility.”
The Senate sponsor of that bill, Bob Dixon (R-Springfield) doesn’t like eliminating the option of life without parole.
“The accused can always be charged with a lesser crime, but we don’t know what all of the possible, quite frankly very heinous crimes are that are out there,” Dixon said.
Until the issue is settled, minors in Missouri guilty of first-degree murder cannot be sentenced. Dixon says that leaves victims and offenders in limbo.
“It’s important, number one, that we do justice for all involved, and right now we do not have the ability to do that,” Dixon said.
Dixon says the U.S. Supreme Court is also considering a related case that, depending on the decision it reaches, could lead to lawsuits against Missouri. He hopes the issue can be settled before the close of the session Friday.
The representative in charge of the bill in the House, Robert Cornejo (R-St. Peters), said the issue needs to be settled before the end of the session, but believes a case pending in the U.S. Supreme Court could provide some guidance in the interim.
“If we get something done and then the court case comes back saying something a little bit different then we can always come back and tweak the statute, but I don’t think it is the end of the world if we don’t get something done this session,” said Cornejo.