Can You go to Trial for a Misdemeanor in Missouri?

In Missouri, defendants charged with a misdemeanor have the opportunity to a trial where the judge or jury declare whether the defendant is guilty of a crime.  Going through a trial requires hours and weeks of work and preparation, an experienced misdemeanor attorney is necessary in order to achieve a fair and successful outcome.

There are many steps that a client and misdemeanor attorney will complete before reaching the possibility of a trial.  The first hearing at the courthouse is known as the arraignment.  This is where they read the charges and the defendant’s rights before the defendant most likely pleads guilty or not guilty.  Having a misdemeanor attorney during this stage is crucial. The choice to plead guilty or not guilty can affect the rest of their life.

Defendant’s rights

The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that a defendant in a criminal trial has the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of their peers.  In Missouri, as in other states, criminal defendants also have the right to request a bench trial in misdemeanor cases.  This means that a judge, instead of a jury of local citizens, will decide the verdict of a case. 

A misdemeanor attorney will advise the client whether a jury trial or bench trial is more beneficial for the case.  Sometimes having a judge analyze facts that are too technical in nature can be difficult for juries.  On the other hand, a misdemeanor attorney may have a sympathetic client that would do better in front of a jury.  In Missouri, jury trials are often rare; misdemeanor attorneys typically advise their clients to ask for a bench trial.

A misdemeanor attorney will explain that as a citizen of the United States, the defendant has the right to demand a trial, either bench or jury, and has the right to a speedy process.

Stages of a misdemeanor trial

Even if a trial is set, it is possible for the case to be settled before the trial date, or for the trial date to be moved several times due to availability of witnesses, defendant’s health, access to evidence, availability of law enforcement for testimony purposes.  At any time before or during a trial, a defendant can choose to plead guilty and accept a plea agreement.  This should only happen after extensive discussion with a misdemeanor attorney and understanding of the consequences.

Jury trials can last anywhere from a few days to several months, while bench trials usually last a few hours.  There are some rare cases where bench trials last longer than a couple of days.  Once a trial is set and alternative plea agreements have been exhausted, the process begins with “voir dire”, also known as jury selection.

A critical desicion

The trial will proceed similarly whether it is a bench trial or a jury trial.  In both cases, the misdemeanor attorney and the prosecuting attorney make opening statements.  The bulk of the trial is presenting evidence either to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt or to prove the defendant is innocent of the charges.  At the conclusion of the presentation of evidence, closing statements are given.

If the trial is a jury trial, the jury will receive instructions from the judge that assists the jury in their deliberations and how they will ultimately decide guilt or innocence.  This stage is not done during a bench trial because the judge already knows the law.  The jury will then deliberate, while during a bench trial the judge is permitted to take several weeks to consider the evidence before rendering a verdict.

Once a decision is made, the jury will return a verdict; all twelve jurors must agree on the verdict.  In a bench trial, only the judge will decide the verdict.  Sentencing occurs after the verdict is read, sometimes right away, sometimes the sentencing is scheduled for a later date.

A misdemeanor case is complicated and has serious consequences.  Hiring an experienced Missouri misdemeanor attorney ensures that your rights are protected, you receive expert advice, and ensures a successful outcome.  The process can be complex. Having a misdemeanor attorney means you will be informed about every step of the case and have an advocate to go to for support and questions.  It is advisable that to avoid a lifetime consequence to have a misdemeanor attorney on your side.

Call (417) 865-2181 today to reach Dean Price Law.

Note: This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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