Overview of Missouri Criminal Law

Classification of Offenses

Criminal offenses are classified as:

(1) infractions,

(2) misdemeanors, and

(3) felonies.

Classification of Offense        Category of Offense           Imprisonment                                                                                                         Fine

Infraction                                N/A                                  No Imprisonment                                                                              Up to $200

Misdemeanor                         Class A Misdemeanors     Up to one year in jail and/or a fine                                                     Up to $2,000

                                               Class B Misdemeanors     Up to six months in jail and/or a fine                                                 Up to $1,000

                                               Class C Misdemeanors     Up to 15 days in jail and/or a fine                                                      Up to $700

                                               Class D misdemeanor      A fine of up to $500                                                                            Up to $500

Felony                                    Class A Felonies               A term of years not less than 10 years and not to exceed 

                                                                                        30 years, or life imprisonment.                                                            N/A

                                              Class B Felonies                A term of years not less than five years and not to exceed 15 years.    N/A

                                              Class C Felonies               A term of years not less than 3 years and not to exceed 10 years.        Up to $5,000

                                             Class D Felonies                A term of years not to exceed seven years.                                           Up to $5,000

                                             Class E Felony                   A term of years not to exceed four years.

Court Process

  • Investigation
    • Law enforcement personnel investigate reports of criminal activity, gather evidence, make arrests, and present the evidence to the prosecuting attorney.
    • Any person arrested must be released within 24 hours unless a warrant is issued for an arrest.
  • Complaint & Arrest
    • If police determine the evidence constituted an offense and identifies a suspect, the matter is taken to the prosecuting attorney.
    • Once a charge has been filed, usually in the form of a complaint, the prosecutor can go to a judge to obtain an arrest warrant. The court issues the warrant if there are sufficient facts to show probable cause that a felony has been committed by the defendant. This warrant will allow local law enforcement officials to make an arrest.
  • Preliminary Hearing
    • Felony cases begin with a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is a proceeding in which testimony is taken under oath.
    • The prosecuting attorney presents evidence to the judge to show that there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed and that it was committed by the defendant.
    • If the judge decides that probable cause has not been established, the court dismisses the case and the defendant is released.
  • Grand Jury
    • A grand jury is composed of a panel of private citizens, chosen similarly to trial juries, whose job is to look into allegations of criminal activity. Not all counties have a grand jury.
    • A grand jury sometimes replaces the preliminary hearing as a method to file criminal charges.
    • The prosecuting attorney presents evidence to the grand jurors who decide whether a crime was committed and if the defendant could have committed it. As with a preliminary hearing, the case is either going to move forward (to the circuit court) or the defendant is released.
  • Bail
    • A person charged with a bailable offense may be released pending trial on personal recognizance if the judge is assured the person will show up for court.
    • If a preliminary hearing is held and the defendant is bound over for trial, bail is discussed at that time.
    • For grand jury indictments, bail is discussed at the defendant’s arraignment.
  • Arraignment
    • The first formal presentation of charges to the defendant, who must enter a plea. The judge can raise or lower the defendant’s bond.
    • The court then sets a trial date and hearing dates on pretrial motions.
  • Pretrial Matters
    • Discovery
      • The state and defense obtain information before trial.
      • The defendant is provided with sufficient information to make an informed plea, to encourage thorough trial preparation, to avoid surprises at trial, to conserve resources, and to expedite case processing.
    • Plea Bargaining
      • The process in which the prosecution makes charging and sentencing concessions in exchange for a guilty plea.
      • Under Missouri law, the prosecutor may agree to:
        • Dismiss other charges.
        • Recommend or agree not to oppose the defendant’s request for a particular sentence.
        • Agree that the particular sentence is appropriate.
        • Recommend or agree on another disposition.
      • The trial Court is not required to accept a plea agreement.
  • Trial
    • Noncapital Cases (No Death Penalty)
      • A trial may be held before a jury, or if the defendant does not want a jury trial, before a judge.
      • The jury may recommend a sentence; the judge sentences the defendant.
    • Capital Cases (Death Penalty)
      • The state can seek the death penalty only in first-degree murder cases, which requires that the defendant acted with deliberation.
    • Presentence Investigation (Sentencing Assessment Report)
      • Before sentencing, the state Board of Probation and Parole may investigate to determine if the defendant is eligible for probation and may make a recommendation to the judge.
    • Motion For A New Trial
      • A new trial may be granted upon “good cause shown” by the defendant.
      • The motion for a new trial must be filed within 15 days from the date of conviction. The trial court can grant a one-time extension of 10 days.
    • Sentencing
      • For each crime, the statute creating the offense specifies a range of punishment, such as 5 to 15 years imprisonment.
      • If the jury recommends a sentence for the defendant, the judge cannot increase the punishment, but can reduce it.
      • In some cases where the defendant has prior criminal convictions, only the judge considers punishment.
      • Offenders sentenced to one year or more are sent to prison. A lesser sentence is served in a county jail.
  • Challenges to a Conviction, Sentence
    • Direct Appeal
      • The state cannot appeal an acquittal of the defendant. If the defendant is found guilty, the defendant must appeal the decision within 10 days after the court officially pronounces the sentence. Appeals are heard by the Missouri Court of Appeals. However, if a death sentence is imposed, the appeal goes directly to the Missouri Supreme Court.
      • If a misdemeanor conviction is appealed, the prosecuting attorney for the county from which the conviction arose will represent the state.
    • Postconviction Motions
      • Missouri Supreme Court Rule 24.035 and Rule 29.15 provide the only remedy for seeking postconviction relied from a judgment of conviction and sentence, alleging:
        • The violation of the constitution and laws of Missouri or the U.S. Constitution,
        • The sentence exceeds the statutory maximum, or
        • The court imposing sentence did not have jurisdiction.
      • Federal Habeas Corpus Proceedings
        • Under federal law, a state offender may seek relief by filing a federal writ of habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court.
        • This petition must raise the ground that the petitioner’s imprisonment violated the U.S. Constitution or U.S. laws or treaties.
        • The Missouri attorney general defends the state against habeas challenged.
  • Parole
    • Minimum Prison Terms
      • Offenders previously convicted of one or more felonies must serve a percentage of the new sentence. The number of prior convictions determines the percentage of time served before the inmate is eligible for parole.
      • Defendants convicted of committing a dangerous offense, as defined by statute, must serve a minimum 85 percent of the sentence. If the minimum eligibility date exceeds the conditional release date, the offender is not entitled to conditional release.
    • Parole Hearings
      • The Board of Probation and Parole decides when prisoners are eligible for release on parole.
      • If released, the offender remains in the legal custody of the Department of Corrections and is subject to the board’s orders.

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