Your Rights in Municipal Division Court

 

Your presence in Municipal Division Court today may be your first experience in any court. This 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 assured that he/she has had the free and unfettered right to take advantage of all the due processes of law, up to and including a fair and impartial trial or hearing. If there is anything you do not understand, do not hesitate to ask the judge any questions.

Your Missouri Municipal Division Court rights are as follows: Right to trial, right to know when the court is open, right to attend court, right to release pending hearing, right to an attorney, right to have a judge decide if you can afford a lawyer or afford to pay fines, right to a court-appointed attorney, right to access court records and right to request a different judge.

The Nevada Municipal Division court office is open Monday 8a.m. – 3p.m. and Tuesday – Friday 8a.m. – 5p.m. Office phone number is (417) 448-5108. Municipal division courts in Missouri are open to the public of all ages.

Many people plead guilty and either pay fines and costs outside of court through the Violations Bureau or pay their fine after a plea before the Court. However, every accused has the right to an impartial judge-tried case in this Court. Due process includes:

  • The right to retain an attorney
  • The right to trial by judge
  • The right to remain silent
  • The right to cross-examine witnesses
  • The right to compel witnesses to appear for you
  • The right to appeal from an adverse judgment to the Circuit Court after bench trial (trial de novo)

 

The Court does not pre-judge cases, but views the accused as a fellow citizen who has been accused or charged with a violation of law and entitled to full protection of law as referenced above. Although the Court has a duty to administer justice, it is also obliged to treat each person coming before it with dignity, courtesy and respect.

In criminal cases, it is not the burden of the accused to prove that he/she is not guilty; rather, it is the burden of the city prosecutor to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that the defendant is “guilty.” The Court must make this determination based on the evidence presented at trial and on the relevant ordinances, statutes, rules and case law. Absent such finding, or a plea of guilty, the defendant is deemed “not guilty.”

If you have a case in a municipal division court, you have the right to see the court records for your case. This includes records that show charges, court rulings, fines, and other information for your case.

You have the right to be represented by an attorney and may hire one at any time. When you first appear in court, you can ask to postpone the hearing one time so you can hire an attorney. However, you are not required to have an attorney represent you. You may represent yourself.

You can request the judge to decide if you are able to pay court fines or to be granted an alternative sentence. You may be required to fill out paperwork regarding your finances as part of this process.

You may not be put in jail for failure to pay fines or costs unless the judge finds you have the ability to pay but are unwilling to pay or when alternative sanctions to jail are not sufficient.

If you are in jail for a municipal division court charge, you have the right to be released unless the court decides you need to be in jail for the protection of the community or because you may not appear for court. If the court orders your release from jail, there may be conditions on your release, including bail.

The maximum fine and sentence in this Municipal Division Court for a traffic or general ordinance violation per offense is $500 and/or 90 days in jail.  The maximum total fine and court costs in the Municipal Division Court for any single minor traffic offense as defined by Section 479.350 RSMo. is $225.    Fines and costs may be paid by cash, debit/credit card, money order or cashier’s check.   Traffic Violations Bureau payments may be made in person during normal business hours, mailed with money order or cashier’s check, through Govteller.com online or by telephone.

If you are convicted of a traffic offense, your driver’s license may be assessed points, and multiple offenses may result in an accumulation of points which can jeopardize driving privileges. For residents of other states, a record of any assessment of points from convictions in Missouri is forwarded to the home state under the Interstate Non-Resident Compact Law. Conferring with legal counsel before entering a plea of any charge before the Court is encouraged.

The Court has a duty to protect and preserve its judicial function and institutional dignity; persons appearing before the Court are expected to present themselves in a manner and dress that demonstrates appropriate respect for the Court. Hats should be removed when entering the Courtroom. There shall be no eating, drinking or smoking in the Courtroom and no talking during the Court session. All cell phones and pagers shall be turned off or “silenced.”

When you appear before the judge, the violation(s) of which you are accused will be read at that time, and you should plead “Guilty” or “Not Guilty.” Your choice to plead “Guilty” or “Not Guilty” is an important decision. Please read the following explanations before entering your plea. If you decide to seek the services of an attorney, you should promptly inform the Court to enable the judge to take your situation into consideration in scheduling your trial or plea.

PLEA OF GUILTY

By a plea of guilty (under most circumstances), you admit that you committed the act charged, that the act is prohibited by law and that you have no legal defense.

