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Ex post facto punishments: challenge reaches Missouri high court

In Missouri and across the nation, criminal sentencing systems tend to be quite complex. Some states, and the federal government, have strict sentencing guidelines that make for a determinate system. Others grant judges a great deal of discretion when issuing sentences, using a system called indeterminate sentencing.

And some states have systems that fall somewhere in between, or blend different parts of, determinate and indeterminate sentencing. There is no consensus on which approach is preferable.

But regardless of the system being used, it is constitutional to impose additional penalties on people convicted of sex offenses, or on gun or drug charges, after they have already been sentenced? A case currently before the Missouri Supreme Court poses this issue.

Attorneys argued the case yesterday in Jefferson City. It involves a legal challenge based on Article 1, Section 13 of the Missouri Constitution. That provision prohibits so-called "ex post facto." Ex post facto is a Latin expression for "after the fact."

For example, one of the cases in the constitutional challenge involves a sex offender who was originally convicted in 1998. Thirteen years later, in 2011, he was charged with loitering as a convicted sex offender within a specified distance of a public park or swimming pool. The man's sentence was enhanced - even though the law prohibiting that type of "loitering" did not even exist at the time of the original crime.

Five cases have been combined in the legal challenge before the Missouri Supreme Court. Three of them involve sex offenses.

The other two involve people who had previously convicted on drug charges who were later charged with illegal weapons possession. The weapons possession charges came despite the fact that the offense they were charged with hadn't even been created by the Missouri Legislature at the time of the original drug convictions.

Source: CBS St. Louis, "Mo. Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Prior Offenses," Christina Turner, September 4, 2013

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