Criminal Law FAQ

This Criminal Law FAQ will help you understand what to do when you are charged with an criminal offense.

When you are charged with an offense, contact a lawyer immediately. The sooner you contact a lawyer, the better. When you are charged with a crime, the criminal justice system seems to move very slow. Fortunately, there are deadlines and requirements that keep the process going.

What Can An Attorney Accomplish For Me?

If you are charged with a criminal offense, it is a good idea to hire an attorney. Your liberty is at stake and an attorney who is experienced in criminal law can possibly keep you out of jail.

The attorney will be able to obtain the information that the prosecution has in the case through the discovery process. You should review this information with the attorney to determine if there are discrepancies and defenses to the charges.

What Happens After Someone Is Arrested?

After an arrest, the police write reports about the incident, interview witnesses, obtain a record check of the suspect and then present their case to the prosecuting attorney’s office.  It is the prosecutor ‘s office that brings charges against a defendant.

The police may ask to interview you.  Before deciding whether you should talk to the police, remember that everything you say can and will be used against you. You have the right to contact an attorney.  You have the right not to talk to the police.

Once the police have gathered evidence and written their reports, they present the case to the prosecutor. It is then up to the prosecutor to decide if you will be charged, and if so, what charge(s) will be brought. The defendant will be charged by information or indictment. In Missouri, the prosecutor must file a probable cause statement, which includes

  • The name of the accused, or, if the name is not known, some means of identifying the accused;
  • The facts supporting a finding of probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that the accused committed the crime;
  • A statement that the facts are true; and
  • A signed form showing notice that the making of false statements in the probable cause statement is punishable by law.

The next step is the arraignment of the defendant. The defendant appears before the judge and is read the formal charges against him.  It is always advisable to render a “not guilty” plea at this point because no discovery has been handed over to the defendant or his attorney. Discovery is any information known by persons about the alleged criminal offenses. For example, the police report is one type of discovery. Depositions are another form of discovery. Without this information, neither you nor your attorney can assess the case.

There are two ways to bring formal charges: preliminary hearing or indictment by the grand jury. At a preliminary hearing the judge will hear evidence, usually from the arresting officer and/or the victim. The state need only prove that a crime was committed and that there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crime. This is a low burden for the state.

The next step is reviewing the evidence, gathering any evidence you may have and assessing the case. It is also possible to discuss a settlement, known as a plea bargain, with the prosecutor. Whether you take a case to trial or settle the case with a plea bargain is a difficult and complex decision that you should review thoroughly with your attorney. There are many factors involved, such what the evidence shows or fails to show, what witnesses are available and how they will appear to the court and/or jury, defenses that may be available, to name a few.