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Gun court? St. Louis considers creating armed offender docket

Specialized courts to handle certain types of cases have been an unmistakable trend in the criminal law in recent years. It started with drug courts that focused on offenders struggling with drug or alcohol problems. The goal of drug courts is to provide alternatives to jail: flexible interventions that will encourage people to get the treatment they need.

More recently, some local jurisdictions around the country have been experimenting with a similar model to address criminal cases involving military veterans. 

But what about a specialized court to handle gun crimes? St. Louis officials have been considering the idea as a way to address concerns about violent crime.

The circuit attorney, the police chief and the major all say they support the creation of such a court. The proposal is to create an armed offender docket in the circuit court that would assign two judges to focus entirely on gun crimes.

Circuit judges in St. Louis considered the idea, but voted 17-11 against it. The concern was apparently that it would devote an overly large share of the court's limited resources to gun cases, thereby slowing down others.

Instead, the judges say they favor a different plan. That plan is to expedite the criminal justice process for nonviolent gun offenders. More specifically, the goal would be to get those defendants through the system within four months after they were arrested.

Despite the judges' opposition to adopting the gun court model, however, it remains to be seen what tweaks St. Louis might make in its system for responding to violent crime. Additional proposals could emerge from an Urban Crime Summit that Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is convening in St. Louis and Kansas City this week.

Source: KSDK, "St. Louis Circuit Judges not for gun court, but support higher priority on gun crimes," Farrah Fazal, September 16, 2013

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