Lawmaker plans to file bill to clear up confusion about access to juvenile cases

Friday, July 20, 2007

State Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, announced Wednesday plans to file a bill in the 2008 legislative session intended to clear up confusion on the issue of giving the public notice of court proceedings where juvenile offenders are accused of felonies.

While Missouri state law and a 2007 Missouri State Supreme Court ruling dictate that the public can have access to these cases, the Southeast Missourian reported Wednesday that Associate Circuit Judge Peter Statler said he would not provide public notice of when and where the proceedings would be held for a Jackson teen accused of shooting another teenager.

The 16-year-old allegedly shot Joshua Voshage, 17, three times with a. 22-caliber rifle July 10, in what appeared to have been a love triangle dispute, said Jackson police chief James Humphreys.

In connection with the shooting, which occurred at the Shawnee Square Carwash and Storage, 560 N. Shawnee Blvd., the teen was subsequently charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action.

Although juvenile court cases are generally sealed and closed to the public, Missouri courts have ruled that in a situation where the juvenile offender is accused of a crime that would be a serious felony had an adult been charged, the public shall have access to the entire case.

When the Southeast Missourian requested in writing that the case file and hearings be open to the public, citing state and case law as support, Statler said he was under no obligation to either open the file or provide public notice of when and where the hearings would be held.

In a phone interview Thursday, Roorda said that interpretation flies in the face of what public access is supposed to provide.

"It is absurd to open such hearings to the public while keeping their dates and times secret," Roorda said in a prepared statement.

The legislation Roorda intends to introduce will require judges to specify a time and place of when public proceedings are held so that the public can actually attend rather than just offering theoretical access, he said. Roorda hopes the new bill will clarify the ambiguity used to deny public access in certain cases.

335-6611, extension 245

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