Seventeen can be an awkward age and brings with it an awkward legal status. An effort in the House to clear-up some confusion has met with resistance before barely getting the votes needed to pass.

Missouri courts consider 17-year-olds adults. Parents might not. Under HB 215 , 17-year-olds would still be considered adults in criminal court. Criminal offenses, whether state or municipal, would still land a 17-year-old in the criminal system. But if 17-year-olds commit so-called “status” offenses, ones based on the status of the offender, they would be considered juveniles. Status offenses can range from running away from home to general defiance of a parent.

Rep. Ward Franz (R-West Plains) agrees with the intent of the bill, but says it would overload already overloaded juvenile officers. Franz says overloading the officers even more will hurt the officers, the children involved and their families. He says the changes should be postponed until the state adds more juvenile officers and provides more money for the juvenile system.

Sponsor Bryan Stevenson of Webb City, though, says the change is needed. He tells colleagues of a 17-year-old high school girl three months shy of graduation who moved in with a well-known local drug dealer who was 21. The girl had committed no crime. It couldn’t be established that she had anything to do with her boyfriend’s drug trade, so there was nothing the juvenile court could do. Stevenson says his bill would allow juvenile officers to place the girl into custody.


Concerns about the burden the bill would place on the juvenile system has forced Stevenson to work hard to get the 82 votes needed to pass the House and move on to the Senate.

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