People plead guilty to criminal charges without an attorney all the time. Either because they cannot afford an attorney to represent them, or they’re convinced that what they’re charged with is so minor that it won’t affect them and therefore isn’t worth paying to hire an attorney. But many of these people find out down the road that, because they’ve pleaded guilty, they’ve been rejected from a job they applied to, or have been denied an apartment lease, or have received a Notice of Suspension from the Department of Revenue informing them that they’ve acquired too many points on their license and that their license is suspended.
The law in Missouri states that you have 30 days from the date you pleaded guilty to have the court “set aside” your guilty plea (i.e. “reopen” your case and take you back to where you were before pleading guilty). But in many courts, especially municipal courts, experienced attorneys are able to have their clients’ guilty pleas set aside well after the 30 days have expired. This is especially true if a person pleaded guilty without the assistance of an attorney.
My office receives calls all the time from people who find out many weeks after pleading guilty to a charge without an attorney that the price of doing so often goes beyond a simple fine and court fees. A prospective employer won’t hire them because of a guilty plea they found on CaseNet, a landlord won’t rent to them, etc. If you pleaded guilty to a charge and now wish to have that plea “set aside” and have your case “reopened”, you need to contact an experienced attorney quickly.
That is the question before the U.S. Supreme Court, as 3 drivers charged with drunk driving were also with the separate crime of violating their states’ “No Refusal Law”. Missouri is in the vast majority of states which have so such law that says it’s a separate crime to refuse to take a breathalyzer. But the drivers in the case now before the Supreme Court are from North Dakota and Minnesota, two of thirteen states which currently have “No Refusal” laws on the books.
You may recall this blog discussing a similar case before the Supreme Court (in 2012) featuring a Missouri case. In it, the Court declined to issue a bright-line rule that breath tests can be conducted in every drunk driving arrest without a warrant. The lawyers pushing for these laws to stay in tact (and perhaps become more widespread) are arguing that such tests can be conducted without a warrant under the 4th Amendment’s “search incident to arrest” exception. They also argue that the 4th Amendment only bans “unreasonable” searches, and that a quick breathalyzer test or blood draw is “reasonable”. Absent that, there is also the commonly used argument that by being issued a license to drive on state roads, you implicitly consent to a test to determine your BAC.
Most experts believe that these laws will be upheld, and that some states – which have been waiting on guidance from the Supreme Court as to how they will rule – may enact similar laws if a decision is made in favor of the laws. A final decision is expected in June.
Washington D.C. is one of many large cities in America that now have separate Landlord/Tenant divisions that focus solely on unpaid rent cases, evictions, unlawful detainer actions, etc. This piece on NPR describes the many pros and cons of such a system.
These types of divisions would be very beneficial in our area, especially in St. Louis City. It is not uncommon for these parties, especially tenants, to have to wait several hours in the morning to get through the docket call and be able to speak with a judge. These types of cases in our area often get continued by no fault of the tenant, forcing them to miss several days of work and live in limbo. Our current system is also often unfair to landlords who may have to spend more to to rectify their damages in the court system than the court awards. This type of landlord/tenant-specific docket, especially if held in the late afternoon, would be good for all involved.
Yesterday, a circuit court judge in Cole County (Jefferson City) struck down provisions of Senate Bill 5. I’ve written about Senate Bill 5 a few times before, and I believe it’s a very positive bit of legislation that will – and already has – cleaned up many of the shadiest municipal courts in the St. Louis area. But the “Municipal Court Reform” bill has come under fire since the beginning, and yesterday was the culmination of a long and well-coordinated effort to have it repealed.
The Plaintiffs in this suit, exclusively small North County municipalities who exist almost solely due to fines collected by their municipal courts, have been furious with Senate Bill 5’s requirement that municipalities in St. Louis County must cap the percentage of their general revenue collected from court fines and fees at 12.5% (whereas courts everywhere else in the state are allowed to collect up to 20% of their general revenue from municipal court fees, traffic tickets, etc.) The 12.5% St.Louis County-only restriction was unpopular with governments throughout the County, but had little practical effect in larger cities with wealthy tax bases (e.g. Chesterfield, Des Peres, Creve Coeur…) But for these tiny, relatively poorer municipalities in North County, capping their revenue at 12.5% would likely have meant their extinction within a few years.
