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On our blog we've mentioned several times an effort to overhaul Missouri's criminal code, which started with a task force and, most recently, involves a proposed bill in the state legislature. The drafters of the legislation and the panel that advised them set out to change the state's criminal code to make it more fair, consistent and cost-effective for the state.

However, with the legislative session winding down for the season, it may be a while before Missouri residents see changes in how criminal matters are handled in the state. There are only five weeks left in this session for lawmakers to pass the overhaul, which may be cutting it close.

Some lawmakers say that it is unwise to rush the legislative process and pass a bill that fails to meet the state's needs or leaves room for ambiguity.

However, this legislation is important and passing it could have an immediate impact on criminal justice in Missouri. Another state that passed similar legislation saw a 20 percent decrease in crime and a 10 percent drop in the incarceration.

The bill would reduce the penalties for some non-violent criminal offenses in Missouri, meaning less crowding in jails and less prison spending. Specifically, a first-time charge of marijuana would be reclassified as a Class D misdemeanor, with a penalty of a $300 fine. Currently it is a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a fine of $1000 and up to a year in prison.

This legislation mirrors a broader national trend of taking the focus off of incarceration in the criminal justice system in order to punish crimes fairly and lessen the burden of incarceration on society. We can hope that Missouri will tweak its criminal code, whether this session or next, to reflect these priorities.

Source: CBS St. Louis, "Missouri State Senator Says No Rush on Criminal Code Overhaul," Emily Donaldson, April 9, 2013

To learn more about defending against criminal charges in Missouri, please visit our website.

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