Missouri House panel considers new rules for trying juveniles as adults

Crime

A Missouri House committee voted to raise the age of certifying juvenile offenders as adults to a minimum of 16 years old. In an amendment to O’Fallon Rep. Nick Schroer’s H.B. 12, the Republican-led panel upped the age from 14, making the bill more palatable to Democrats.

The House Committee on Criminal Justice, led by Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, amended the bill further to expand the crimes that make juveniles eligible for adult prison to include armed criminal action with an underlying felony; and unlawful use of a weapon which can be either a misdemeanor or felony offense.

The amendment also removes drug offenses from the list of crimes that make juveniles eligible for certification as adults. It requires statewide data collection on the youth considered for certification, including race and the crimes.

Dogan also plans to add a “probable cause” determination for juveniles so that children will get the same due process as adults, requiring the government to prove that they more than likely committed a crime before standing trial as an adult.

He says this is already in place in 35 other states.

“While this still might not be ideal in my view or the view of others, it at least protects more of our juveniles from the consequences of adult certification and it ensures that no middle school children will be subject to certification,” Dogan told his committee colleagues.

Child advocate witnesses and the state public defenders office spoke for the amendments but disagree with the original bill’s sponsor, Rep. Schroer that the certification process is beneficial to juveniles and opens up additional services.

Schroer said, “In my experience, you are getting the adults into the room. You’re getting the adults mandated into the certification process to determine, ‘Look, this 12-year-old, this 13-year-old, here’s the crime that allegedly they committed. Mom and Dad, where were you?’”

Director of Juvenile Defense and Policy for the Missouri State Public Defender System testified, “It’s not good for the clients and it’s not something that is required in order for children to get services. Children can get services without being considered for certification.”

One Republican challenged the measure saying it changes the governor’s intent for calling the session. Parson supports the 12 to 18 age range to be considered for adult court.