How a Felony Drug Charge Proceeds in St. Louis County
May 7, 2020
With just under a million people St. Louis County is the largest county in Missouri, having its seat in the city of Clayton. Many people who live in surrounding counties are employed by many of the major corporations with offices in St. Louis County, or in St. Louis City. Being a major center of Missouri's population, a lot of economic activity flocks to this region.
One side effect of a large population, is the prevalence of individuals who for one reason or another have found themselves dependent on a controlled substance. Whether their dependency is the result of the recent heroine epidemic in which doctors with questionable ethics purposely over-prescribed opiates, i.e. painkiller medications; or it originates from simple peer pressure and the need to keep chasing their highs, individuals are constantly finding themselves arrested for felony possession of drugs.
St. Louis County is a hodgepodge of local governments, many with their own police force. It is not uncommon for clients to be pulled over by a police officer while passing through one of the 88 municipalities that make up the county. As if often the case, once pulled over many officers find reasons for searching a person's vehicle, often even with the permission of the driver. Having any controlled substance on you or in your possession, other than an amount of marijuana that is 35 grams or less, without a valid prescription in your name is a felony offense.
If you are pulled over and found to be in possession of felony drugs in St. Louis County, regardless of whether the officer is employed by one of the many municipalities or is a St. Louis County Police officer or a Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper, your case will be referred to the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's office in Clayton, Missouri. This where your felony drug case will proceed.
When arrested by an officer for felony possession of a controlled substance in St. Louis County, you will be escorted to the St. Louis County Jail in Clayton where you will be processed. Usually, after being processed you will be released pending the application of a warrant. During this time, the arresting officer completes his investigation and writes up a report which is then referred to the Prosecutor. Once the Prosecutor has reviewed the report, and made a decision to pursue prosecution of the offense, then typically a Felony Complaint will be filed with the Court. Along with the Complaint, the Prosecutor will request a the issuance of a warrant and with a bond set by the Court.
Once a Complaint is filed a criminal case is officially initiated with the St. Louis County Circuit Court. Your case is next assigned to one of the Court's Associate Circuit Divisions. In St. Louis County, your felony drug case will first appear in one of two different divisions which hold court up on the 3rd Floor of the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Missouri. These divisions are changed usually on an annual basis, from a pool of Associate Circuit Court divisions.
After a defendant is arraigned, the next objective of the Associate Court is to determine whether there is Probable Cause for the matter to proceed to the Circuit Court level, or trial court. This is either done through the holding of a Preliminary Hearing or the waiver of same. A Preliminary Hearing is essentially a mini-trial where you have the right to make the State put on enough evidence to show that it is likely that you committed the felony drug possession. The State does this through witnesses and evidence, which you will have an opportunity to challenge at the hearing.
After the Preliminary Hearing, or waiver of same, your case will most likely be bound over to the Circuit Court level where it will be assigned to any one of the several divisions. Each judge operates their courtroom according to the Missouri Rules of Criminal Procedure, as well as the Local Rules for St. Louis County Circuit Court; however, they also each have their own preferred ways of running their caseload. This requires having an attorney on your side who is familiar with the judges and their sentencing preferences. The judges all tend to be very open minded when listening to arguments from either party in criminal case in Motions hearings and issue fair rulings. Anthony Bretz is familiar with the judges and court staff of St. Louis County and is able to provide better advice to his clients facing felony drug charges on what Motions may or may not work best for their goals.
In St. Louis County, the Prosecutor's Office is run by Wesley Bell. Though relatively still new to the role he has made a name for himself as being a leader who believes criminal justice can be used to heal the community rather than divide it. As part of this mandate, his office will not prosecute any marijuana possession cases where the amount of marijuana is under 100 grams; and they will only pursue felony drug charges for marijuana where there are 100 grams or more and there are signs or indications of drug trafficking. Additionally, his office will only issue a Summons for some class E and D felony drug charges rather than seek a warrant.
The Prosecutor's office is also very forthcoming with providing defendants and their counsel copies of the police report and other evidence that the State has in connection with St. Louis County felony drug charges. It is not required that the defendant have access to the State's evidence in the Associate Circuit Court, but providing the evidence encourages defendants to initiate plea negotiations at an earlier stage which many garner a more favorable outcome than after the State has had to put forth considerable resources in prosecuting the case.
Despite the Prosecuting Attorney's office's guidelines with respect to marijuana and lower felony drug cases, they are still a very aggressive office when it comes to prosecuting these cases. Having defense counsel who is there to simply walk you through the first plea deal offered will not get you the results you want or need. Anthony Bretz has been representing clients with felony drug charges in St. Louis County for over ten years. He is familiar with the court system, the prosecutors and the laws. He provides an experienced and aggressive representation in felony drug cases when representing clients in St. Louis County. His efforts always provide his clients with better options for defense strategies that line up with their goals. Call now to working on your defense!
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