Judges to take new approach to deal with St. Louis City’s gun violence

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ST. LOUIS (KPLR) - St. Louis’ 22nd Judicial Circuit Court is taking aim at gun crimes in a new way. They’re moving many gun cases into a much smaller court focused on firearms.

There has long been a debate between police, prosecutors, and city hall on one side, and the judiciary on the other over the issue.  As recently as 2013 a vote of city judges turned down the pleas of many for a special “gun docket.”

The issue has emerged again after a 2015 that saw more than 2000 assaults with illegally used weapons, and 178 gun related deaths in the city alone.

But things changed recently according to Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce.

“We got a new judge in charge of the criminal docket who was open to the idea of looking at things differently and approaching gun crime in a different way.”

The mid-level gun cases, mostly C and D felonies for Unlawful Use of a Weapon, will go before one of three select judges.  They used to be randomly dispersed among thirty.  The new methodology will allow for judges to keep closer tabs on those coming through the system.

“They have eyes on the defendant from the get go,” Joyce said.  “From the beginning of the case on.  They get to assess that defendant.”

Judge Michael Mullen, who pushed the plan through, said in a statement says the more focused docket makes more sense.

“This new approach will allow prosecutors and defense attorneys more time to adequately equip the judiciary with information that will allow them to tailor their judicial decisions for the best possible outcomes for the accused and the community alike,” said Mullen.  “It also enables the objective, systematic evaluation of docket operations and case outcomes.”

James Clark, from the Better Family Life Group, told us by phone that he still believes the focus should be to stop gun violence “from the front end,” with a focus on what leads offenders to violence at the start.  He did concede that judges having better knowledge of the defendants in front of them should “help the system.”

Joyce believes it will eventually make for safer streets.

“I believe ultimately this has the potential to save lives and make all of us safer,” she said.  “Because it’s going to make us smarter as pertains to these gun crimes.  The judges are going to have more information.  They’re going to have the ability to provide specialized, individualized sentences.”

The new system went into effect February 8th.