01. Criminal Justice
The Anatomy of a Felony Case
If you or someone you care about is facing charges, not understanding the process can make a bad situation seem much worse. With good help, you have options to deal with the situation and reduce the consequences. Understanding these options begins with the outline of a felony case.
When the prosecutor files new felony charges, the judge might issue a warrant. If so, a bond is set and the case waits until the police arrest the defendant. Otherwise, a date is set and the clerk mails the defendant a summons. The defendant appears before the judge who reads the charges in the arraignment. The defendant hires an attorney, or if they can’t afford one, the judge or public defender’s office appoints one. That attorney makes a formal request of the prosecutor to see the evidence against the defendant and asks the prosecutor if the state will make a plea offer. The attorney and the defendant work together to evaluate the defendant’s strategic options, and negotiate with the prosecutor to improve the offer based on a wide variety of considerations.
If the defendant decides to accept the offer, the defendant waives their preliminary hearing and pleads guilty. The judge passes sentence based on the agreement. If the defendant chooses to fight, the prosecutor must present some of their evidence at a preliminary hearing, unless that county uses a grand jury instead. If the prosecutor can show probable cause for the charges, the judge binds the case over to circuit court. A new round of negotiation may take place. The case may go to trial where the attorney will protect the defendant’s rights, challenge the evidence presented by the prosecution, and work to establish reasonable doubt. Unless the prosecutor can prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge or jury should acquit the defendant and the case is over. If not, the defendant will be sentenced.
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.
- Isaiah 30:18
The Consequences of Criminal Convictions
Most prison sentences are suspended and the judge places you on probation instead. This suspended execution of sentence (SES) probation is a criminal conviction in Missouri, though in some cases this can later be expunged. Sometimes the judge will stop short of imposing a sentence when placing you on probation. This suspended imposition of sentence (SIS) probation is not a criminal conviction in Missouri, and if you successfully complete probation, this does not count as a felony for most purposes. During probation, you meet with your probation officer and must comply with several requirements, such as abiding by the law, not using drugs or alcohol, and staying away from felons or alleged victims. If you violate these conditions, your probation officer files a notice with the court and the prosecutor may ask the judge to revoke your probation and execute your sentence. Otherwise, you will be discharged from probation once completed.
If convicted, you may lose your right to vote, own a firearm, or operate commercial vehicles. You may also have trouble finding a good job or renting some houses or apartments. After three years for felonies or one year for misdemeanors, you may be able to expunge your criminal record and reinstate your rights, removing criminal charges from most background checks and restoring a sense of normalcy.