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Juvenile law strives for rehabilitation instead of punishment

Missouri treats juveniles in its criminal justice system generally similar to other states. The usual juvenile law framework provides that a person under 18 is charged and prosecuted as a juvenile. Unlike the harsh penal sanctions of the adult criminal justice system, the juvenile system follows a goal of rehabilitation of the individual. However, when a juvenile has a particularly serious prior history of criminality and/or where the crime charged is severely dangerous, the courts can certify the juvenile to be tried as an adult.

The issue came up recently because the authorities are reporting that a juvenile is in custody in connection with a deadly shooting that occurred on Hulen Drive in Columbia on July 8. The police are not releasing any other details due to the suspect's age, other than to claim that he is linked directly to the shooting. In the case of first-degree or second-degree murder charges, the Missouri state court is required to hold a certification hearing to determine if the child will be tried as an adult.

Except in exceptional cases, an older teenager charged with murder is usually certified by the court to be tried as an adult. In lesser alleged crimes, the court may decide either way depending on the strength of the prosecution's case. It is the prosecuting attorney who usually requests the court to certify a juvenile as an adult where a hearing is not statutorily mandated.

When the juvenile law court certifies the juvenile to be tried as an adult, the accused is subject to all of the rules and penalties applicable to any other adult charged with a crime. Decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years have declared that a juvenile cannot be sentenced to death. The Court also decided that a mandatory sentence of life without parole for a person under 18 violates the cruel and unusual punishment prohibition of the Eighth Amendment. As a result, Missouri passed a law allowing juveniles sentenced to life to be able to petition for a review and reduction of the sentence after they have served 25 years.

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