Vote Bolsters State Bill on Youth Crime Violent Defendants of Any Age Could Face Prosecution as Adults

Article excerpt

The House gave first-round approval Thursday to a juvenile-crime bill that would allow the state to prosecute children of any age as adults if they commit violent crimes.

Another feature of the bill would shed some light on the highly secretive proceedings of Missouri's juvenile-justice system. Records would be open to the public if a youth is found guilty of a felony in juvenile court. Those records are now secret.

In a two-hour debate, lawmakers rejected amendments that would have softened the bill. Rep. Mike Schilling, D-Springfield, wanted to keep secret the juvenile court records of a child who is found guilty for the first time of a lesser felony, such as stealing. Schilling's amendment fizzled in a 122-21 vote.

"The community wants to know about these felonies that are done by juveniles," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Phil Smith, D-Louisiana. "And it's wrong to put another cloak of secrecy over this."

The House is expected to take a final vote on the measure next week before sending it to the Senate.

Now, children in Missouri under 14 cannot be prosecuted as adults. They are referred to the Division of Youth Services, where even the most violent offender must be released at age 18.

Smith's bill would revamp the system. A child of any age could end up in the adult court system if he or she commits a violent crime. Once sentenced, the child would go to the Division of Youth Services until his or her 17th birthday, then go into an adult prison to complete the term.

Smith's bill would require that a certification hearing be held any time a child of any age commits one of the so-called "Seven Deadly Sins. …