Disclaimer: The material in this question and answer series is for your information only. It is not legal advice and is not designed to be used in place of legal advice. You should consult your own attorney for legal advice. The St. Joseph Legal Department provides this series to provide a general summary of procedures concerning violations of City ordinances in the City of St. Joseph, Missouri. It is issued to inform generally, not to advise of specific rights. As with any general information, the answers given here may not specifically apply to you.
Does the City Attorney's Office provide legal advice to citizens?
The City Attorney's Office represents the City of St. Joseph as a public entity. The office does not handle private litigation on behalf of City residents. In other words, the City Attorney's Office does not handle divorces, child custody issues, wills, adoptions, tenant-landlord problems, personal bankruptcies, collections, etc. Citizens will need to contact a private attorney of their choosing, or, in some instances, may wish to contact the Small Claims Court at (816) 271-1456.
Will the City Attorney's Office represent indigent individuals?
The City Attorney's Office does not handle any private litigation, whether or not it involves an indigent individual. There are a couple of agencies that may be able to provide assistance, depending upon the particular situation involved. Those agencies are Legal Aid of Western Missouri, (816) 364-2325, and/or the Public Defender's Office, (816) 387-2026. Both are funded by the State of Missouri.
What does the City Prosecutor do?
The City Prosecutor is the person who actually files the official complaint against you in Municipal Court. Technically, the City Prosecutor will review the case and decide whether there is legal cause to believe you have committed a violation of the law. In some cases, the City Prosecutor will file charges that are different from what the officer wrote on the ticket. This is part of the City Prosecutor's duty and is completely legal. The complaint filed by the City Prosecutor is not expected to resolve all of those issues. The facts of a case are finally decided by the Municipal Judge at trial. This is part of the process so that contested charges are decided fairly. The City Prosecutor does not dismiss cases unless there is a legal reason to do so.
When the Police Department indicates that it will be referring the case to the City Prosecutor, what steps do I need to take to follow up on the problem and the possibility of charges being filed?
The Police Department will send its written report (or information card) to the City Prosecutor's Office for review. However, just because the Police Department advises that the information is being forwarded to the City Prosecutor's Office does not mean that the City Prosecutor will automatically file charges. The City Prosecutor may decline prosecution based upon the information in the report due to the fact that the ultimate discretion on whether or not to file a charge rests with the City Prosecutor. This is because cases filed in Municipal Court are brought by the City of St. Joseph, not by the victim/citizen. (Many victims believe that when charges are filed, it is their own personal case against the defendant. This is not the case.) If you wish to follow up on the possibility of charges being filed, you will need to make an appointment with the City Prosecutor.
Will it cost me extra to talk to the City Prosecutor?
The City Prosecutor never charges fees or costs to you or your attorney. If you are not represented by an attorney, you must come in person to your arraignment to talk to the City Prosecutor about your case. The City Prosecutor has no obligation to talk to a defendant about his/her case, and may choose not to in certain instances. If you have your own attorney, you must let your attorney handle all communications with the City Prosecutor's Office. It is unethical for any City Prosecutor to talk to a represented defendant without his/her attorney.
What if I hire an attorney to represent me?
If you hire an attorney to represent you in court or otherwise, you will be responsible for your own attorney's fees. Fees for your own attorney vary, but most attorney's charge fees based on the amount of time spent on a case or on a flat fee based on the type of case. If you hire your own attorney, you must let your attorney handle all communications with the City Prosecutor's Office.
Who can I talk to about a ticket?
The City Prosecutor prosecutes violations of City ordinances, which include most traffic offenses charged in the City of St. Joseph (speeding, accidents, driving while revoked, and first offense DWI). It may also include minor misdemeanor crimes such as trespassing, property destruction, disturbing the peace, and assaults not involving serious injury.
*NOTE: The Buchanan County Prosecutor has a separate office and prosecutes more serious offenses charged under State law, which include violent crimes, felonies, most drug-related offenses, serious assaults, and repeat DWI offenses. The Buchanan County Prosecuting Attorney's Office also prosecutes traffic and speeding tickets and other violations outside City limits. All bad check charges are handled by the County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.
Can I talk to someone about my ticket by phone?
Any attorney can contact the City Prosecutor by phone about his/her client's case. A defendant must appear at his/her arraignment to speak to the City Prosecutor at that time, although the City Prosecutor has no obligation to talk to a defendant, and may choose not to in certain instances. Contact the Clerk of Municipal Court for information about court dates at (816) 271-4686.
Why can't I talk to the City Prosecutor about my ticket over the phone?
Citations are formal and official proceedings. They require serious attention and require face to face communication. This is a protection for you because it helps prevent persons unrelated to the case from inquiring about the details of the case. It also allows the City Prosecutor to better identify the person he/she talked to regarding a case. Parking infractions are not handled by phone because of the high number of tickets and the minor fines involved. There are forms to protest a parking ticket if you believe you have received a parking ticket in error. To obtain a parking protest form, click on the "Forms" link, or call Revenue Services at (816) 271-4760.
Am I allowed to send in payment for my ticket prior to my Municipal Court setting?
There are some fines that the Municipal Judge allows to be paid in advance of the Municipal Court setting. If you have been issued a traffic citation, the Police Officer will include a copy of the fine schedule. However, if you have any questions on prepayment of fines and costs, you will need to contact the Municipal Court Clerk's Office at (816) 271-4686. (Please note that if you prepay the fine and Municipal Court costs, you enter a "guilty" plea in doing so.)
