ST. LOUIS - Monday morning, St. Louis circuit court judges voted down the idea of creating a special court for certain gun-related crimes in the city. The proposal would have added two court divisions that would be dedicated to hearing armed robbery cases and cases that involve the unlawful use of a weapon. Instead, judges voted for another proposal that will place non-violent gun offenses at the top of the docket so that those cases are tried faster.
"I think the perception of the majority of the court was that to expedite the disposition of these cases is the best medicine. And if we are going to accomplish anything, that's the way to accomplish it," said Judge Robert Dierker.
Judge Dierker is behind the proposal to make non-violent gun crimes a priority on the docket, saying he didn't agree with the "gun court" idea which would have assigned two judges to hear specific gun crimes and to have those cases studied by criminologists at the University of Missouri - St. Louis.
"The court is a neutral, the court is the umpire. We don't receive a defendant who is accused of crime and treat them as though they are under our supervision and guilty until they have been found guilty," said Judge Dierker.
"Where do you draw the line? Should we have domestic violence courts, should we have burglary courts? I'm not a big fan of the quote - problem solving court - unquote. The court is the court," he added.
On the other side, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce (her office prosecutes crimes in the city) said she was disappointed by the decision. Joyce supported the idea of a "gun court" in the city.
"You had all the cases going through these two divisions, but you also had extensive pre-trial support for these defendants. You had probation and parole that was special and enhanced for these defendants. You had criminologists from UMSL who were going to be studying and tracking these cases." said Joyce - shortly after the judge's vote on Monday morning.
"As I understand Judge Dierker's proposal, there is no such structure like that," she added.
Maggie Crane, director of communications for Mayor Francis Slay, attended the vote and said Mayor Slay will not give up on the idea of a special armed offender docket.
"This is very disappointing. You know, quite frankly, we just think that people deserve better. Law-abiding citizens in this city deserve better. We think that reform will happen, we know it will happen because the public is insisting that it happen. So, we don't need judges permission to move forward or hold them accountable. So, we will be going to General Assembly, we'll also be talking about it when the attorney general comes for his crime summit on Wednesday and Thursday," said Crane.
Under Judge Dierker's proposal that was approved on Monday, criminal cases involving the unlawful use of a weapon, the flourishing of a weapon, and cases in which a convicted felon is caught in possession of a gun will be moved to the top of the docket. They will have priority when cases are assigned to the trial division. Under the current proposal, this rule will be in place until 100 cases are tried. Then the court will review the idea of making these cases a priority.
Judges will still have to hammer out some specifics, but Judge Dierker expects the new procedure will be in place by the end of the year.
We've included the full text of Judge Dierker's proposal below:
Gun Docket Substitute Resolution
Be it resolved by the Court en banc as follows:
The Court acknowledges the seriousness of offenses involving the illegal use of weapons and is grateful to officers of the City of St. Louis and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for suggestions concerning management of the criminal docket insofar as such offenses are concerned; but the Court notes its constitutional duty to act as neutral, detached adjudicator of criminal cases. In light of the expressed concerns of responsible officials of the City, the Court directs as follows:
1. The Rules Committee shall present rule amendments to the next meeting of the Court en banc to implement the following policy: (a) all criminal cases charging offenses of unlawful use of a weapon by carrying a concealed weapon, exhibiting or flourishing, and felon in possession (including cases where such charges are joined with offenses under Ch. 195, RSMo, but excluding other non-possessory felony offenses) shall be assigned to a trial division on the first setting in the criminal assignment division; (b) except as provided herein, and subject to § 491.710, RSMo, assignment of such cases shall take precedence over any other case on the civil or criminal dockets and continuances shall not be granted except for compelling constitutional reasons; unavailability of a prosecutor will not be grounds for a continuance; (c) such cases shall be assigned to all divisions without regard to civil trial or "D" weeks; provided, that preassigned civil trials will have priority during a division's civil week; (d) the priority for weapons offenses as set forth herein shall be in force until 100 such weapons offense cases have been tried to a jury, following which the priority will be suspended pending further review by the Court and any expert designated by the City, the Circuit Attorney, or the Public Defender.
2. The criminal assignment judge will request the district director of the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole to present special conditions of probation deemed desirable for the better supervision of weapons offenders who are placed on probation. The criminal assignment judge will present those special conditions to the Court en banc with a view to establishing those conditions as standard conditions for use in probation orders in this Circuit for weapons offenders.
3. Upon request, and subject to applicable statutes and rules regarding closed records, the criminal assignment judge shall provide data to designated researchers of the University of Missouri at St. Louis to facilitate research into improvements in pretrial and post-trial supervision of defendants charged with weapons offenses, and such persons shall be deemed "persons having a proper interest" for purposes of § 559.125.2, RSMo.
4. Current pretrial release practices regarding weapons offenses, with special attention to public safety, will be maintained in accordance with rules of court and the Constitution. Nothing herein precludes the Circuit Attorney or any person or entity retained by the City from investigating the conduct of defendants charged with weapons offenses and released under Mo.R.Ct. 33 and bringing any violation of conditions of release to the Court's attention by proper motion under Rules 33.06 and 33.08.