Missouri will be coming into line with 45 other states with respect to the age at which a person is automatically charged as an adult. For many years, the state criminal laws have set 17 as the age for being charged as an adult. That will change to age 18 due to a new statute passed overwhelmingly by both houses of the General Assembly. The juvenile law doctrine that gives the prosecution the ability to move the court to have certain juveniles prosecuted as adults will still apply.
The law, however, does not take effect until 2 1/2 years from now. The measure is hoped to lower incarceration rates in Missouri while bringing the state into compliance with a national standard for delineating adulthood in the state and federal criminal courts. There is a vast difference in the way the prosecution processes an adult prosecution compared to a juvenile proceeding. There is a similarly vast difference between how punishment is handled in the two systems.
In the juvenile court system, rehabilitation rather than punishment is the primary goal. As such, the juvenile court system provides more significant and meaningful programs for behavioral improvement. Conversely, the adult criminal system is deficient in rehabilitation programs and is built around the idea of punishment for the sake of punishment. There is less recidivism among those prosecuted and sentenced as juveniles.
As a result of federal court decisions over the years, including from the U.S. Supreme Court, juveniles are protected by many constitutional guarantees provided by the federal constitution. This includes the right to have competent defense counsel during a criminal prosecution. It is in the juvenile's best interest to be represented by an experienced attorney who is knowledgeable in juvenile law and procedure in Missouri.