How a DUI Charge Proceeds in St. Louis County
May 15, 2020
St. Louis County Circuit Court handles all felony DUI charges and many of the misdemeanor DUI charges that are filed after an arrest within the boundary of St. Louis County. The Court is situated in Clayton, Missouri. Clayton is the seat of St. Louis County and is home to not only the Circuit Court but the headquarters for the St. Louis County Police Department. The St. Louis County Jail is located in the Buzz Westfall Justice Center, where many of DUI arrests made in the county are processed.
All DUI charges, whether a felony or misdemeanor, begin with an arrest. The arresting officer may be employed by any number of police departments operating within St. Louis County. For example, you may have been pulled over and subsequently arrested by a St. Louis County Officer. Alternatively, a Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper operating in St. Louis County may have initiated the DUI investigation. Finally, there are approximately 88 municipal governments operating within the confines of St. Louis County, most of whom have their own municipal police departments.
With the development of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the changes it will necessitate, some of the processes described below will change. The overall process should remain relatively unchanged; however, how the courts meet and how large the dockets will be is yet to be determined. I will update this article when more concrete information is available. These changes should not drastically affect how your DUI charge proceeds.
Misdemeanor DUI Charges
After you have been arrested for a First DUI or Second DUI in St. Louis County, you will be allowed to post bond. You will be issued a ticket for Driving While Intoxicated in violation of either Missouri's DUI statute or you will be charged in violation of a municipal ordinance prohibiting Driving While Intoxicated. Some municipalities may even identify the charge as Operating a Motor Vehicle in an Intoxicated Condition. Either way it is named, the penalties are the same.
A St. Louis County DUI Attorney, like Anthony Bretz, will be able to help you determine where your case is being prosecuted and navigate you through the Municipal Court where your DUI may be filed. With over ten years of experience representing clients with DUI charges in the St. Louis County area, Anthony Bretz is familiar with each of the area's municipal courts, their staff, the prosecutors and the judges. Being a defendant in a misdemeanor DUI case may not be a painless experience, but it does not have to be excruciating. A seasoned St. Louis County DUI lawyer will help you present a strong defense and give you a fighting chance.
Arrest by A Municipal Officer
When a police officer employed by one of the 58 municipal police departments arrests a person for a Misdemeanor DUI, then the case will be prosecuted in the local municipal court. Your court date will usually be written on the ticket itself, along with the time and location of the courthouse and a phone number for the court. Additional information that is found on the ticket includes: the nature of the charge; the authorizing statute or ordinance under which the arrest was made and ticket issued; the name of the driver and arresting officer; and the location, date, and time of the arrest.
In the municipal courts in St. Louis County, both the judge and prosecuting attorney are full-time attorneys during the day. This is one reason why most of the municipal courts in St. Louis County hold night court. Another reason is that it permits most defendants the ability to attend court without missing work. However, a recent trend over the past several years is for area municipal courts to start conducting their sessions during the morning or afternoon.
These courts usually meet anywhere from once a month to once a week, depending on how big their jurisdiction is and how many cases they handle on a regular basis. Some of the courts have relatively small dockets that are completed in an hour while others may have dockets lasting all night.
If you wish to avoid a trial and work out a plea deal, then you can usually expect a period of probation of no more than two years along with a Suspended Imposition of Sentence. This could be unsupervised, called "Bench Probation", or supervised probation. Occasionally, courts will give you limited probation which involves supervised probation until you complete your conditions of probation and pay your fines and fees; after which, you will be placed on Bench Probation for the remainder of your term.
Arrest by A St. Louis County Officer
If you are pulled over and investigated by an officer with the St. Louis County Police Department, then your first or second DUI will be filed in one of the divisions of the St. Louis County Municipal Court. There are four such divisions: Central, North, South and West. Your ticket will identify in which division your case will be prosecuted, along with the location and phone number. As before, your ticket will also state the charge and its corresponding statute or ordinance, the name of the person to whom the ticket was issued and the name of the arresting officer.
As with the courts of the individual municipalities other than St. Louis County, the judge is a full-time attorney. She is appointed by the St. Louis County Executive. However, the prosecution is handled by the St. Louis County Counselor's office. These individuals are full-time prosecutors.
Since each division covers a much larger area than smaller municipal courts, they hold multiple dockets a week, often as many as four times a week. Each docket is often quite large and can go all night.
You can expect a similar process and outcome as with the other municipal courts. Upon hiring a skilled and experienced DUI Attorney like Anthony Bretz, he will procure the police report and other discoverable evidence from the County Counselor's office. After reviewing this information with you, he will negotiate a plea deal for your consideration; while at the same time preparing a stout defense and trial strategy should you wish to fight your charge.
Arrest by A Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper
The Missouri State Highway Patrol operates across the State of Missouri. When you are arrested for a DUI by a State Highway Patrol Trooper, while within the boundary of St. Louis County, your case will be forwarded to the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's office in Clayton, Missouri. Your case, once filed, will be adjudicated in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County, i.e. the State Courthouse, located in Clayton.
Misdemeanor DUI charges, when filed, will be assigned to one of the two Associate Circuit dockets located on the Third Floor of the Buzz Westfall Justice Center. These Associate Circuit divisions alternate, usually on an annual basis, with the Court's other Associate Circuit divisions.
There are two assigned traffic Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys. They will be located in a room just off to the side of the two courtrooms on the 3rd Floor. These prosecutors are full-time prosecuting attorneys. They have a thorough understanding of DUI law and have little freedom for negotiating pleas outside of what their supervisor has previously approved.
You will need a Missouri DUI Attorney who has an equal understanding and grasp of Missouri DUI penalties and laws in order to properly represent your rights. Knowing and understanding the science relied upon for the breathalyzer and the field sobriety tests can make the difference between serving jail time and not. You need a qualified lawyer on your side.
When your case is filed in State Court, the judge overseeing your case is a full-time judge who was appointed by the Governor of Missouri. They were appointed due to their proven knowledge of the laws, the rules of evidence, and their ability to review cases in an unbiased and fair manner. You can expect to be treated fairly in the event you wish to take your DUI to trial.
These dockets are much larger than any of the municipal courts. They can last all day and the court may have dockets Monday through Friday each week.
Felony DUI Charges
Whether you arrested for a DUI by a State Trooper, St. Louis County Officer or an Officer from one of the many municipal police departments, your Felony DUI by law will be filed in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County. Under most circumstances, your case will begin with the Prosecuting Attorney's filing of a Felony Complaint. If that is the case, then your case will begin in the Associate Circuit Court where you will have the right to a Preliminary Hearing before the matter goes to the Circuit Court for a trial.
If your case begins in the Circuit Court level, then the Prosecutor presented your case to the Grand Jury and procured an Indictment. At this level you will most likely be focused on preparing for your trial as any peal deal worked out must by law involve jail time. For many people, even one day in jail is unacceptable.
At the Circuit Court level not only will the Assistant Prosecutor handling your case be more experienced than in the Associate Circuit Court, but the judges also have more experience adjudicating cases like yours. At this level it pays to have an attorney with an attention to detail. One mistake in interpreting the State's evidence could result in years in prison.
As a final matter, there is an alternative to taking a plea deal with jail time or going to trial for DUI charges brought in St. Louis County Circuit Court. DWI Court may be an option for you depending on whether you are a repeat offender or you were arrested with a high BAC level. Having the right information will give you the opportunity to make the right choice for you and your family. Anthony Bretz has been helping clients for over 10 years in DUI cases in St. Louis County. Contact us today to give yourself the best defense!