Missouri Chief Justice Mary R. Russell says the rarity of some charges, along with seemingly disparate sentencing for some crimes, warrant a closer look at the state's criminal code.

The chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court applauded efforts by the Legislature to update the state’s criminal code during the State of the Judiciary address recently.

Mary R. Russell said the rarity of some charges, along with seemingly disparate sentencing for some crimes, warrant a closer look.

She said a person who kills someone while driving drunk faces the same penalty — up to seven years in prison — as someone who writes a bad check more than $500.

“It is your prerogative to determine where the problems truly lie and what solutions are most appropriate,” Russell said, addressing lawmakers. “But we trust that all of your hard work will produce an improved criminal code that will be beneficial for our entire state.”

Russell looked back on her own experience in the Legislature, as an intern, and the executive branch serving on boards and commissions. She said the role of the courts is to work with the other branches as “constitutional partners.”

Russell also applauded efforts to integrate technology and make court records available electronically. She said more services were being made available online, including paying fines and getting information about jury duty. A new website for the state courts is also planned, she said.

“Building digital infrastructure into our court services helps all of government,” Russell said.

Missouri’s new electronic filing system will be rolled out to 30 more courts this year, Russell said. The system allows attorneys to electronically file documents that can then be accessed at courthouses across the state. The system is currently used in all appellate courts and 28 trial courts.

“We are rolling this system out as fast as our resources permit,” Russell said.

Russell also noted the use of videoconferencing tools to replace in-person pretrial hearings, resulting in cost savings. She said other cost savings have been found by keeping adults out of jails before trial and debt collection efforts.

The full chamber rose to applaud Russell at the end of her speech, after she’d started to tear up while introducing her husband – a former member of the House.

“As your constitutional partners, we look forward to working with you to make Missouri’s courts better for everyone,” Russell said.

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