After months of lobbying for a fairly major reform in the way the city adjudicates crimes committed with guns, Mayor Francis Slay and his staff found themselves on the receiving end of some harsh words from St. Louis judges yesterday.
The 28 circuit court judges met for their monthly en banc meeting yesterday to decide whether or not to create an "armed offender docket" which would dedicate two courtrooms to nothing but gun crimes with nonviolent outcomes, such as a illegally carrying or discharging a weapon.
Judge Robert Dierker was not a fan of the idea and wagged a finger at the mayor's office for the "unprecedented" amount of lobbying they've done on behalf of it. He also commented the idea would do "unnecessary violence to our method of operation," according to the Post-Dispatch.
The original proposal was written by Judge Jack Garvey and had the backing of Slay, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Sam Dotson and Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce. Garvey wrote that the gun courts would handle exclusively cases of "Unlawful Use of a Weapon, Carrying a Concealed Weapon, Flourishing, and Felon in Possession of a Weapon" and robbery in the first degree. The idea, says Slay spokeswoman Maggie Crane, was a little bit like drug court -- these kinds of offenders would not only be sentenced for their crimes but directed to pre- and post-trial services like food stamps or GED classes to reduce recidivism. A sociologist from University of Missouri-St. Louis had also committed to sitting in on each case and collecting data on the outcomes. Read Garvey's original proposal here.
"We can help you with other services so you don't do this again, rather than just the punitive measure," says Crane. "We'd be able to track the outcomes. We'd be able to say high gun bonds do work or, who knows, maybe they don't."
However, sixteen judges voted against Garvey's proposal and only eleven for it. They instead opted for Dierker's "substitute" proposal, which leaves the courts organized the way they are now, but mandates that these types of weapons charges get a trial date right away.
"The Court acknowledges the seriousness of offenses involving the illegal use of weapons and is grateful to officers of the City of St. Louis and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for suggestions concerning management of the criminal docket," writes Dierker. "But the Court notes its constitutional duty to act as a neutral, detached adjudicator of criminal cases."
Dierker writes that UMSL can still get data upon request on the adjudication of these cases. Read Dierker's proposal here.
After the armed offender docket idea was tossed, Slay did not hide his disappointment:
The gun docket is a good idea. Not trying it is a bad one. #fgs— MayorSlay.com (@MayorSlay) September 16, 2013
"Today's vote, we really look at it as a step backward," Crane tells Daily RFT. "We think the public deserves better. We think that reform can't be stopped -- the public is going to insist on it."
Circuit Attorney Joyce was not pleased with yesterday's outcome either. After the jump, read her response.
Here is a portion of the statement released by Joyce's office in light of the judges' decision (emphasis ours):
Judge Garvey's armed offender plan offered transparency, accountability and a way to study the effectiveness of two specialized courts that would handle certain gun crimes. I pledged two attorneys to the armed offender docket and the city of St. Louis pledged resources to cover two additional attorneys to help with the effort...I am disappointed this plan did not pass.
However, I am reviewing the alternative proposal set forth by St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Robert Dierker that was adopted by the court today. While concerns have been raised that the alternative proposal was more about form than substance, I am hopeful the judges will keep considerations of promoting public safety in mind as they formulate the framework under which the plan will operate.
Crane says the mayor plans to pursue the idea through legislative means next. (A piece of legislation on specialized gun courts was proposed on the state level last session, but it did not pass.) She says that the implication that the mayor's office is meddling with the judges' jobs is off base, as the gun docket proposal does not deal with how offenders would be sentenced and judges in the armed offender courts would have maintained their autonomy in that regard.
"[The judges] definitely made a point saying, 'We don't want anybody coming in here and telling us how to do our jobs,'" says Crane. "It's disappointing. It was a set back for the community and I really think the citizens of St. Louis deserve better."