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Punishment should reflect the crime

Sunday, July 8, 2007

There's a six-month old baby girl clinging to life in a Columbia hospital today. The boyfriend of the girl's mother has been arrested for shaking the baby while the mother was at work. Unfortunately, incidents of shaking a baby are far too commonplace.

The baby girl is in critical condition and medical officials fear she may have suffered major brain damage in the incident. They should know - they deal with similar cases on a regular basis.

If the child survives - and our prayers should be with her - then the boyfriend will be charged with a class C felony under Missouri law. That level of crime carries a maximum seven year sentence. But some lawmakers want to upgrade the punishment for the crime of baby shaking. It's long overdue.

State Rep. Jeff Harris - who is running for attorney general - has offered legislation for the past two sessions of the Missouri General Assembly that would upgrade the crime to a class B felony, punishable by a minimum of 15 years in prison. That approach is far more appropriate for this crime.

By comparison, selling a controlled substance within 100 feet of a school is a class A felony, punishable by no less than 10 years and a maximum of 30 years in prison. I have no problem with that punishment, but rendering a child mentally impaired for life should result in at least that level of punishment.

In our rush to win the war on drugs we have imposed substantial penalties for drug-related crimes. And well we should. But sometimes - as in the case of a shaken baby - the punishment simply does not fit the crime.

Shaken baby syndrome is easy for medical experts to detect. Our justice system needs to recognize the severity of this crime and alter the punishment accordingly.

Whether it's the legislation offered by Rep. Harris or some other bill, Missouri lawmakers must appreciate the lives that are changed and the lifetime of damages that these children suffer. And then they need to craft a bill that will put those who commit these crimes behind bars for a very long time.



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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen