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Missouri Court Records

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What Do You Do if You Are On Trial For a Crime in Missouri?

The prosecution of criminal offenses in Missouri is relatively straightforward. After a complaint has been filed, law enforcement officers obtain an arrest warrant for the accused and make the arrest. In some cases, the law allows police officers to arrest without obtaining a warrant—this is called a warrantless arrest. The exercise of this method is restricted due to the liability that the state may incur.

Upon arrest, the individual is a suspect and presumed innocent until proven otherwise. He or she is required to hire legal counsel. The legal counsel also has the responsibility of posting bail, negotiating plea bargains with the prosecutor, defending the suspect during the trial, and other actions such as filing motions and appealing a verdict. Arrest records in Missouri are public information. However, as arrest records are not definitive proof of guilt, interested individuals must obtain a comprehensive criminal history and other court records to prove guilt.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that the person resides in or was accused of.

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

What Percentage of Criminal Cases Goes to Trial in Missouri?

Many criminal cases do not go to trial. However, this does not mean that victims do not get justice or that criminals are let go. Most cases do not go to trial because the legal resources of the parties involved in a criminal case are often limited. For instance, a report from the Missouri Supreme Court revealed that a public defender, under rules adopted by the Missouri Public Defender Commission, spends an average of 7.7 hours per case. Likewise, legal fees incurred by the defendant in a protracted case can be exorbitant.

According to Missouri Court Statistics, the state filed over 333,000 criminal cases in 2018. Of these cases, only a small percentage eventually go to trial. For most, the prosecutor and the defendant arrive at a plea bargain. A plea bargain may involve the defendant conceding to the charges, where there is factual evidence, in exchange for a lighter sentence. Conversely, the defendant may decline a plea bargain, and the court may dismiss the case during the preliminary hearing. The court often dismisses a case before trial based on insufficient evidence, on the grounds of unconstitutional search or arrest, no jurisdiction, or other violations of the rules of criminal procedure statutes.

When does a Criminal Defendant Have the Right to a Trial?

Section 545.780 of the Missouri Revised Statute is explicit on the inviolate nature of the defendant’s right to trial. As the prosecution’s pace is infamously slow, the defendant may also invoke his or her right to a speedy trial by jury. Invoking the right to a speedy trial is an expression of readiness for trial on the defendant’s part. The prosecution may challenge this right, but as seen in State ex rel. Garcia v. Goldman, the Missouri Supreme Court does not handle the violation of the constitutional right to a speedy trial with levity.

However, a defendant may choose to waive the right to trial. In this case, the court will decide the case based on the evidence presented by the prosecution. Note that the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the alleged crime in a criminal case.

What Are The Stages of a Criminal Trial in Missouri?

Typically, a criminal trial in Missouri goes through eight (8) stages. These include:

  • Preliminary hearing
  • Selection of jury
  • Arraignment
  • Trial
  • Jury deliberation
  • Presentence investigation
  • Sentencing
  • Sentence Appeal

How Long Does It Take For a Case To Go To Trial In Missouri?

Section § 545.780 of the Missouri Revised Statutes mandates that a defendant must be brought to trial within a 180-day window after a plea of not guilty has been made at arraignment. In the event of a delay, the onus rests on the state to provide unequivocal justification for such delay. The length of prosecution of a criminal case may, however, take several years.

What Happens When a Court Case Goes to Trial in Missouri?

When a criminal case goes to trial, it generally goes through the following phases:

