If you are one of the nearly 7,000 people who was illegally charged a “warrant cancellation fee” by the Jennings Municipal Court between 2009 and 2014, you have until next Friday (10/28/16) to file your claim. You can file the claim here. Instructions on how and where to send the claim can be found here, and your claim must be postmarked by 10/28 or you will be disqualified from your award.
You can read the entire settlement agreement filed by the Arch City Defenders against one of our area’s most infamous municipal courts here.
Stealing has always been a crime in Missouri, but until this week, people charged with such crimes as stealing more than $500, or stealing items such as a car, credit card, or firearm, had to deal with a felony stealing charge. The enhancement from a misdemeanor stealing charge to a felony charge comes with all sorts of life-altering consequences that go far beyond the scope of this post. The point is, if you stole more than $500, or if you stole certain items that our legislature decided that you should never steal, you’d be facing a felony stealing charge.
This all changed this week with a ruling in the state Supreme Court case of State v. Bazell. We’ve received a few calls about the controversial ruling handed down by the court, and for the purposes of clarifying things, here’s what you should know
- Most, but not all, current felony stealing charges should be dropped down to misdemeanors. Without going into too much legalese, the Court in Bazell found a discrepancy between RSMo 570.030.1 (which defines stealing as, essentially, taking something from someone else) and RSMo 570.030.3 (which states that the value of what was stolen is an element of the crime);
- This ruling may have an impact on the Statute of Limitations, as the reduction to a misdemeanor reduces the Statute of Limitations (the time in which the State may bring charges against you) down to just 1 year;
- This does not mean that ALL felony stealing charges are irrelevant and will be reduced to misdemeanors. Certain felony stealing charges that do not relate back to RSMo 570.030.1, such as 3rd Offense-Stealing, or stealing materials used in the production of meth, will still be brought as felonies;
- It may not be too late to set aside your Guilty Plea if you have recently pleaded guilty to Felony Stealing! If you pleaded guilty to this charge, it is critical that you contact an attorney immediately about the possibility of removing this felony conviction from your record, especially since…
- This legal loophole will end at the end of 2016. On January 1, 2017, Missouri will implement a brand new Criminal Code that, among other things, will clear up this discrepancy.
If you paid a “warrant cancellation” fee to recall a warrant in the St. Louis City Municipal Court between December 11, 2009 and February 16 of this year, check your mail for information regarding a possible refund. The refund is only a partial refund, and it is not automatic – there are steps you must take in order to claim it. More information about this can be found here.
This is part of the post-Ferguson court reforms currently transpiring throughout our region, and it will only be a matter of time before other municipal courts offer similar refunds. We’ll be sure to update if more courts follow suit.
Compared to many other states, the laws regarding expungement and the sealing of criminal records in Missouri are very prohibitive. It is very difficult to have a serious criminal charge expunged in Missouri, and people must jump through many hoops and be very patient in their attempts to clear their criminal record. Because of this, many people with criminal records have a hard time landing a job or finding housing.
This may soon change. Last week a bill was passed in both houses in Jefferson City that will make it easier for people to have their charges expunged. Most importantly, the current mandatory waiting period of 20 years to apply to expunge a felony has been proposed to be reduced to just 7 years (the current 10 year wait-period for misdemeanor expungement was proposed to be reduced to 3 years).
This proposal also enables those with multiple convictions in the same circuit court to apply to have their records sealed multiple times in the same circuit court, unlike the current law which only allows for one expungement petition per circuit over a person’s lifetime.
The bill goes to Governor Nixon soon and will likely be signed into law. Check back soon for updates here and on Twitter.
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.