Your Kansas City Criminal Case: The Basics
Kansas City has mellowed out since it was the capital of corruption and the city of sin. Now all that remains of that turbulent time is the Fish Fry on KCUR, barbecue, and Boulevard beer. Still, things can get a little out of hand from time to time, whether it's a brawl with a Cardinals fan over the 1985 world series, or a deadly accident on Benton curve when a Missouri driver infuriated a reckless Kansas driver who took the curve at 90 miles an hour. When these or other types of incidents land you or someone you know in criminal court, look here for some basic information about KC criminal cases, in general.
If you're facing criminal charges, chances are you've been arrested for a crime. This means that the police must have had a warrant or probable cause to believe they committed a crime. In other words, the arresting officer must have had some concrete reason to believe that you committed a crime, and not merely relied on a hunch or suspicion.
What happens immediately after the arrest depends on the crime. Most arrestees are taken to a local police station and booked. Then, for less severe cases, the arrestee may pay a fine and leave jail. If the case is more severe, the police decide on a bail amount and wait for someone to come bail the person out of jail, or for the arraignment on the next available court date.
If the offense was a minor crime, like speeding or jaywalking, then you probably would not have been arrested or brought to court. Citations are more commonly known as "tickets," and can be easily resolved by simply paying the fine. The citation will probably not show up on any major background checks, but may affect car insurance premiums.
Types of Criminal Cases
In Missouri, as in other states, criminal cases fall into a number of categories, depending on how severe the punishment for the crime is. These categories are: (1) felonies, which are the most serious and have punishments that range from one year to life in prison; and (2) misdemeanors, which are categorized into three subcategories. The punishments for misdemeanors range from 15 days in jail or a $300 fine to one year in jail or a $1,000 fine.
Criminal procedure often begins with an arraignment, during which a judge or a prosecutor reads the charges against the defendant, and the defendant enters a plea. If the defendant pleads not guilty, a trial date will be scheduled and both sides begin preparations. If the defendant pleads guilty, the court skips straight to sentencing.
Often, prosecutors and defendants negotiate plea deals before an arraignment. If a deal is reached, the defendant will usually plead guilty to the offense in exchange for a lighter punishment than they are likely to get at trial. Sometimes alternate sentences are available which can lead to a complete dismissal of the case. The Missouri pretrial diversion program allows a judge to impose conditions, such as attend an alcohol education class, or submit to regular drug testing, during a certain period of time. If the defendant fulfills these conditions, her case may be dismissed completely.
Many defendants prefer to enter plea deals at the arraignment because it allows them to avoid the time and expense of a trial. However, if a deal is reached later on in the process, a defendant can enter a guilty plea at any time.
A not guilty plea begins the trial process in earnest. If a defendant chooses to go to trial, an attorney could prove to be of great help to them (if they don't have one yet). Most trials are for more serious offenses that carry equally serious punishments, and a defendant should try to avoid making mistakes that could lead to spending significant time in jail. Every criminal defendant has the right to an attorney, and if you cannot afford one, you can contact the Missouri State Public Defender Program to learn how to get an attorney for free.
There are a few more steps between the arraignment and the actual trial. First, the prosecution and the defense gather evidence about what happened through a process called discovery, which includes a thorough review of the police reports, arrest records, and witness statements. Each side will probably file pre-trial motions to ensure that evidence obtained unlawfully remains out of the court, and to try and resolve some issues before the trial begins.
Trials for anything more serious than a citation take place in the Albert Riederer Community Justice Complex. Although each criminal defendant has a right to a trial by a jury of their peers, he may instead choose to allow a judge to decide the facts, which is known as a "bench trial." These often take less time and less money to complete, although jury trials may have some advantages. A criminal defense attorney will be able to explain the pros and cons of each choice, as well as discuss the more specific laws and circumstances that apply in a particular case.
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