Your Columbia Criminal Case: The Basics
You just heard from your sister. Your nephew has been arrested. He was hanging out with some friends in Rockbridge Memorial Park when park rangers picked him up for drug possession and vandalism. Just last week he told you he "was trying to turn his life" around by enrolling in classes at Moberly Community College. Guess that will have to wait. You want to help your sister, but where do you even begin? You make some calls and find out he is being held at the Boone County Jail. She's going to need to post his bail.
Since arrests occur in so many different situations, it is difficult to predict exactly what will happen. This article provides general information about what to expect in typical criminal cases for individuals arrested in Boone County.
Unlike the rogue cops you may have seen on TV, police must follow some basic rules during your arrest. If they neglect to follow these procedures, it could jeopardize the prosecutor's case against you.
Miranda Warnings and Jail
You should be read your Miranda rights. ("You have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney" -- you probably know the rest). Then, the police have two options: take you to jail for booking, or release you with a promise to appear at a later date.
If you want to go home, you'll either be released on your own recognizance or have to post bail. Bail is money that you have to pay to the courts in order to be released from jail pending trial. You usually have to put up 10% of the total amount of bail the judge sets in your case in order to get out.
Your first appearance before a judge is at the arraignment. The judge will: 1) advise you of your criminal charges, ask whether you have an attorney or want a court-appointed lawyer; 2) inquire how you will plead to the charges (most people plead "not guilty" at this stage); 3) determine whether to modify the initial amount of bail; and then 4) set a schedule for future court dates.
What happens next may depend in large part on the type of crime you are facing.
Types of Crimes: Infractions
An infraction is a petty crime such as red-light camera tickets, traffic or boating violation. Much of the information contained in this article won't concern you if you've only been issued an infraction. A cop or other official will have witnessed your alleged violation and will have issued you a ticket. If convicted, you can't be sentenced to jail - a fine is the maximum punishment allowed. You may challenge your ticket or plead guilty to the charges. In some instances, you can simply pay the fine online or by mail.
Misdemeanors are divided into three separate classes, A to C, with A being the most severe. They're less serious than felonies, but remember, a conviction or guilty plea can have consequences on your career and your freedom. If you are a non-citizen, a misdemeanor can impact your immigration status.
Columbia misdemeanors include fraud, writing a bad check under $500, fraudulently using a credit card device for under $150, driving under the influence, trespassing, and some assault crimes.
The maximum punishment you'll receive if convicted depends on the class. Class A convictions carrying a sentence of up to one year in county jail that may include a fine up to $1000. Class B misdemeanors carry up to six months in county jail and a fine. Finally, Class C misdemeanors are punishable by up to 15 days in a county jail with or without a fine of up to $300. Some crimes carry additional penalties such mandatory counseling or substance abuse classes.
Your case will be set for a plea bargaining hearing, where the prosecutor and defense attorney talk about the case and try to reach a resolution. If they can't, you will go to trial.
At trial, a jury will decide if you're guilty or innocent. If the jury finds you "not guilty," the case ends and you may go free. If the jury can't decide, it's called a "hung jury," and the prosecutor may be able to retry the case at a later time. If you're convicted, the judge will impose your sentence.
Felonies are very serious cases with very serious consequences including prison time and other major repercussions that may last the rest of your life.
In Missouri, there are five classes of felonies with penalties ranging from one year in prison to 30 years to life.
Missouri Truth in Sentencing Law
In cases considered "dangerous felonies," the state will require you to serve a minimum of 85 percent of the sentence. Missouri law defines dangerous felonies as:
- Arson, first degree;
- Assault, first degree;
- Assault of law enforcement officer, first
- Attempted forcible rape if physical
- Domestic assault, first degree;
- Elder abuse, first degree;
- Forcible rape;
- Forcible sodomy;
- Murder, second degree;
- Robbery, first degree;
- Statutory rape, first degree (when victim
is younger than 12);
- Statutory sodomy, first degree (when
victim is younger than 12); and
- Certain child abuse cases.
In a felony case, you'll next have a preliminary hearing where the prosecution must show that there's enough evidence supporting the charges against you. If the judge "holds you to answer" for the charges, she'll set a trial date, another arraignment date, and a plea bargaining conference.
The Pretrial Conference and Plea Bargaining
The next stage in a felony case is the pretrial conference. The district attorney and defense attorney will meet in the judge's chambers to discuss your case and sometimes enter a plea bargain. The pretrial conference gives your attorney an opportunity to gather information from the prosecution, explore that evidence, and possibly resolve your case without a trial.
If you go to trial, the prosecution must prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
You have the right to a jury trial where twelve randomly selected members of the community decide your guilt or innocence. Both the prosecutor and defense will present evidence. Remember, you can't be compelled to testify. If the jury finds you guilty, the judge will sentence you.
Criminal cases can have a serious, lasting impact on your life. You have options and rights. Anyone charged with an offense should probably consider consulting a skilled attorney.