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Revised Criminal Code narrows cases where students could be charged for schoolyard fights

The Missouri Revised Criminal Code, drafted by The Missouri Bar, took effect Jan. 1, 2017. Its implementation ushered in the first major updates to the Criminal Code in 35 years, and the changes were backed by a range of organizations. Senate Bill 491 directing the changes was originally passed with overwhelming support in the House and Senate in 2014 following four years of cooperative work by The Missouri Bar Criminal Code Revision Subcommittee comprised of experienced prosecutors and defense attorneys, as well as representatives from the judiciary and the legislature.

One aspect of the new Criminal Code, however, has brought forth questions from parents and educators who are concerned about how it could affect schools—specifically in relation to schoolyard fights involving students age 17 and older.

Misunderstandings related to this area of the Revised Criminal Code were addressed Jan. 30 during a press conference held by the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield. Dixon was joined by The Missouri Bar, the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the Missouri School Board Association, the Missouri Association of School Administrators and the Missouri Juvenile Justice Association.

Speaking to the press, Dixon cited some inaccurate reports suggesting that, because of the Revised Criminal Code, students who get into schoolyard fights will now be more likely to be charged with felonies. Dixon said that despite such stories, “the Revised Criminal Code actually narrows the instances in which a schoolyard fight might be considered a felony.”

Missouri Bar President Dana Tippin Cutler echoed his statements.

“I can tell you that the facts are that the conduct on school property for which a student could be charged with a criminal offense has not changed with the passage of the Revised Criminal Code,” Cutler said. “We need to be looking at the full picture, which is court personnel and prosecutors will continue to use discretion as they always have about filing charges and pursuing criminal cases, and if the case doesn’t merit it, they’re not going to waste time and our state’s resources pursuing it.”

Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight also addressed the press, noting that cases involving suspects younger than 17 years old will continue to be handled as juvenile matters in juvenile divisions.

Each year, The Missouri Bar drafts and endorses a variety of legislative proposals designed to improve the law on behalf of the public. View the state bar’s 2017 legislative proposals on our website.

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