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House committee OKs bill abolishing Sentencing Advisory Commission

The House Judiciary Committee has voted to advance a bill that would throw out the Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission and enact a new set of sentencing standards.

The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys has backed the measure, HB 257, sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia. MAPA members have long criticized the Sentencing Advisory Commission for promulgating sentencing guidelines that they believe don’t look at enough factors about individual criminal offenders.

In one publicized case last year, Platte County Circuit Judge Abe Shafer leapt over a recommended 120 days shock treatment for a sex offender and instead sentenced the defendant to 26 years in prison.

Platte County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd testified at a public hearing on the bill last week.

“We support abolishing the Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission because it lacks transparency in how it arrives at its recommended sentences, regularly misrepresents recidivism statistics, and mischaracterizes data regarding sentencing costs,” Zahnd testified at the hearing, according to a written copy of his remarks.

The current chairman of the Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission, Missouri Supreme Court Judge Michael Wolff, is stepping down from the bench later this year to teach at Saint Louis University Law School.

In past interviews, Wolff has pointed out that the sentencing recommendations are purely voluntary; judges can issues whatever sentence they want.