WHAT IS MUNICIPAL COURT?
You are appearing in the Municipal Court of the City of Palmyra, Missouri. This court is a division of the 10th Judicial Circuit of Missouri. The Missouri Constitution states that a Municipal Court shall have jurisdiction to hear cases involving city ordinance violations.
THE FIRST APPEARANCE IN COURT FOR ARRAIGNMENT
An arraignment is your first appearance in Municipal Court. When you are given a ticket, you are also given a court date and time to appear in Municipal Court. This court date and time appears on the upper left hand side of your ticket. When you appear at your arraignment, your name will be called by the Judge. When your name is called, approach the bench, keeping your hands at your sides and out of any pockets in clothing. The Judge will verify your identity and read the charge(s) that has been filed against you and the penalty range for each charge. If you do not understand a charge, ask the Judge to explain it. When the Judge asks you how you plead, you must say either “Guilty” or “Not Guilty” to each charge filed against you. “No Contest” pleas are not allowed in Missouri courts. The charge(s) filed against you in court may differ from the ticket(s) that you received from the officer. The City Prosecutor, a licensed attorney in the state of Missouri, reviews all charges filed with the court and may amend those charges to more accurately reflect the circumstances surrounding the event.
Upon your request, the judge will give you time to consult or hire an attorney to represent you at your expense. The judge will tell you that you have the right to remain silent about the facts of your case at all times including during a trial. If you make statements, other than your plea, those statements may be used against you if you plead not guilty and go to trial. If you need the services of a sign or foreign language interpreter please tell the bailiff or court personnel immediately.
A GUILTY PLEA
If you plead guilty, you are telling the court that you did all of the elements of each of the ordinance violation(s) you are charged with by the prosecutor. By pleading guilty you will be giving up the following rights: the right to an attorney; the right to a trial by judge or jury; the right to persist in a plea of not guilty; the right to cross-examine the city’s witnesses at trial; the right to present witnesses at trial; the right to testify in your own defense at your trial if you decide not to remain silent at the trial; and the right to appeal the judgment if you are found guilty. The court will also make sure it is your idea to plead guilty and that no one is making you plead guilty against your will. If you have any mental or physical ailment that would affect your decision to plead guilty, you should tell the judge at the time of your plea. The court will also determine that a factual basis supports your plea of guilty to the charge(s).
If the court accepts your plea of guilty, the judge will give the prosecutor a chance to talk about your case and recommend a punishment to the court. After that, the judge will let you state anything you want the judge to know about your case or your ideas on a proper punishment. However, you cannot plead guilty and then in your statement to the judge say you did not violate the law. After hearing both sides, the judge will assess a penalty.
Remember, IF YOU PLEAD GUILTY THE COURT WILL FIND YOU GUILTY AND ASSESS A PUNISHMENT.
A NOT GUILTY PLEA
This plea means you do not agree that you committed the city ordinance violation (s) charged by the prosecutor. If you enter this plea, the court will set your case for a pre-trial conference with the prosecuting attorney or set your case for trial, it is your choice which order is entered by the court.
If you wish to request a trial by jury you must do so in writing at least ten days prior to your scheduled trial date. You must also pay a small filing fee to the Circuit Court unless you are an indigent person. The judge will then transfer your case to the presiding judge of the 10th Judicial Circuit for re-assignment to a state court judge for your jury trial.
At the trial, the city prosecutor will first present evidence against you. Then you will have a chance to tell your side of the story. At the trial, the prosecutor must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor will call witnesses to testify about the facts alleged in the charge. When each witness has finished answering the prosecutor’s questions, you or your attorney will have the right to question the witness. This is called cross-examination. Cross-examination is not a time when you can testify or argue with the witness.
After all witnesses for the city have testified, you will have an opportunity to present your case. You may testify and you may call witnesses to testify; however, you are not required to testify. If you do testify, you may also be questioned by the prosecutor. After you have presented your case, the prosecutor has the right to present “rebuttal” evidence. Rebuttal evidence is evidence that explains or denies your evidence.
After all witnesses have testified, each side may give a closing argument. The judge must then decide if you are guilty or not guilty. If you are found guilty, the judge will assess a punishment, considering the seriousness of the offense and any explanation offered by you during your evidence. If the judge finds you not guilty, you are free to go.
APPOINTMENT OF COUNSEL
Appointment of counsel if jail is NOT a possible punishment – You do not have a constitutional right to a court appointed attorney if jail is not a possible sentence in your case. If you would like to talk to or hire an attorney at your expense, the court will give you time to do that before you make any final decisions in your case. Do not contact the State of Missouri Public Defender’s Office because they cannot represent persons charged in Municipal Court, only persons charged in State Court. You may exercise your right to counsel at any time.
Appointment of counsel if jail IS a possible punishment – If the court or the prosecuting attorney will not waive a jail sentence as a possible punishment you will be given time to consult or hire an attorney at your expense before entering a plea to your charge(s). If you cannot afford an attorney because you are disabled or qualify as an indigent person, the court will appoint a public defender paid for by the city to represent you. If you wish to give up your right to counsel and represent yourself in a case where a jail sentence may be ordered, the court will hold a hearing to determine your ability to waive your right to an attorney and represent yourself before allowing you to proceed.
JURY TRIAL/RIGHT OF APPEAL/TRIAL DE NOVO
You have the right to have your case heard by a jury. Your request for a jury must be filed with the Municipal Court in writing and it must be filed at least ten days prior to the date your case is set for trial. You must also pay a small fee to the Municipal Court Clerk. If you do those things your case will be heard before a jury in State Court before a State Judge. If you do not follow through on your request for a jury trial, the case will be sent back to the Municipal Court.
If you have a trial in Municipal Court and the judge finds you guilty and assesses a fine or jail sentence, you can appeal his finding of guilty. You must file what is called a Request For a Trial De Novo. Forms for this are available at the Municipal Court Clerk’s Office. The Trial De Novo request must be filed within 10 days of the court’s decision in writing, and must be accompanied by a filing fee set by the State Court. The filing fee must be in the form of cash or a money order only. If you do those things you will receive a new trial in front of a State Judge or jury who will hear your case again and make whatever judgment they wish to make. If you pay any part of the fine assessed by the Municipal Court Judge, or you don’t pay the fee required, or you don’t file your request within the ten days in writing, or you abandon your Trial De Novo in State Court you do not get to have the Trial De Novo and the decision of the Municipal Judge is reinstated.
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS FREQUENTLY ASKED IN MUNICIPAL COURT
Q: Is there a way to pay for a ticket without appearing in court?
A: Some tickets can be paid without appearing in court. You must, however, pay the ticket before your court date or by 11:00 a.m. the day of court. If the ticket is not paid on or before your court date and you do not appear in court, a warrant for your arrest may be issued.
Q: What if I need to change the date of my first appearance/arraignment?
A: If you need to change the date of your arraignment, contact the office of the municipal court clerk at 573-769-6090. It is within the court’s discretion to grant a delay or a continuance from the court date, but the court is reluctant to change court dates. Before granting a continuance, the court may require written proof of your excuse.
Q: What if I need to change the date of my trial?
A: If you need to change your trial date, you are required to personally appear before the judge to request a continuance. You must contact the court at least 72 hours prior to your trial date.
Q: What if I do not appear in Court on the date set for my arraignment or trial?
A: The court may issue a warrant for your arrest and set a bond. If a warrant is issued you will need to appear in court to surrender on the warrant or you may be arrested and brought before the court by law enforcement at any time. If the court does not withdraw the warrant, you will have to post your bond or remain in jail until your case is finally disposed by the court. Your failure to appear may also affect your driver’s license in certain types of cases.
Q: How do I make sure my witnesses will show up for trial?
A: The name and address of the witness(es) should be given, in writing, to the municipal court clerk at least ten days before your trial date; the court will then subpoena the witness to appear for trial. If you do not ask for a subpoena to be issued for your witness and for any reason the witness fails to appear, you may be required to go to trial without the witness’ testimony.