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New measure could change sex crime plea deal strategy

Criminal defendants accused of specific crimes against children could be facing longer prison sentences if convicted under proposed changes to the law in Missouri. Potential modifications, supported by advocacy group Missouri KidsFirst, would result in longer prison terms for family members accused of sex crimes against kids. Adults accused of abandonment could face similarly heightened consequences.

Missouri lawmakers in both the House and Senate have passed two different versions of the new criminal code. Now, they must work together to hammer out a new draft by mid-May. The bills are designed to bridge sentencing gaps for those who commit sex crimes; however, they could also lead to longer prison terms for those convicted of certain offenses. Defendants who are convicted of repeat offenses, inflicting serious injury, engaging in a ritual and other contributing factors could also face additional punishment. Kansas attorneys may be able to help defendants learn more about the impact of these changes on their individual criminal cases.

For example, criminal defendants who are convicted of child sexual abuse involving incest could receive more robust prison sentences. Those terms could last up to three decades, depending on the nature of the alleged offense. Further, defendants could be charged with harsher felony counts if incest is involved in the alleged sex crime. Statistics from Missouri KidsFirst show that about 66 percent of child sex abuse involves incest.

Authorities say that the changes could even affect the plea bargaining process, leading to longer sentences for those who plead guilty to child sexual abuse charges. Aggravating factors may be used to justify higher proposed sentences. Also, the aggravating factor adds additional flexibility; prosecutors can remove that enhancement if the defendant agrees to serve a complete jail sentence for the primary charge. These changes would have significant implications for a wide range of criminal defendants in Missouri who are facing child sexual abuse allegations.

Source: Columbia Daily Tribune, "Bill boosts child crime penalties" No author given, Apr. 12, 2014

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