ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - The new Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court is giving her blessing to local efforts to set up a so-called armed offenders docket here to better handle the high volume of gun cases.
While not involved in the process directly, Chief Justice Mary Russell says she has been following reports in the media on local officials who want to set up a gun court, and has herself been a backer of specialty courts.
When asked to address criticism from St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, Police Chief Sam Dotson, and several members of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen that the St. Louis Circuit Court is too soft on gun crimes – giving probation and second chances to gun criminals who go on to shoot other people — Russell responded:
“Everyone certainly has a right to their opinion on that. I think probably the judges that are being criticized are looking into that,” she said. “If the folks in St. Louis feel that a gun docket would help them with lowering crime and improving the life of residents then that’s something that is their prerogative.”
St. Louis City Presiding Judge Phillip Heagney declined several request from KMOX News to respond to the uproar over how his judges are handling gun crimes.
In February, Slay, Dotson, and St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce traveled to Jefferson City to persuade the Missouri Legislature that an armed offenders docket was needed. Under the plan, two judges would handle all gun crime cases in the city and follow suspects from the issuing of charges to post-sentencing supervision.
“We want to send them a message, that we’re not going to tolerate gun violence in our city,” Slay said in February. “If you use a gun we’re going to pay attention to you, and you are going to get a higher bond and a stiffer sentence.”
The armed offenders docket plan received an unlikely supporter in April when National Rifle Association President David Keene, during a stop in Collinsville, cited the need for tougher gun penalties.
“It’s been tested time and time again and proven that if you punish criminals who use firearms for criminal purposes then the use of firearms for those purposes is going to decrease dramatically,” he said.