This is Part One of an ongoing series of Blog Posts, Charged with a Felony What Happens Now? Each part will tackle a different aspect of a felony criminal case from arrest and complaint to sentencing. Each post is designed to give an explanation of that post's topic, to be used in conjunction with the entire series.
You have just learned that the local Prosecuting Attorney has filed a charge against you in court alleging that you committed a felony offense. What happens now? First, here is some background information on the process of how a felony charge is filed and what the different methods for doing so can mean with respect to your options. Specifically, the below provides answers to questions of how a felony Complaint differs from an Indictment.
All felony cases in Missouri begin one of two ways. After the initial investigation by a police officer or detective, and the investigation is closed the case is referred to the Prosecuting Attorney's office. Once the case referral is with the Prosecutor, then either the lead Prosecuting Attorney or one of their Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys reviews the police report and Probable Cause Statement and decides whether to proceed with a case against the suspect by either presenting a limited amount of evidence before the Grand Jury, and asking for a True Bill returning an Indictment; or the Prosecutor simply files a Felony Complaint directly with the court without going through the Grand Jury.
Therefore, a felony case will either begin with an Indictment or Complaint. In Missouri, all felony Complaints are filed with the Associate Circuit Court, while all Indictments are filed with the Circuit Court. The reason for this distinction in destinations is based on how the charges came to the Court.
When the Prosecutor decides that there is enough evidence to warrant filing a case against a suspect, they may decide to do so by filing a Felony Complaint with the Associate Circuit Court. This is done for a few reasons, often though it is chosen simply because it is faster since the Prosecutor need only provide a statement of probable cause to a judge in order to have an Arrest Warrant issued. Getting a matter before the Grand Jury, however, can often take several weeks while a suspect is free to move about in society without any Court supervision.
In a Probable Cause Statement, an officer states under oath that they have sufficient facts to believe that the defendant committed a crime in their jurisdiction within a certain time frame. After a judge reviews this statement, and agrees that there is sufficient evidence, an Arrest Warrant is issued for the Defendant.
It is important to note that even though a Probable Cause Statement has been used, the Judge is not making a decision on whether there is enough evidence for this case to proceed to the Circuit Court, otherwise known as the “trial court”. Rather, the Judge is merely deciding if there is enough evidence for an arrest warrant to be issued. This is a much smaller burden for the State to pass.
Ultimately, the felony Complaint will be bound over to the Circuit Court level and a felony Information will be filed in its place. The two documents, the Complaint and the Information, will be nearly identical with the exception of the new case number assigned at the Circuit Court level and the name of the charging document. Before the case bound over though a Defendant has the right to a Preliminary Hearing, and whether it is waived or the judge rules in favor of the State the case will be bound over to the “trial court”.
Felony cases may also begin with the Prosecuting Attorney presenting sufficient evidence to a Grand Jury. If nine out of twelve members of the Grand Jury agree that there is sufficient evidence to proceed, then a True Bill is returned with an Indictment. This Indictment is the charging document and is filed directly with the Circuit Court.
“A Grand Jury is made up of 12 citizens who hear evidence presented by a Prosecutor and determine if there is Probable Cause to believe the Defendant is likely to have committed the crime alleged. Grand Juries issue Indictments.”
An important difference between the two processes is in who determines whether there is Probable Cause for the case to proceed to the “trial court”, a Judge in the Associate Circuit Court or the Grand Jury. Another distinction is in who is allowed to be present during the presentation of the evidence. At a Preliminary Hearing, which is open to the public, the Defendant is present and is able to participate in the hearing with his attorney; whereas, the Grand Jury is conducted in secret and only the Prosecution is permitted to be present when evidence is submitted.
As you can see, whether the Prosecutor files a Complaint or procures an Indictment against you makes a big difference as to your rights and options. That difference will be explained further in a later post of this series when I discuss what a Preliminary Hearing is in more detail. It is important to note though that you should not rely on information from the internet when it comes to your Constitutional rights in any criminal case in which you are a named Defendant. You need to speak with an experienced and skilled attorney as soon as possible. Our experienced DUI and Criminal Defense lawyers can assist you in fighting your charges. Contact us today to set up a free consultation with Anthony Bretz.
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