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Monday, May 2, 2016

Crime victims should be heard

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Missouri Attorney General

My office is supporting renewed legislative efforts to allow Missouri crime victims to be heard by judges considering the requests of felons seeking early release. A state law passed in 2003 and a subsequent Missouri Supreme Court ruling in 2004 could result in thousands of inmates in state prisons convicted of nonviolent class C or D felonies obtaining early release, without crime victims being notified or having a say before the court.

House Minority Leader Jeff Harris of Columbia and state Rep. Cathy Jolly of Kansas City prefiled bills earlier this month to revise Missouri law and give victims a voice as the courts consider the cases of felons who are now able to ask for earlier releases.

I support the bills, HB 49 and HB 50, which would require the Missouri Department of Corrections to include statements from victims or witnesses in the required recommendation report to the court and give better notice to crime victims.

The Missouri Constitution and state laws give crime victims rights to be notified of and to be present and participate in parole hearings. Unfortunately, they will not have those same rights in the early release hearings unless we close this loophole. Judges need to have the discretion to hear from and consider those who have felt the greatest impact of these felonies.

Missouri law allows offenders convicted of nonviolent class C or D felonies to petition the court for release after serving 120 days. Once the petition is filed, the law requires the Department of Corrections to provide a recommendation report to the court. The law says the court must follow the recommendation report unless the court finds that placement on probation would be inappropriate.

"As it stands now, the court reviewing the petition for early release can only consider how the felon has behaved for the past 120 days while in prison, and not consider the impact of his or her criminal activities before being locked up," Rep. Jolly said. "Missouri has been very progressive in the past two decades in protecting the rights of crime victims. We should not take a step backward now."

"Most people work hard and play by the rules," Rep. Harris said. "But these are people who break the rules the rest of play by, and their victims need and deserve a voice."

HB49 would allow the sentencing court to take into account all of the information before it in considering a petition for early release and gives the court discretion in adhering to the Department of Corrections recommendations. The DOC would be required to provide the sentencing court with any statements from victims or witnesses in its recommendations report. The bill also allows the state to be a party, represented by the original prosecutor, if the court determines that a hearing is necessary before releasing an inmate.

My office will also work with crime victims advocacy groups which supported similar legislation this past spring.