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Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey calls for juvenile justice system changes

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, photographed on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, at the attorney general’s office in the Missouri Supreme Court in Jefferson City, Mo.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, photographed in January at the Missouri Supreme Court in Jefferson City, wants to add carjacking, property crimes that involve any kind of act of violence and armed criminal action to the list of offenses that would require hearings to determine if juveniles are charged as adults.

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey called Thursday for state lawmakers to make more criminal charges trigger hearings on whether juvenile defendants should be tried as adults.

State law calls for juveniles charged with certain serious crimes to be the subject of a certification hearing in which a judge determines if the defendant should be tried in adult court.

The list of charges that automatically trigger such a hearing include first- or second-degree murder, first-degree assault and rape in the first degree.

“There needs to be additional violent offenses added to the statute that requires a certification hearing,” Bailey said during an interview at his St. Louis office. “We need to be having more certification hearings when we have instances of carjacking, property crimes that involve any kind of act of violence, armed criminal action, those sorts of offenses.”

Judges in juvenile court now have the discretion to order a certification hearing for any juvenile defendant who is charged with a crime that would be a felony if committed by an adult.

“This won’t automatically expand the number of youth certified, but at least we'll have a better understanding of what's driving this criminal behavior and whether or not we have appropriate systems in place to remedy it,” Bailey said. “We're not doing these youth any favors by turning a blind eye to violent crime."

"If felonies are being committed, there needs to be consequences," he added. "And if we can't treat the issue in juvenile court, there needs to be a certification hearing so we can address whether or not the situation is better handled in adult court."

Bailey’s proposal comes after police detained a 15-year-old girl and charged her with assault following a savage sidewalk beating of another teen near Hazelwood East High School that was caught on camera and has attracted national attention. Days later, a 14-year-old boy was stabbed to death in public after school in Jennings. Police have not arrested anyone in that attack.

Adding to the list of criminal charges that automatically trigger a hearing to determine if a juvenile should be tried as an adult is reasonable but unlikely to deter crime, said Christopher J. Sullivan, a professor of youth crime and violence and chair of the department of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

“The fact that it's more likely they're going to have a transfer hearing [if caught and charged] is unlikely to be all that salient in the thought process, given what we know about adolescent development and decision-making, as it applies to delinquency and crime,” Sullivan said.

Adolescents are more motivated by the “social capital” they will receive if they do or do not commit a crime, Sullivan added, and tend to underestimate the potential negative consequences.

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.