  1. By pleading guilty, you are waving your right to remain silent. Absent your plea of guilty, the City would have the burden of proving the case against you.
  2. 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.

 

PLEA OF NOT GUILTY

A plea of not guilty means that you deny guilt and the City must prove its charges against you. Your case will be set for trial and will be tried on that same day or you will be given a date to appear. You will receive no other notice of your trial date.

If you plead not guilty, you must decide whether to employ an attorney to represent you at trial. You may defend yourself but no one else except an attorney may represent you. If you show you cannot afford an attorney AND the city is asking for jail, the court can appoint an attorney to represent you.

At trial, the City must prove the charge against you as contained in the formal complaint “beyond a reasonable doubt” before a verdict of guilty can be reached.

You may request a change of judge for any reason within ten (10) days after you enter your initial plea. If it is past the ten (10) days, then you must show cause why the judge should be changed. In addition, a judge may decide he or she cannot hear the case if they have a conflict of interest in the case or the judge will appear as a prosecuting attorney in a neighboring county where the prosecuting attorney will serve as judge.

THE TRIAL

Under Missouri law, you may be brought to trial only after a formal complaint has been filed. The complaint is the document that states what you are accused of, and that your action was unlawful.

  • You have the right to have your attorney assist you through all stages of the proceedings
  • You have the right to inspect the complaint before the trial and have it read to you at trial
  • You are entitled to hear all testimony against you
  • You have the right to cross-examine any witness who testifies against you
  • You have the right to testify on your own behalf if you choose
  • You may call witnesses to testify on your behalf
  • You also have the right to have the Court issue subpoenas for witnesses to ensure their appearance at trial. However, you must obtain proper service of the subpoenas on your witnesses
  • You may be represented by counsel, although it is not required. In cases in which conviction would likely result in a jail sentence, the Court will advise you to seek counsel

 

PRESENTING THE CASE

As in all criminal trials, the City will present its case first by calling witnesses to testify against you. You have the right to cross-examine each witness at the completion of his or her testimony. Your examination MUST BE IN THE FORM OF QUESTIONS. This is not a time to make a statement, and you MUST NOT argue with the witness. You will have the opportunity to testify later in the trial.

After the prosecution has presented its case, you may present your case. You have the right to call any witness knowing anything about the incident. You may testify in your own behalf, but cannot be compelled to do so. If you testify, the Prosecutor may cross-examine you.

THE VERDICT

The verdict of the judge will be based on the facts proven during the trial. In making the determination, the judge will only consider the evidence admitted and testimony of the witnesses who are under oath.

The judge will announce the penalty if you are found guilty of the offense. You should be prepared to pay the fines and costs at that time.

FINES

The facts and circumstances of the case and your own record affect the amount of the fine assessed by the Court. Mitigating circumstances may lower the fine, and aggravating circumstances may increase the fine. In no case may the fine exceed $500 for a traffic or general ordinance violation per offense.  The maximum total fine and court costs in the Municipal Division Court for any single minor traffic offense as defined by Section 479.350 RSMo. is $225.   All fines are deposited in the General Fund of the City Nevada. If you are unable to pay court fines you may be granted an alternative sentence. You may be required to fill out paper work regarding your finances and show proof of income as part of the process.

COURT COSTS

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 to the General Fund of the City, the Missouri Departments of Revenue and Public Safety, and the local Domestic Violence Shelter.

RIGHT TO APPEAL

If you are not satisfied with the judgment (verdict) of this Court, you have the right to appeal the verdict to the Vernon County Associate Circuit Court. If you choose to appeal, you must pay an appeal bond of $30.00 which will be forwarded to the Circuit Court along with your case files. If you pay fines assessed, you waive the right to appeal. You will be notified by the Vernon County Circuit Court of the new court date and another judge will hear your case again in its entirety. You must file this appeal within ten (10) days of the judgment or the judgment becomes final and all fines and costs assessed must be paid to the Court.

NON- U.S. CITIZEN

If you do not have the proper documentation to be in the United States, you should know that a guilty plea or conviction may result in your deportation, denial of admission to the United States, or you may be denied naturalization under United States law. You may wish to speak with an attorney, especially before entering a guilty plea to any charges.

 

ADA ACCOMMODATIONS

You have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, if you or a witness are deaf or hearing impaired, you have the right to request assistance, including an interpreter.