Excessive Sentencing Project - Missouri

Policies and rulings on lengthy imprisonment terms in Missouri.

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  • Missouri allows parole for most offenses.
  • Missouri imposes mandatory LWOP and JLWOP. § 565.020 R.S.Mo. (2012).
  • Juveniles can be transferred to adult court at age 12.

State Constitution

Mo. Const. Art. I, § 21 (2012) Excessive bail and fines--cruel and unusual punishment -- That excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.

NOTE:  Article I, Section 21 of the Missouri Constitution is interpreted as the equivalent of the Eighth Amendment.

Sentencing Statutes

  • Habitual Offender Statute – § 558.019 R.S.Mo. (2012)

    § 558.019. Prior felony convictions, minimum prison terms -- prison commitment defined -- dangerous felony, minimum term prison term, how calculated -- sentencing commission created, members, duties -- recommended sentences, distribution -- report -- expenses -- cooperation with commission -- restorative justice methods -- restitution fund 

  • Proportionality Review for Death Penalty – § 565.035 R.S.Mo. (2012)

    § 565.035. Supreme court to review all death sentences, procedure--powers of court--assistant to court authorized, duties 

Case Law


Unless constitutional limitations are infringed upon, the courts may not encroach upon the legislative function of defining crime and punishment. State v. Motley, 546 S.W.2d 435, 438 (Mo. Ct. App. 1976) (citing State v. Stock, 463 S.W.2d 889, 895 [8] (Mo. 1971)).

State Constitution & Proportionality 

Article I, “Section 21 of the Missouri Constitution provides the same protection against cruel and unusual punishment” as the Eighth Amendment. Burnett v. State, 311 S.W.3d 810, 814 (Mo. Ct. App. 2009). The Missouri Supreme Court applies the “the same standard in determining whether a punishment violates the United States Constitution or Missouri Constitution. Id; State v. Dillard, 158 S.W.3d 291, 305 (Mo. Ct. App. 2005).

Missouri applies the “gross disproportionality” standard to determine if Article I, Section 21’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment has been violated. State v. Dillard, 158 S.W.3d 291, 305 (Mo. Ct. App. 2005) (citing State v. Lee, 841 S.W.2d 648, 654-55 (Mo. 1992)).

The Missouri Supreme Court follows Justice Kennedy’s concurrence in Harmelin, which states “that the effect of Harmelin was to ‘alter’ the three-part test in Solem by making it ‘clear that comparison to sentences given to other defendants for the same or a similar crime is irrelevant except when the court finds the sentence in question grossly disproportionate.’” State v. Williams, 936 S.W.2d 828, 832 (Mo. Ct. App. 1996) (citing State v. Lee, 841 S.W.2d 648, 654 (Mo. 1992)).

As explained in Solem, "a court's proportionality analysis under the Eighth Amendment should be guided by objective criteria, including (i) the gravity of the offense and the harshness of the penalty; (ii) the sentences imposed on other criminals in the same jurisdiction; and (iii) the sentences imposed for the commission of the same crime in other jurisdictions." State v. Dillard, 158 S.W.3d 291, 303 (Mo. Ct. App. 2005).

Missouri courts have stated that a “sentence within the statutory limits is not cruel and unusual unless it is so disproportionate to the offense committed that it shocks the moral sense of reasonable people.” State v. Lee, 1991 Mo. App. LEXIS 1740 (Mo. Ct. App. Nov. 26, 1991) (citing State v. Morris, 719 S.W.2d 761, 766 (Mo. 1986)); State v. Deckard, 426 S.W.2d 88, 91 (Mo. 1968); Deaton v. State, 705 S.W.2d 70, 73 (Mo. Ct. App. 1985); State v. Freeman, 702 S.W.2d 869, 875 (Mo. Ct. App. 1985); State v. Whitehead, 675 S.W.2d 939, 943 (Mo. Ct. App. 1984); State v. Morris, 661 S.W.2d 84 (Mo. Ct. App. 1983).

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Consecutive sentencing for multiple offenses is not per se unconstitutional. State v. Freeman, 702 S.W.2d 869, 875 (Mo. Ct. App. 1985) (citing State v. Repp, 603 S.W.2d 569, 571 (Mo. 1980)).

The fact that a defendant’s “accomplice receives a lesser sentence does not violate defendant's constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.” State v. Lee, 1991 Mo. App. LEXIS 1740 (Mo. Ct. App. Nov. 26, 1991) (citing Johnson v. State, 750 S.W.2d 648, 649 (Mo. App. 1988)).

The following cases discuss both Article I, Section 21 and the Eighth Amendment, but fail to provide any additional separate analysis of Section 21:

  • State v. Lee, 841 S.W.2d 648 (Mo. 1992) –
  • State v. Hill, 827 S.W.2d 196 (Mo. 1992) –
  • State v. Katura, 837 S.W.2d 547, 551 (Mo. Ct. App. 1992) –
Leading Court Discussions of Graham and Miller 

State v. Hart, 404 S.W. 3d 232 (July 30, 2013) (statute allow only death penalty and LWOP as punishment is mandatory for juvenile; Miller does not categorically bar LOWP but requires consideration of the factors mentioned in Miller; Miller has not address issues on (a) whether the state or the defendant should bear the risk of non-persuasion on the determination that Miller requires the sentencer to make, and (b) the burden of proof applicable to that determination; defendant’s waive of jury sentencing cannot be enforced on remand; court will not rewrite the statute under the doctrine of severance.) 

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Featured Products

State v. Nathan, 404 S.W.3d 253 (Mo. July 30 2013) (for same reason as in Hart, the mandatory sentence on juvenile charged with first degree murder is remanded)