Missouri legislature tackles juvenile crime, backlogged cases in St. Louis in new bill

Published: Jan. 26, 2023 at 7:48 PM CST
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JEFFERSON CITY (KMOV) -- Sweeping public safety legislation moving through Missouri’s governing body could change the way certain violent crime cases are handled in the City of St. Louis.

“What happens in St. Louis and some of our more urban areas affect the entire state. It affects our economy. It affects the decision for people to send children to our schools,” said Representative Lane Roberts, R-Joplin. “And, I think it’s important that we understand that this is not aimed at some malicious intent but rather to help correct a problem that affects our entire state.”

On Thursday, Roberts presented House Bill 301 to the crime prevention and public safety committee. It would give the governor power to appoint a special prosecutor to the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office to handle most cases involving violent crime if he determines there’s a public health and safety threat in the city of St. Louis. The special prosecutor would hold this role for five years. The state would provide a budget, and that person would be able to hire up to 15 assistant special prosecuting attorneys and other staff members.

“The amendment is going to give you a threshold of 35 homicide cases in the previous 12 months for every 100,000 population,” said Roberts. “So that would be the trigger point. At that point, the governor may look to make an appointment. The amendment will create a prosecutors appointment committee. The governor would then ask that committee, which would be made up of prosecutors to give him a name of a special prosecutor and then the governor could make that appointment. If the committee fails to make that recommendation in 30 days, the governor then can make his own appointment.”

The Circuit Attorney’s Office sent a statement Thursday afternoon in response to the legislation:

HB301 is a political gesture based entirely on unfounded premises. The notion that anything presented in the bill will improve our violent crime situation is ridiculous. It defies logic to think the creation of a duplicative department that’s totally devoid of the relationships, institutional knowledge, criminal justice partnerships, and experience required to prosecute these complex cases would do anything to curb crime.

Addressing the causes of violent crime is an urgent priority and should be a focus for our entire region. The Circuit Attorney’s Office welcomes the opportunity to work with legislators with legitimate proposals to address it.

Supporters of the measure, including Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, spoke at the hearing.

“We need to make sure that when individuals commit crimes that they are prosecuted. We also need to make sure that there are criminals, [if] all they’re going to do is commit crimes when they’re free, we need to put them in jail,” said Ashcroft.

“There’s been a lot of incidents in the St. louis city area. Most recently, a lot of carjackings happening on our parking lots. We are very concerned for our customers and our employees,” said David Overfelt, director of the Missouri Tire Industry Association and lobbyist for the Missouri Grocers Association. “We need help. I don’t know what the solution is. 301 has a lot of starting points, a lot of things. But I’m telling you we do need help in this region right now.”

SLMPD says as of January 11, 2023, the number of pending arrest warrants (PAW) at the Circuit Attorney’s Office is 4,422. Lawmakers argue this is unacceptable in helping to reduce violence in the St. Louis area.

“Most prosecutors are local, but it might be something the city needs,” said Anders Walker, law professor at St. Louis University School of Law. “I think everyone in St. Louis is worried about crime and I think the state of Missouri is worried about crime. A lot of investors come to St. Louis, and if St. Louis gets a bad reputation, people leave. That’s something the governor might want to do something about.”

The bill also has an amendment that tackles holding juveniles accountable when it comes to certain violent crimes. If a person knowingly possesses a firearm and is under the age of 18 or not accompanied by an adult 21 years or older, that person could be charged with unlawful possession.

“This is great news because Missouri has been opposed to gun regulations, but now after a crime wave, we’re finally seeing some talk about stiffer penalties for in this case minors with firearms,” said Walker.