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Missouri lawmakers work to modify juvenile life sentencing issue

Mandatory minimum sentencing has been coming under fire in recent years. In the past, lawmakers began imposing mandatory minimums as a showing of a tough stance. But, many commentators note that all across the country, more and more people are being locked up at great expense to society due to mandatory sentencing provisions.

Mandatory sentencing essentially takes away the discretion of a judge to consider the full arguments that may be available in individual cases. Criminal defense lawyers may seek to aggressively fight charges on the law and the facts. But, a defense lawyer may also seek to negotiate a plea agreement, or argue mitigating factors at sentencing, seeking to minimize the damages of a conviction.

In 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life without parole laws for juvenile offenders violate constitutional principles. Current Missouri law includes life without parole for juvenile offenders who are convicted of murder. Missouri lawmakers are looking to amend that law.

Wednesday, the Missouri Senate Judiciary Committee adopted a measure to give courts some discretion in sentencing juveniles who have been convicted of murder. The proposal would still give courts discretion to sentence a juvenile to life without parole. However, a judge could sentence a juvenile age 16 or older to a mandatory minimum sentence of 50 years in prison. The proposal would allow younger juveniles to be eligible for parole after 35 years after a conviction for murder.

Youthful offenders can face serious consequences when charged with an offense. Juveniles may be certified to adult court in some cases, which can raise the stakes even higher. A juvenile has the right to a defense lawyer who can advocate for the child’s rights in court.

Source: KOMU, “Senate Panel Advances Juvenile Life Sentence Fix,” The Associated Press, Mar. 6, 2014

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