Prosecutors must prove the criminally accused violated the law and convince a judge or jury “beyond a reasonable doubt” of each element (or fact) of the crime charged. Proper attorney representation is crucial. This article provides a general summary of the process that the criminally accused will face.
General Crime Descriptions
Simply put, a crime is an act (or failure to act) which violates a federal, state or local government law. The most basic elements of a crime consist of a voluntary act along with the mental state of the accused at the time of the act (crime) which may be especially important for a person with a disability. Furthermore, a crime is classified as a felony or a misdemeanor, each having a different severity class and sentencing.
The criminally accused have rights governed by the U.S. Constitutional amendments applicable to Federal, State and local government laws. There are a number of amendments that help protect the criminally accused rights which:
- Prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures of a person and their items.
- Allows a person to refuse to make self-incriminating statements (at both police questioning and in a court).
- Provides the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury.
- Prohibits excessive bail and unusual punishment.
The Miranda Warnings read to the person arrested are contained in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments which advise of the right to remain silent, anything said can/will be used in court, the right to have a lawyer present, and right to have a lawyer appointed (if suspect cannot afford one).
A police officer with reasonable suspicion that a crime is occurring can lawfully stop and detain a person, which may include a minimally intrusive search for weapons and illegal narcotics. A person is usually free to leave if no items are found, and the police officer has fully investigated his/her suspicions. If an arrest is made, a police officer can search the interior of a vehicle without a warrant.
Bail and Release
A person can be held for 20-24 hours without a warrant issued and bond set by a judge. Once a warrant is issued, a person may be released through one of the following methods with approval from a judge or bond commissioner:
- Release through personal recognizance.
- Release through a sponsored recognizance.
- Release by paying a ten percent deposit of the bond.
- Release by paying the full amount of bail.
- Release through a professional bail bondsman.
Bail consideration factors include past criminal records, history of violence, employment, family situation and the severity of charges.
Arraignment and Plea
An arraignment conveys the nature of the filed criminal charges. An arraignment may be waived by the defendant or his/her attorney. If the defendant does not have an attorney, the arraignment is an opportunity to request a public defender. If an attorney is present, a plea of guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere is given. In felony cases, a preliminary hearing is set unless waived at which time a plea is entered.
In felony cases only, a preliminary hearing or grand jury hearing is held prior to a trial to show sufficient probable cause that the defendant committed the charged offense. The preliminary hearing is the means to discover evidence against the accused, including additional information that may not be in the police report such as expert witness names and exhibits the state plans to use at the trial.
After the pre-trial procedure, the defendant decides if he/she wants to plead guilty through the plea-bargaining process. It is important to understand that a guilty plea waives several constitutional rights, including the right to a jury trial.
Trials and Sentencing Process
The prosecuting attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the offense charged. Although the defendant has the right to a public trial by an impartial jury of twelve peers, he/she usually may waive this right and request a judge try the case alone.
Defendants found not guilty are released and free to go. Defendants found guilty are then sentenced either immediately (in most misdemeanor cases), or after a pre-sentence investigation (if ordered for felony cases).
A misdemeanor sentencing is less than one year in jail while a felony sentencing is a year to life imprisonment.
Call Day or Night for an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have any questions about criminal procedures or need to retain a defense attorney in Missouri, contact attorney Chris Benjamin at KC Road Lawyers by calling 816-738-5725 or navigating to our contact page for a consultation at the firm’s Belton or Butler Missouri offices.