How do I obtain a copy of my driving record?
You may obtain a copy of your driving record from the License Bureau, located at East Hills Shopping Center, 3702 Frederick Ave, St. Joseph, Missouri by paying a nominal fee. You should call (816) 232-1211 ahead of time. (Please note that the Missouri Highway Patrol cannot provide you with a copy of your driving record. The Highway Patrol only provides driving records to other law enforcement agencies.)
How do I determine the number of points that will be assessed against my driver's license for the violation I have been charged with, and how many points can I be assessed before my driver's license is either suspended or revoked?
You may determine this information by contacting the License Bureau at (816) 232-1211.
How do I contest my ticket?
In most cases, contesting a ticket involves appearing in court and pleading not guilty at the time of your arraignment. Once a "not guilty" plea is entered, the Municipal Judge will set the case for a trial date in the near future. Contesting a ticket does not require that you hire your own attorney, but there are sometimes very good reasons to do so. If you have been cited for "Driving While Revoked" and you are eligible to get your driver's license reinstated, you should make every effort to get reinstated as soon as possible. Contact the State Department of Motor Vehicles to see if you are eligible for reinstatement.
Does it cost me extra to contest my ticket?
No. If you contest a ticket, it does not automatically cost extra. However, if you decide to hire your own attorney, you must pay for your attorney on your own.
If I am unable to be in Municipal Court on the date designated, how do I request a continuance?
You will need to contact the Municipal Court Clerk's Office at (816) 271-4686 to request a continuance. (If you do not appear in Municipal Court on the assigned date, and have not contacted the Municipal Court Clerk's Office to obtain a continuance, an additional charge of "Failure to Appear in Court" may be filed against you and the Municipal Judge may issue a warrant for your arrest.) Do not contact the City Prosecutor's office to request a continuance. The City Prosecutor cannot grant continuances to defendants.
What happens on the Municipal Court date on which I am scheduled to appear?
The first court date set for your ticket is called an arraignment. You are expected to be in Municipal Court on the date and time set for your case on the ticket. At the arraignment, the Municipal Judge will read you your rights and will read the charges against you. If you plead "guilty", the Municipal Judge will most likely assess a fine at that time. If you plead "not guilty", the Municipal Judge will set the case for a trial date in the near future. At the trial, the City Prosecutor will be required to prove the charges against you. (Again, if you do not appear in Municipal Court on the assigned date, and have not contacted the Municipal Court Clerk's Office to obtain a continuance, you may be charged with "Failure to Appear in Court", a separate crime, and the Municipal Judge may issue a warrant for your arrest.)
What is an arraignment?
An arraignment is a court hearing that is set to make certain you know the charges against you, and to find out how you plead. The arraignment allows you to enter a plea of "guilty" or "not guilty". It is not a trial. The arraignment is usually the first contact you have with the court about a particular ticket.
What happens if I plead "not guilty" at arraignment?
The Municipal Court will set a date for trial where the City Prosecutor will be required to prove the case against you.
What happens at trial?
You must be present at trial, even if you hire your own attorney. At trial, the City Prosecutor presents evidence first and will call witnesses to present the case against you. The City Prosecutor presents the case by asking the police officers, code enforcement officers, animal control officers and/or other witnesses questions. The answers these witnesses provide in Municipal Court help the Municipal Judge decide whether you committed the violation. At trial, you or your attorney may ask questions of the City Prosecutor's witnesses. You or your attorney may also call witnesses and present evidence in your own defense. You may also testify on your own behalf, if you wish. If you testify, the City Prosecutor may ask you questions about the case. The case you or your attorney presents also helps the Municipal Judge decide whether you committed the violation.
How do I subpoena witnesses to appear in Municipal Court on my behalf and is there any charge for getting the subpoenas issued?
The Municipal Court Clerk's Office will issue subpoenas on behalf of the defendants. You will need to contact the Municipal Court Clerk if you have questions about this procedure and the costs involved.
How do I obtain a copy of the police report?
The St. Joseph Police Department, Records Division, located at 501 Faraon, St. Joseph, Missouri, has all police reports on file. However, not all police reports are a matter of "public record". The Records Division will determine whether the report can be released and, if so, will advise you of the cost involved. The Records Division may be reached at (816) 271-4705.
What happens after the trial?
After the trial the Municipal Judge will either find you "guilty" or "not guilty". The Municipal Judge's decision after trial is called the verdict.
What does the verdict mean?
If you are found "guilty", the Municipal Judge will sentence you. A "guilty" verdict can be appealed to the Circuit Court.
If I plead "guilty" or am found "guilty" at trial, do I have to pay the fine and Municipal Court costs at that time?
The Municipal Judge will assess the fine and Municipal Court costs due. If payment cannot be immediately made at the time of the Municipal Court appearance, a request for time to pay must be made and the terms and conditions of payment will be set by the Municipal Judge. In order to avoid additional costs and inconvenience, the terms and conditions of payment must be met, or changes in payment arrangements approved by the Municipal Judge.
Does Municipal Court accept personal checks or credit cards for payment of fines and costs?
To determine what forms of payments are acceptable, you will need to contact the Municipal Court Clerk's Office at (816) 271-4686.