I have been a criminal defense lawyer since 1982. My first job. Here are the basic questions people ask me:
How Do You Know Law Enforcement Is Interested In Your Life?
- You receive a summons in the mail from a court. This is common when charging a Defendant with a misdemeanor.
- Police write you a ticket. Usually the officer hands it to the driver. Occasionally a ticket arrives in the mail as above. A ticket is a summons either way and says so on top. Some folks refuse to sign the ticket because they think it is an admission of guilt. But it just says you received the ticket, not agree with the ticket.
- Detectives hunt down the Defendant with an arrest warrant. Virtually all felonies go this route. They take you to the station and book you. You know you were booked when they take you mug shot and fingerprints. If not, you don’t have to list the incident on an application that asks if you have ever been arrested for a crime.
- The cops send defendant a letter saying something like “Surrender, turn yourself in before we come for you”. This would be a good time to hire a criminal defense lawyer.
- A detective leaves a business card in your doorway. Also a good time to hire a criminal defense lawyer. This indicates an investigation is happening, no charges yet.
What’s The Difference Betwen a Felony, Misdemeanor or Ordinance?
These are the major categories of crimes in order from most serious to least.
A felony is any crime punishable by more than 1 year in the county jail.
A Misdemeanor is any crime punishable with a maximum of 1 year in the county jail.
An Ordinance violation is technically not a crime at all. It is less than a misdemeanor, like a ticket you receive from a small municipality. Could be traffic or housing code violation.
Some crimes can fit 2 of these categories, such as Unlawful Use of a Weapon, Assault, or DWI. Most municipalities (cities) have ordinances against this type of behavior. So do the State Courts. How is it decided which one it is?
A prosecuting attorney has some discretion. That’s the person issuing the case, after the detectives present their report. If the city cops arrest you, the city might have a policy of keeping all first time DWI’s in its court. However, Missouri law says that a second offense DWI must go to state court. This is a statute violation.
So, if the municipal prosecutor sends it to the state prosecutor, it might just be sent back. This happens when the state thinks the case is not strong enough, or they have a policy not to get involved in the situation presented.
How do you know? Look at the summons. Find the court address. If you are going to City Hall, it is municipal. If you are headed to the County Courthouse, its a state crime.
Classes of Missouri Crimes
Felonies and Misdemeanors are divided in several classes. Felonies may be A, B, C, D, or E. A is the most serious. Misdemeanors may be A, B, C or D.
558.011. Sentence of imprisonment, terms — conditional release. — 1. The authorized terms of imprisonment, including both prison and conditional release terms, are:
(1) For a class A felony, a term of years not less than ten years and not to exceed thirty years, or life imprisonment;
(2) For a class B felony, a term of years not less than five years and not to exceed fifteen years;
(3) For a class C felony, a term of years not less than three years and not to exceed ten years;
(4) For a class D felony, a term of years not to exceed seven years;
(5) For a class E felony, a term of years not to exceed four years;
(6) For a class A misdemeanor, a term not to exceed one year;
(7) For a class B misdemeanor, a term not to exceed six months;
(8) For a class C misdemeanor, a term not to exceed fifteen days.
There are similar maximum fines for each class of felony or misdemeanor.
Arrested, Get Me Out of Here!
Here is what your criminal defense lawyer does when the client is in jail. First, make a beeline to the prosecuting attorney and discuss a reduction of bond. I do this by finding out what my client can afford. Why? Because if I get the bond reduced, and the client can’t post it, it is difficult to have a second bond reduction. If there is agreement, I have the judge sign the bond reduction, then I take it to the jail.
Second, if I can’t get an agreement with the prosecutor, I have to set a Motion For Reduction of Bond with the judge. This takes a bit longer. Some prosecutors have a policy of permitting the victim to testify at the bond reduction hearing. This means they must receive 7-10 days notice.
Going To Court
Misdemeanors are concluded in Associate Circuit Court. All court appearances will occur in the same courtroom with the same judge. There will be a plea bargain with the State, or a trial. The trial may be by judge alone, or by jury. Defendant decides after consulting with the criminal defense lawyer.
Felonies begin in the Associate Circuit Court, but they normally don’t stay there. After a felony indictment, or preliminary hearing, the case goes to Circuit Court. Only Circuit Judges have authority in the Missouri Constitution to determine guilt or innocence in a felony case. As in misdemeanors, felonies end with a plea bargain or trial by judge or jury.
Your Criminal Defense Lawyer will walk you through the process.
I explain each step of the process in advance. No legalese. I want to eliminate as much of the stress as possible. Tell me what you are most worried about: your friend told you something scary or you read it on the internet.
I will tell you when to panic. Now is not the time! Call or email me for a free consultation.