Parke quote

Being one of the youngest county prosecutors in the nation and working without a full-time assistant, Texas County prosecuting attorney Parke Stevens Jr. has a unique and challenging position.

Only 31, Stevens was elected in 2014 and took office Jan. 1, 2015. In this question-and-answer session, he shares some insight by answering questions about what he does for a living.

Q. What do you think of your job? 

“I love it – I really do. I meet great people; great people around the community and even some great people who make bad decisions. 

I do, of course, also meet some hardened criminals, but I work with great law enforcement and judiciary personnel, and I have the opportunity to make a lot of decisions. 

“At the end of the day, I go home happy every time.”

Q. How does the reality of your job compare with your expectations at the beginning?

“My eyes were wide open going in, but the thing you never really see –– and the public never sees –– is that after a case is done, it’s in some respects just beginning a new life in the appeals process. Even if someone pleads guilty, there can still be an appeals process, and I deal with that along with all of the other cases. Believe it or not, I’m dealing with a 10-year-old case that’s still in appeals. These cases stay alive, just in a different form. So I have to maintain the evidence on them and learn all about them by reading original case logs.

“I knew going in of the number and type of cases to expect, but the reality is that the caseload is actually much larger than it appears on the surface because of past cases that stay alive.”

Q. How many cases do you handle? What’s that like?

“In 2015, there were a little over 850 felonies and misdemeanors. In 2016, there were 981 new cases, and that excludes traffic violations and probation cases. Those cases include everything from DWI to misdemeanor marijuana possession and all the way up to murder in the first degree. 

“Statistically statewide, that’s extremely high for one person –– the average is about 250 to 275 for a single prosecutor. A lot of counties have assistant prosecutors or even multiple assistants to handle their cases. 

“Having that kind of load obviously means spending a lot of time in court. Now, I love my time in court and I get a lot done and make the office get things done fast. But what that excludes me from doing things like sitting down and going through stacks of evidence disposal paperwork –– and I have some that dates back to 2000.”

Q. How does your age affect your job, if it does at all?

“I don’t think it affects me very much. But I think one thing it might do is garner me a little more ability to communicate with defendants, because most of them are on the younger side. Maybe see that I’m not belittling them because I’m not like a father-figure and they see me more as a peer.

“On the flip side – and I’ve never run into this from a judge – there might be some defense counsels who see me as a young kid and think, ‘Oh, I’m going to beat him.’ It usually doesn’t work out that way; in fact, I have found them saying, ‘The law says this and this,’ and found myself explaining that it doesn’t because I’ve kept up with the evolution of law and they haven’t.”

Q. How do you view local law enforcement personnel?

“I’ve been really fortunate that all the cops in this area have been really good, whether it be a trooper, a deputy or a police officer. They listen to me, and that’s good.



“When cops get their training, they get it from other cops, not lawyers. Then they go out and do what cops do, trying to do what they think is right. But sometimes, what they’ve been taught is not the legal definition of a crime, or courts have interpreted it differently. 

“But with the local officers, if I tell them something is wrong, they take my advice and don’t make the same mistake a second time. I’m also very fortunate that with almost every officer in the area, I can call them at any time if I need something or need to tell them something.

“We’ve also bent over backward to streamline our process of getting information from their case files to me, so there’s no surprise when I walk into a trial.”

Q. How do you view local judicial personnel?

“They’re really all excellent; they’ve given insight into cases I would have never seen.

“The defense lawyers are very honest and very cordial and the judges are all very fair. Whichever judge it is in this area, they all listen to both sides and make decisions based on the facts. They’re all humans, but they do everything they can to exclude any emotion. And even if they do experience emotion, they set it aside and consider just the facts to make their judgments.  

“Occasionally I’ll think they’re wrong, and they’ll challenge me or I’ll challenge them back, but that’s just part of the adversarial process. I’ve won a few and lost a few, and that’s just the way it works and then we go on our way.

“I always thank the defense counsel, and sometimes people ask why. Well, it’s an adversarial process and if they weren’t there the defendant wouldn’t have the opportunity to have a trial. They really are an integral part of the justice system.” 

Q. What do you think of the prison system in Missouri, and the overcrowding situation?

“I don’t know all the numbers, but I do know that in the Licking prison there are 1,800 people in a maximum security facility. Those are all people serving life sentences or at least really long sentences. In fact, there’s a man there who’s serving 3,221 years. When you have that many people in that situation, it gives you the idea to think the jails are full.

“Still, I wouldn’t say it’s harder to get to prison than it used to be. What you have to do in the situation is have a relief valve, so you can keep people in there who really need to be there. 

“That’s where the department of corrections parole program comes in. They’re constantly changing their parole guidelines, and they keep shrinking what they call a violent offender and the percentage of prison time from a sentence. It’s a fine line; they have to make that decision to build more cells with four walls or let people out faster.

“Because of that, we’re letting out more hardened criminals. The DOC parole boards always have their hands on the throttle, so to speak. It’s like a dam spillway; you need more bed space, you open the floodgates. They might decide to loosen the purse strings at a parole hearing and say, ‘yeah, you had two fights while you were in here, but we’re still going to let you go.’

“The only other option would be to send more people to county jails for felonies. I’ve seen that done, but very irregularly.”

Q. Why do you feel led to send press releases to local media outlets?

“I guess there are two reasons. If you ask people, it’s amazing how many don’t understand how the Missouri criminal justice system works, and it’s also true that they just don’t know what happened with the last big case. I wish I could do a press release on every case, but the ones I spend a lot time on, or a jury is called in on, I feel folks should be informed about them.

“The people elected me and they’re entitled to know I’m doing my job, so I like to show them I’m doing my job.”

Q. What is one of the most misunderstood aspects of your job?

“Sometimes what people think should be charged just can’t be charged because it doesn’t fit the laws we have in place. Sometimes the range of punishment people want isn’t authorized –– and I can’t make something up that isn’t there. I have to be fair to the defendant as well as the public. That’s my job. My job isn’t to just hammer someone, it’s to seek justice.

“There are times when that means getting out the hammer, but it also means there are times you have to balance what a victim wants with what’s possible, because it’s not the victim versus a defendant, it’s the state of Missouri versus that person.”

Q. What would you like to say to Texas County residents?

“There’s so much more to being the county prosecutor than meets the eye. I’m so lucky to be surrounded by so many great people to work with who help me make it all happen. I have a great staff, a great set of county employees around me – it’s like everyone I come in contact with does great things and a lot of them are underpaid and underappreciated, but invaluable. 

“That makes it so much easier to love what I do.”

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