“Overall, the idea was just to make the code logical, coherent and consistent — both structurally and internally,” said Amy Fite, president of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
Hammering out the wide-ranging legislation took nearly eight years and two legislative sessions, involving significant contributions from state prosecutors, a special committee of the Missouri Bar and other law enforcement groups.
Many of the changes involve standardizing the code’s language for consistency. “For instance, in the '70s [the code] would not have had gender neutral language. Everything would have just said ‘he,’” said Fite.
Another change standardizes the terms “crime” and “offense,” which legally have the same meaning, she said.
Other significant changes include a new E-class felony with a penalty of up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The new felony class allows more flexibility in sentencing for certain crimes, Fite said.
“The adding of a fifth level of felony was to address the fact that when you’ve committed a B felony, the range was five to 15 years and then the next range was up to seven [years]. So, there was kind of a gap between the C and the B and so it was good to have this added range,” she said.
Fines and monetary thresholds for offenses such as stealing or property damage have also been adjusted to better apply to the current economy.
Fite points to other significant changes to the code, including stiffer charges for child molestation.
“Right now child molestation, in the second degree, is an A misdemeanor, but it’s a misdemeanor and child molestations are going to have four levels of felonies going forward and there will no longer be a misdemeanor version of child molestation.”
In addition, jail time will no longer be a sentencing option for possessing up to 10 grams of marijuana for first-time offenders. Fite said marijuana is still against the law in Missouri, “But if you possess less than 10 grams of marijuana and are a first-time offender – and that is also important; you have to be a first-time offender – then you are going to have committed a new misdemeanor level for us, which is a D misdemeanor, and that is going to be fine-only.”
Fite added that jail sentences in Missouri for possessing small amounts of pot are unusual in the first place, but said she expects the new marijuana penalty will lighten the workload for public defenders who will no longer be assigned cases of people charged with possessing small amounts of the drug.
Follow Joseph Leahy on Twitter: @joemikeleahy