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Sentencing Commission in the Crosshairs

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) - The Missouri House voted to abolish the Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission, whose criminal sentencing guidelines have been criticized by prosecutors. The bill's sponsor took the occasion to criticize "liberal judges."

The House voted 100-57 to scrap the commission.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, now moves to the Senate, which has until May 13 to act.

"The end of this commission will, in fact, remove the inaccurate information that is communicated to our sentencing judges in the state of Missouri, whereby liberal judges are given cover to release from prison or reduce the sentence and give lighter sentences to the worst offenders, second offenders and violent offenders," Cox told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Commission touted its criminal sentencing guidelines as a way to reserve prison space for the most violent offenders and to use community alternatives when they would best keep an offender from committing new crimes. The guidelines were made available to state judges in August 2010.

"I think it's just one tool," retired Missouri Supreme Court Judge Michael Wolff, who headed the commission, told Courthouse News.

"You can ignore it if you like. Obviously, circumstances of the crime might dictate that. If you have a particularly heinous crime, you don't care about cost. That person is going to prison."

But prosecutors said the guidelines provided cookie-cutter justice and put the public at risk. They claimed the guidelines were flawed and failed to take victims into account. The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys sought to abolish the commission and scrap the guidelines.


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