August 29, 2015

Ruling doesn’t decide whether some Missouri felons can have guns

A ruling last week by the Missouri Supreme Court leaves unanswered whether last year’s change to the state constitution will let some felons have guns.

Saint Louis University Constitutional Law Professor Anders Walker

Saint Louis University Constitutional Law Professor Anders Walker

The Court ruled that because the appeal of two felons of charges that they illegally possessed guns was filed before voters approved Amendment 5, they were still subject the law keeping them from having guns.

Amendment 5 strengthened the right to possess a gun in Missouri, requiring a higher legal standard to be met before that right can be denied to an individual.

Saint Louis University Constitutional Law Professor Anders Walker told Missourinet that ruling leaves unanswered the question of whether any felons who are found to possess guns after the passage of the amendment would be exempt from the law against felons having guns.

That issue could be raised in other litigation, but Walker thinks the Court foreshadowed how it would rule it if is.

“The Court here suggested, and actually stated; it held, or found, the felon in possession law passes [the legal standard] of strict scrutiny. That’s the first indication that they’re going to uphold the ban,” said Walker. “The second indication is that the amendment itself seems to explicitly provide the legislature with the power to limit the right to bear arms for convicted felons.”

More than 60 percent of Missouri voters favored that amendment, which declares the right to keep and bear arms “unalienable,” and subjects laws restricting gun rights to that “strict scrutiny” standard. It repealed language that said the right to bear arms does not justify carrying concealed weapons.

Missouri Human trafficking task force prepares to meet

The first meeting will be held this week of a task force to discuss human trafficking in Missouri. Gayle Reynoso with the Missouri Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence is a member of the panel and says finding the resources to assist human trafficking victims will be a priority.

Missouri State Capitol (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Missouri State Capitol (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Many people who have experienced human trafficking have also experienced domestic and sexual violence,” says Reynoso. “Our domestic and sexual violence programs are already so taxed. Last year for example, more than 23,000 people were turned away from shelters.”

Reynoso says Missouri doesn’t have tools in place to keep people from becoming victims.

“The thing is, prevention really has to focus on addressing demand and the societal reasons that the purchase of sex is acceptable. So I hope that’s something as well the task force looks at,” says Reynoso.

A resolution to establish the task force was unanimously passed by the Missouri Legislature this year.  The task force will be responsible for raising awareness, providing organizations and agencies that enforce human trafficking laws a central place to share information, and making recommendations for legislation to the General Assembly.

Proponents of trafficking legislation say the human trafficking industry generates $150 billion a year in profits worldwide, with an estimated 21 million victims, 5.5 million of those being children.


Missouri high court ruling answers one felons possessing guns issue, leaves one undecided

The state Supreme Court has not answered the question of whether a change to Missouri’s constitution last year would allow some felons to have guns.

The Missouri Supreme Court Building in Jefferson City

The Missouri Supreme Court Building in Jefferson City

Two men who faced criminal charges for being felons in possession of a firearm argued the passage by Missouri voters of Amendment 5 to the state Constitution last year meant they were not guilty of such a crime.

The Court ruled that because the appeals by those two men were filed before voters approved that constitutional change, it would not apply to their cases and they are still subject to the law against felons possessing firearms.

The question of whether Amendment 5 will result in the courts defining whether certain felons are considered “violent” and whether they will be allowed to possess firearms remains undecided.

Earlier story:  Missouri Supreme Court hears arguments of felon wanting guns

Washington University professor wants Missouri juvenile court reforms

A Washington University Professor of Law believes one piece of legislation tied to Ferguson that became law this year didn’t go far enough in reforming municipal courts.  That law went into effect August 15.

Washington University Professor of Law and Director of the Juvenile Law and Justice Clinic, Mae Quinn.

Washington University Professor of Law and Director of the Juvenile Law and Justice Clinic, Mae Quinn.

When Governor Jay Nixon (D) signed Senate Bill 5 into law he described it as having, “real teeth,” and said it would return those courts to their intended purpose, but Washington University Professor May Quinn criticizes it as not being the fundamental, game-changing reform it was billed to be.

Particularly, she thinks it didn’t address issues that come from juveniles in those courts.

“Kids at age 17 across Missouri may be automatically filed both into our circuit court system and into our municipal courts, but you also have kids as young as 16 and 15 in the municipal courts,” said Quinn.

Quinn said there is no requirement that a juvenile have an attorney in municipal court.

“As a matter of practice, frequently you have children negotiating these systems on their own and entering into guilty pleas without necessarily understanding all that they are undertaking and the impacts that those cases may have on their lives,” said Quinn.

Senator Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale)

Senator Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale)

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale), defended the bill as having been comprehensive.

“I’m very proud of the fact that Senate Bill 5 is a very exhaustive, significant reform that deals with structural, underlying issues that have broken down trust between people and their government,” said Schmitt.

Schmitt said there will always be critics, and there will always be more issues to address.

“There was a report – the Department of Justice issued a report that dealt with St. Louis County juvenile courts that we’ll take a look at and listen, and if there are issues I would encourage … her to engage in the process if she thinks there are additional issues,” said Schmitt. “I will, as many of my colleagues do, take every opportunity to look at the facts and if the facts warrant reform we would certainly look at that. That’s how [the process of passing SB 5] got started.”

Quinn said there are signs that a legislative effort at reform could occur.

“Heartening news out of the Ferguson Commission that through conversations and various working groups, the raise the age issue has been talked about, albeit indirectly, and there is some good language being considered from the various working groups that would provide some counsel for kids,” said Quinn. “The devil, of course, is in the details.”

She said the recent finding of the Justice Department that St. Louis County’s family court system is in need of reform to eliminate bias is an opportunity to take on more of these issues.

State Public Defender Director wants another $10 million added to this year’s budget

A request to the Governor has been made by the Director of the Missouri State Public Defender System for an additional $10 million in this year’s budget to hire 50 more attorneys and 20 support staff.

Michael Barrett said some offices have two-and-a-half times the number of cases they can handle with their current staff.  He said Missourians deserve adequate representation.

Missouri State Public Defender Director Michael Barrett

Missouri State Public Defender Director Michael Barrett

“For years, we’ve been going to the Governor and the Legislature saying we just don’t have enough resources by way of the number of attorneys we have to deal with the 70,000 plus cases that we have every year representing poor Missourians who are charged with a criminal defense,” said Barrett.  “Everyone in our offices across the state are over 100% capacity. We have many offices that are over 200-250% capacity.”

Barrett said inadequate defense has an effect on the prison population.

“In Missouri, the state prison population is artificially increasing. By that, I mean the number of non-violent and first-time offenders is really growing our prisons beyond its capacity,” said Barrett.

He said if the Public Defender System continues to be underfunded, the state will have to build a new prison. Barrett says there are currently 376 public defenders in Missouri.