Criminal law, broadly speaking, involves the government's enforcement of its own laws against persons accused of violating one or more of those laws. They can be either Municipal, State, or Federal, and can involve punishments ranging from fines to incarceration for up to one's natural life or even death, in cases involving capital murder. Some of the offenses we see commonly are stealing and other larceny, DWI/DUI, leaving the scene of an accident, careless and imprudent driving or “C&I,” assault, fraud and other white collar crimes, robbery, possession of controlled substance, manufacturing or trafficking in a controlled substance, possession of marijuana felony and misdemeanor, traffic and speeding tickets, felony and misdemeanor passing bad checks (yes, passing bad checks can be a felony. See RSMo 570.120.
In Missouri, criminal charges are filed on information or complaint, which initiates the litigation in the court system. Often, in more serious cases, a warrant will be issued at this stage which is a court order that any law enforcement officer within the state of Missouri shall place the suspect under arrest and bring them to answer charges. Bail may be set at this juncture, and if not, then motions can be filed to set bail and/or reduce the amount of the bond. An arraignment will also be held, which is the court's formal reading of the charges to the defendant. Next, the discovery process begins and in the case of felonies, the case proceeds to either a grand jury or preliminary hearing. This will depend on the type of case, as well as Missouri county and the jurisdiction. At the Jefferson County Courthouse in Hillsboro, for example, cases proceed strictly by means of preliminary hearing as they do not convene a grand jury. In St. Louis, cases may generally proceed either one way or the other.
At this early hearing stage, the government has the burden to put on evidence to convince the court, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a felony has been committed and that the accused is the one who did it. This is roughly “more likely than not” - as opposed “beyond a reasonable doubt” which will be the State's burden should the case proceed all the way to trial. If the State fails to meet its burden at the preliminary stage, then the case is dismissed, and any bond money held in the court's registry is returned.
If the State does meet its burden at the preliminary stage, then the case will proceed to the trial court and be set for either a plea or a jury trial or a bench trial. Missourians have a right under Missouri Law and the U.S. and State Constitutions to a trial by a jury of twelve peers, who in order to convict a defendant must unanimously find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt” has been interpreted in Missouri to mean something akin to one that “leaves you firmly convinced.” It is the highest burden. The trial will conclude in a guilty or not guilty verdict, or in some cases a mistrial due to judge, litigant or jury error or an inability of the twelve jurors to reach consensus. If the trial does end in mistrial, then the State may generally re-file charges on their discretion, unless the prosecution was responsible for causing the mistrial. In that case - the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy bars a subsequent trial of the same suspect for the same charge.
When facing criminal charges, it is important to speak with someone who is knowledgeable about the criminal justice system. There are any number of pre-trial and discovery motions, depositions, negotiations and other work that may need to be done in order to build a strong defense. There is a saying that the best defense is a good offense - this idea can be traced back to Sun Tsu but roughly stands for the idea that leverage can be gained by keeping one's opponent off balance. Don't sit on your heels - take action. And as a former prosecutor myself, I can tell you how true this is.