Bifurcated Trials in Missouri
2003, juries in criminal trials would hear the evidence in the case
and the arguments of counsel. The judge would read them instructions
on the law, and they would go to the jury room and deliberate. If
they found the defendant guilty, they would then decide what punishment
to impose. The problem with that system was that the jury got very
little information during the trial about the defendant and his or
her background, or about the impact of the crime on the victim. The
defense lawyers would not usually argue the issue of punishment,
because they were focusing on convincing the jury that the defendant
was not guilty. Juries were expected to recommend an appropriate
punishment, but they were not given the information they needed to
do the job.
Now, trials are divided into two phases: the guilt phase,
and the penalty phase. If the jury finds the defendant guilty, the
trial resumes with the same jury. The prosecution can present evidence
about the bad things the defendant has done in his life, and the
severe impact the crime has had on the victim. The defense can
show the events in his life that caused him to behave in this way,
and bring out all the positive things he has done. Then the jury
will deliberate again and decide on a punishment. There may be
some cases where the defense may want the judge to be the one sentencing
the defendant. In those cases there is no punishment phase.
Late Great SIS
For many years, Missouri judges had
the power to grant a deserving defendant a type of probation
that would allow all records of the case to be closed once the
defendant successfully completed probation. It was actually a
prosecutable criminal offense for any state employee to disclose
any information from these closed records. That all changed in
2001. The legislature amended the law to allow the public to
access the “final disposition” of the case. Now
anyone can run a record check and find out whether the person they
are checking on has pled guilty, what offense they pled guilty
to, and the fact that they were placed on probation. Many lawyers
and some judges are still unaware of this change, and they continue
to tell defendants who receive a suspended imposition of sentence
(SIS) that it will not show up on their record. It will.
Expungements in Missouri State Courts
I get at least one call
a week from people who have a criminal conviction in their past.
They have straightened out their lives, but every time they apply
for a job, the prospective employer runs a record check. When the
employer learns of the conviction, they don’t get the job.
Some states will expunge the records of those who meet certain
requirements. The bad news is that Missouri is not one of them.
There is no expungement of criminal convictions available in Missouri,
However, Missouri does have a procedure for expunging the
record of an arrest that did not result in a conviction. You must
file a petition in the circuit court of the county where the arrest
occurred within 3 years of the arrest. Then, at a hearing, you
must prove that 1) the arrest was based on false information; 2)
there is no probable cause to believe that you committed the offense;
and 3) no charges will be pursued as a result of the arrest. If
you can do that, the judge will order any mention of the arrest
removed from the record.