The judge in Cole County – Judge Jon Beetem – struck down the 12.5% cap as unconstitutional in that it applies a different standard for one single county. As a result of his ruling, other key components of Senate Bill 5, such as the requirement that all St. Louis County police departments become accredited within 6 years, as well as the requirement that all municipalities in the state report their municipal court data to the state auditor’s office every year, have been declared an unfunded mandate.
This bill was one of the few bills that was actually met with strong bipartisan support, and last night, as expected, Attorney General Chris Koster announced that he would appeal this ruling. This will play out over a long period of time – check back here for updates throughout.
Happy New Year from Webster Groves! We’re back at it after 2 well-deserved weeks away. We look forward to serving our clients in 2016,and we hope you all have a great year.
The St. Louis Municipal Court has offered online payment online for a while now. But that was limited to payment in full. Many defendants in the City Municipal court elect to enroll in a payment-plan setup to pay their fines rather than shelling out hundreds of dollars at once. But once they did that, they had to make their monthly payments in person at the court, which is inconvenient enough if you have nothing to do; if you have a job, care for children, are enrolled in school, live far from downtown, etc. etc., in-person payments each month can be very burdensome.
If you have been set up on a payment plan in the City of St. Louis Municipal Court, you can now make your monthly payments online at stlcitycourt.org.
This is good news for anyone who has outstanding fines with the City of St. Louis. No more taking time off work or getting a parking ticket for a monthly trip to 1520 Market. You can read more about the recent changes at the City Muni Court here.
Be careful if you’re out and about this evening in West St. Louis County. From the County PD’s Facebook page:
“The St. Louis County Police Department Highway Safety Unit, along with the Chesterfield Police Department, will be checking motorists in an effort to reduce the number of drunk drivers on our streets and highways. Specially trained officers will be conducting DWI Enforcement on Friday, November 13, 2015, in the City of Chesterfield, the City of Clarkson Valley, and in unincorporated St. Louis County. Inconvenience to motorists will be minimal.”
That last sentence isn’t necessarily true, ESPECIALLY if you’re caught drinking and driving. If that is the case, give us a call. Be safe out there!
Happy Veterans Day to all those who have served in our armed forces. Military friends, family, and clients: thank you for all you have done and all that you continue to do!
The Creve Coeur Police Department has announced that they will conduct a sobriety checkpoint at an undisclosed location in the city tonight (8/28) between 10pm and 3am. From my experience living in Creve Coeur for several years, these checkpoints were almost exclusively conducted on Olive within a mile of either side of Highway 270, but Creve Coeur is a rather large municipality and tonight’s checkpoint could be conducted anywhere. So be alert if you’re in the area this evening.
Yesterday the Missouri Supreme Court released its long-awaited opinions regarding red light camera ordinances in our state. The court ruled that the St. Louis red-light camera ordinance violates the constitution because it more or less forces a defendant to actually prove that he was not the one driving the car through a red light. The court also said that St. Peters’ law – which treats these violations as “moving violations” but issues no points to their driver’s record – violates state law and is thus void. A similar ordinance enacted in Moline Acres was also struck down by the court.
So what does this all mean?
What if I received a red light ticket in St. Louis City and paid the fine?
That fine money went into an escrow account while the City waited for the Supreme Court to rule on this. Now that they ruled in favor of drivers, that money should go back to you. According to this article in the Post-Dispatch, the City will issue refunds to all drivers soon, but have not yet worked out the details on how and when these refunds will be issued.
What I received a red light ticket in St. Louis City but haven’t paid my fine yet?
Don’t pay the fine, throw the ticket in the trash.
So are red light cameras a thing of the past in Missouri?
Not exactly. While they’re not in use now, St. Louis and a number of municipalities say that they’re planning on enacting new ordinances that comply with the court’s ruling. For example, new laws would have to place two points on your driver’s record just as if a police officer caught you running a red light. Also, to get around the tricky issue of actually proving who was driving, the companies that run these red light cameras will need to upgrade their technology to provide courts and drivers with clear pictures of who was driving the vehicle, rather than just take a picture of the plates. Buried in this article it says that companies such as American Traffic Solutions already have this type of technology in place in states such as California and Colorado.
So while red-light cameras are not operating in Missouri at this time, they may be back soon.