Nixon signs bill to update Missouri’s use-of-force statute


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Gov. Jay Nixon signed seven bills that change the judicial system and law enforcement Wednesday, including a measure to update the state’s use-of-force statute.

Updating the state’s use-of-force statute has been a priority for many of those who wish to see progress in policing after Ferguson when the U.S. Justice Department found in their 2015 report on the Ferguson Police Department found the township’s use-of-force policy was “ineffective” and used disproportionately against African-Americans. HB 2332 seeks to make Missouri’s use of force statute fall in line with the guidelines of the Tennessee v. Garner Supreme Court ruling of 1985, which states that a police officer may not use lethal force on a fleeing suspect unless they have probable cause to believe the individual may be a lethal danger to others.

The bill will make it so the use of force when making an arrest is not justified unless the force used by an officer is “objectively reasonable” with regards to a specific situation, regardless of the intent of the officer.

“I thank the General Assembly for making this long-overdue change,” Nixon said in a statement. “These are life-and-death decisions, and it is vital that Missouri statutes governing the use of force are clear and consistent with U.S. Supreme Court precedent.”

The governor’s signature on HB 2332 even gave one of the governor’s most frequent and vocal critics, Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis, a reason to give the governor kudos.

On the other hand, the ACLU of Missouri has opposed the legislation because the language is not specific enough. Sarah Rossi, the director of advocacy and policy, spoke out against the bill often while it was debated.

“If I commit a felony domestic violence and run away and have no weapon, a cop can see me three days later and shoot me on sight,” she tweeted. “It is important we get deadly force done, but not if it isn’t done correctly. This language is not in line with SCOTUS.”

HB 2332 is an omnibus bill primarily authored by Rep. Kevin Corlew, R-Kansas City, that also alters felony classifications, updates language on elder abuse reporting, and changes definitions or clarifies multiple felonies and misdemeanors.

The governor also signed six other bills, including a bill written by Sen. Bob Dixon that could speed up the process to expunge criminal records. Currently, a person convicted of a felony or misdemeanor must wait 20 or 10 years, respectively, to be eligible to file an expungement petition. Dixon’s bill would cut that to seven and three years.

“Missourians who have paid their debt to society and become law-abiding citizens deserve a chance to get a job and support their families,” Nixon said. “This bill represents a reasonable, balanced approach and I’m pleased to sign it into law today.”

The other bills Nixon signed were a slight judicial restructuring, the Missouri Uniform Powers of Appointment Act, a bill that prevents juveniles convicted of murder from being sentenced to life without parole (except in extreme circumstances), one that bans traffic citation quota policies, and another that deals with public defenders.