Processing Criminal Defendants in Missouri

Missouri has its own procedures for processing criminal defendants, though it and all other states follow a basic structure. This article briefly examines the criminal process in Missouri.

Rights and Arrest

A person can be arrested on the scene by an officer who observed the crime. In other cases, an officer will present evidence to a prosecuting attorney, who determines if the evidence is sufficient to ask a judge to issue an arrest warrant based on probable cause. If issued, a felony complaint is issued within 24 hours. The prosecution can also file a complaint and issue a summons to the defendant to appear in court.

Once arrested, Miranda rights are read. These consist of your right to remain silent, to have an attorney present during any questioning and to qualify for a court-appointed attorney if indigent.

At a detention facility, defendants will be searched, questioned, fingerprinted and photographed before being placed in a cell or holding area to await the first appearance or to make bail.

Making Bail and Release Process

Bail is determined in many cases within hours of the arrest unless it is a serious offense. For felonies, bail or the arraignment where bail is set (or not) must take place within 20 hours of the arrest unless it is a holiday or weekend.

Bail is determined based on a person’s community ties, employment and family situation, and any past criminal record or history of violence.

Bail can be met by paying the entire amount in cash or by using a bail bonding agency and paying about 10 percent of total bail. Defendants have to pledge real or personal property with a value worth the amount of the bail. The court can also release a defendant without bail.

Plea and Arraignment Procedure

An arraignment is held as soon as practicable after arrest. The court reviews the charges and inquires if the defendant has an attorney or qualifies for a court-appointed lawyer. If no attorney is hired, a date is scheduled for the defendant to reappear with one. If an attorney is present, one of the following pleas is given:

  • Guilty — An admission to all charges.
  • Not guilty — A denial of all charges. This gives the defendant time to consider the plea, negotiate a plea or prepare for trial.
  • Nolo contendre — This is a plea of no contest to the charges and is taken as a guilty plea. The plea cannot be used in a subsequent civil action.

In felony cases, a preliminary hearing is set unless waived at which time a plea is entered.

Plea Bargaining the Charges and Sentence

Most criminal cases are settled before trial by negotiating a reduction, dismissal or plea to a lesser charge; or by agreeing to a particular sentence in return for a plea of guilty or nolo contendre.

The Preliminary Hearing and Grand Jury Process

All felons are entitled to a preliminary hearing or probable cause determination. If probable cause is found, the defendant is bound over to circuit court for arraignment and to enter a plea. Bail can be reset at this time.

In select cases, a grand jury of 12 persons can indict someone in a felony matter. It is also a probable cause determination.

Trials and Sentencing Process

The state must prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and by an unanimous verdict of 12 jurors in a felony case or less than 12 if mutually agreed. If a jury trial is waived, the judge determines guilt or innocence. A guilty verdict must be unanimous.

In misdemeanor cases, defendants may be sentenced on the spot. For felonies, the state Board of Probation and Parole will be ordered to prepare a pre-sentence report to see if probation is appropriate and to make a recommendation to the judge. Victims may be asked to testify about how the crime has impacted them.

Advice from a Criminal Attorney

Criminal procedures vary from state to state. Consider retaining a defense attorney ior firm who specializes in Missouri criminal law f you are charged with a crime.

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