Your presence in Municipal Court may be your first experience in any court. The following information has been prepared to help you understand the court proceedings and to inform you of your rights and duties. Every person should leave this court feeling that he or she has had a fair and impartial trial or hearing.
- Municipal Court is the judicial branch of city government, and is a part of the state judicial system.
- Municipal Ordinance violations carry a maximum fine, upon conviction, not to exceed $1,000 and/or 90 days in jail.
- Trials are conducted under the rules set forth in the Missouri Revised Statutes and Rules of Evidence.
Before Court Begins
As the Judge enters the courtroom, please rise. Afterwards, please be seated. Talking, drinking and smoking are prohibited while court is in session. When your name is called, come forward and wait to be summoned before the Judge. The violations that you are alleged to have committed will be read and at that time you should be prepared to plead either:
- Not Guilty
- Guilty, or
- Guilty with an explanation
If you signed a citation in front of an officer, you did not plead guilty, but only signed a promise to appear in court on your appearance date.
Your decision on what plea to enter is the most important decision you will have to make. We suggest that you read the following explanations before entering your plea. If you decide that you would like to seek the services of an attorney, please inform the Judge and you will be given time to do so.
Plea of Guilty
By a plea of guilty, you admit that you committed the act charged, that the act is prohibited by law, and that you have no defense for your act.
Before entering a plea of guilty, you need to understand the following:
- The city has the burden of proving its case against you. You have the right to hear the city’s evidence and to require it to prove its case. The law does not require you to prove anything.
- If you were involved in a traffic accident at the time of the alleged offense, your plea of guilty could be used later in a civil suit for damages as an admission by you that you were at fault or were the party responsible for the accident.
You are URGED not to plead guilty if you do not feel that you are guilty.
Plea of Guilty with an Explanation
This plea has the same effect as a plea of guilty, but says that you would like to explain to the Judge the circumstances surrounding the offense with respect to the punishment only.
In both cases of a plea of guilty, a fine may be assessed. The explanation to the Judge may or may not have an effect on the amount of the fine assessed.
Plea of Not Guilty
A plea of not guilty means that you deny guilt and that the city must prove its charges against you. Your case will be set for trial and you will be given a date to appear. You will receive no other notice with regard to your trial date.
At the time of the trial, the city will be required to prove all the allegations against you as contained in the formal complaint “beyond a reasonable doubt”, before a verdict of guilty can be reached.
Under Missouri law, you can be brought to trial only after a formal complaint has been filed. The complaint is the document that alleges what you are supposed to have done, and that your action was unlawful.
- You have the right to inspect the complaint before trial, and have it read to you at trial.
- You have the right to have your case tried before a jury. If you desire to have a jury trial, you must file the appropriate request 10 days before a trial setting. Your case will be forwarded to St. Louis County Circuit Court for trial. You will be notified of a new court date by St. Louis County Circuit Court.
- You are entitled to hear all testimony introduced against you.
- You have the right to cross-examine any witness who testifies against you.
- You have the right to testify in your own behalf. You also have a constitutional right not to testify. If you choose not to testify, your refusal cannot and will not be used against you in determining your guilt or innocence. However, if you do choose to testify, the prosecutor will have the right to cross-examine you.
- You have the right to present evidence in your case, but you must be able to have it “entered into evidence” in a legal format. You may be at a disadvantage if you are not represented by counsel because the judge must follow all rules of court, including rules of evidence. If you are not an attorney, you may have difficulty getting something into evidence or excluding something from evidence.
- You may call witnesses to testify in your behalf.
- You also have the right to subpoena your own witnesses. The court can provide you with the forms needed to do so.
Presenting the Case
As in all criminal trials, the city will present its case first by calling witnesses to testify against you.
After each prosecution witness has finished testifying, you will have the right to cross-examine him or her. Your examination must be in the form of a question. This is not a time to make a statement and you must not argue with the witness. You will have an opportunity to make a statement later in the trial.
After the prosecution has presented its case, you may present your case. You have the right to call any witness who knows anything about the incident.
The verdict of the Judge will be based on the testimony that sounds most reasonable and on the facts presented during the trial. In making his determination, he will only consider the testimony of the witnesses who are under oath.
If you are found guilty by the Judge, he will announce the penalty. You have the right to appeal within 10 days of the Judge’s ruling.
You may testify in your own behalf, but cannot be compelled to do so.
The amount of fine assessed by the court is affected by the facts and circumstances of the case. Mitigating circumstances may lower the fine. However, aggravating circumstances may increase the fine. In no case may the fine exceed $1,000 plus costs. All fines are deposited in the General Fund of the City of Bridgeton.
If you are found guilty of an offense, court costs will be added to the fine. Court costs are required by state law and are remitted both to the General Fund of the city and to the State Department of Revenue. Court costs are currently $23.50 per case.
Right to Appeal
If you are not satisfied with the judgment (verdict) of the court, you have the right to appeal the verdict to the St. Louis County Circuit Court. You will be notified of a new court date by St. Louis County, and your case will be heard again by another judge in its entirety. You must file this appeal within 10 days of the judgment. If the judgment is not appealed within ten days, it becomes final and you must pay the fines and costs assessed by this Court.
The Municipal Court
The Judge will base his decision only on the State Law or City Ordinance involved and the facts as determined by the testimony and other evidence presented.