Legislators in Missouri this week saw the passage of the state’s long awaited overhaul of the criminal code. House Bill 210 passed overwhelmingly in the state house, and paves the way for the creation of new felonies and misdemeanors and attempts to modernize criminal law to make it more understandable to the public at large.
The new legislation would avoid the current problem of having very different types of crimes punishable with the same amount of jail time. For instance, one of the bill’s sponsors pointed out that involuntary manslaughter and forgery are currently punished the same way under Missouri’s current criminal code, the same punishment for two very different types of crime. If HB 210 passes that will change and involuntary manslaughter will be elevated to a new level of felony that is punishable with up to 10 years in prison while forgery will only be punished by up to seven years behind bars.
While the potential criminal law updates appear to be good news and long overdue, the legislature has also taken up another bill, House Bill 799, which would create yet another law and invent an entirely new crime for Missourians to contend with. The bill proposed by House member Kathie Conway, would create a new crime of instances where clergymen or women had a sexual relationship with someone they were counseling.
While laws already exist to punish adults in positions of authority over children (including clergy), no such clergy-specific laws exist to protect other adults. The sponsor of the bill says that the aim of the bill is to ensure that the clergy never violate their positions of trust or authority and use that influence to engage in a sexual relationship with anyone under their care.
The bill specifically creates the new crime of “sexual exploitation by a clergyperson” and says that if a member of the clergy engages in sexual conduct with another person who is not that clergyperson’s spouse within 120 days of that clergyperson meeting with and providing religious, spiritual, marital or relationship advice or counseling, then a crime has occurred. According to HB 799, the clergyperson will then be found to have committed a Class C felony. A person convicted of “sexual exploitation by a clergyperson” faces up to seven years in prison.
If you’ve had a run in with the law and find yourself in need of a Missouri criminal defense lawyer capable of aggressively protecting your interests, contact our St. Louis criminal defense law firm today at (314) 863-0500.