  • Preliminary hearing: Only in cases where the defendants indicted for felony charges does a case begin with a preliminary hearing. The preliminary hearing is essentially a mini-trial where the court takes testimony under oath. However, the defendant may waive the right to a preliminary hearing. If the defendant chooses to proceed, all the parties involved in the litigation, including victims or witnesses, will be subpoenaed to attend. The preliminary hearing’s main activities are the presentation of evidence to show probable cause of guilt and cross-examination of witnesses and victims. If the judge determines probable cause, the case proceeds to the circuit court for trial. Conversely, if the prosecutor fails to show probable cause, the judge will dismiss the case.
  • Selection of the jury: Here, the prosecutor and defense choose 6 - 12 private citizens who are considered and proven beyond doubt as evenhanded. The sole job of these independent individuals is to determine the guilt of the defendant. Thus, the selection of the jury is not taken with levity.
  • Arraignment: The arraignment is the first formal presentation of charges to the defendant. Here, the defendant must enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. In instances where the defendant refuses to enter a plea, the judge will enter a plea of not guilty on their behalf. The case is added to a judge’s docket, and the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney will deliberate on setting a trial date and hearing dates on pretrial motions. The trial date is not immutable, as there may be requests for continuances in that case or other cases on the trial docket for the set day. Arraignment is a public affair that is open to members of the public.
  • Trial: Criminal trials begin with an opening statement by the prosecutor. Then, the defense is given the choice of making an opening statement immediately or until after the prosecutor has presented its evidence. The prosecutor and the defense cycle through arguments, presentation of evidence, and cross-examination of witnesses or victims. Criminal trials are mostly open to the public.
  • Jury deliberation: Once all evidence is heard, the court will give the jury written instructions applicable to that case. The prosecutor and defense counsel then make closing statements. The prosecutor may also choose to make additional closing remarks, after which the jury retires for deliberation. The jury is required to decide whether the state has presented evidence to establish the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Presentence investigation: Here, the state Board of Probation and Parole investigate the defendant’s probation eligibility. If the defendant fits, the Board makes a recommendation to the judge.
  • Sentencing: If the jury finds the defendant guilty, the judge will sentence him or her to the statutory term of imprisonment, probation, and fines. The jury may also recommend sentencing length and severity, but the judge has sole discretion on imposing sentencing. Offenders convicted of a nonviolent class C or D felony with no prior convictions may petition the court for probation in lieu of imprisonment after serving 120 days of the sentence.
  • Sentence Appeal: A guilty defendant can contest the court’s official verdict by filing an appeal with the Court of Appeals. The Attorney General Office’s office handles felony appeals while the prosecutor represents the state for appeals of misdemeanor convictions.

Can You Be Put On Trial Twice For The Same Crime In Missouri?

No. Defendants who stand trial in the Missouri legal system are protected from being prosecuted twice for the same crime under section § 19 of the Missouri Revised Statutes. The basis of this is that jurors must unanimously agree on either guilt or innocence. If the defendant is declared not guilty, the state is barred from retrying him or her on that specific charge. This is known as a plea against double jeopardy.

How do I Lookup a Criminal Court Case in Missouri?

The circuit court maintains and disseminates records on criminal cases in Missouri. These records are available to the public at the office of the Clerk of Courts. Interested requesters must visit the presiding court in person, during business hours, to obtain the court records of interest. Requesters can use this tool to find a court of interest in Missouri. Many courts also allow requesters to obtain court records on criminal cases by mail. Nevertheless, the requester must be able to provide the necessary information to facilitate the record search. The record custodian may also charge a nominal fee to cover the cost of search and reproducing the record.

How to Access Electronic Court Records in Missouri

Under Missouri Sunshine Law, all public records are available for inspection and copying unless they are sealed or expunged. Most courts in Missouri now maintain electronic copies of court records on online repositories. Accessing electronic records of criminal cases typically involves visiting the specific court’s website and querying the dedicated repository. The requester may also have to create an account, set up a payment method to cover nominal access fees and processing fees incurred during the retrieval. Just like in-person requests, the searcher must provide the case information such as docket number, case number, date of filing, or litigants’ names to access the records sought. Meanwhile, the Missouri Judiciary maintains a central repository for all cases in the state. Interested individuals may also use independent repositories to obtain criminal case records.

In any case, whether electronic, by mail, or in person, the record custodian will deny any request to access records sealed by court order or statute. To bypass this restriction, the interested requester must petition the court to allow access to that specific record. The Supreme Court maintains a list of restricted records in criminal cases.

How Do I Remove Public Court Records in Missouri?

Section of the Missouri Revised Statutes allows litigants to petition the circuit court to remove a court record from the public domain. To be eligible, the requester must not be convicted of any crime under Section § 610.140. The Missouri Judiciary maintains systematic instructions for the expungement of criminal case records in courts. Generally, the individual must file a motion for expungement and mail it in a self-addressed stamped envelope to the applicable court.

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