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Your Rights In Court
The Court’s job is to decide all cases as the law requires. You need to know your rights and the meaning of words that are used in court BEFORE you go to court. Then you can better understand court operations and be ready for court when you get there. (Don’t forget to read the traffic ticket or summons and the instructions on it.)
WHAT THESE WORDS MEAN:
Appeal - to request that a higher court hear the case again.
Arraignment – the reading of the charge(s) by the Judge and formal entry of a plea of “Guilty” or “Not Guilty” by the defendant.
Charge – what you are accused of doing.
Continuance – having the judge change your court date to another day in the future.
Court Costs – the money needed to pay for the operation of the court system and other amounts as set by State law.
Defendant – the person charged with the violation.
Plea – an answer to the charge in court.
Plead Guilty – to admit the charge.
Plead Not Guilty - to say you are not guilty of what you have been accused of.
Prosecutor – the lawyer for the City.
Subpoena (“sa-pee-na”) – an order from the court that requires a person to come to court.
Testify – to give information regarding a case while under oath (swear to tell the truth) in court.
Traffic Ticket or Summons – a command by court order to appear in court. Failure to appear may result in a warrant for your arrest.
Witness – a person who testifies in court about something they know relevant to a case.
WHEN YOU GET TO COURT:
Check in with one of the Court Clerks at the table upon your arrival. Then have a seat in the court room. When your name is called, walk up to the judge. If you are charged with breaking the law, you are the defendant. The judge will read the charge. If you do not understand it, ask the judge to explain it. When the judge asks how you plead, you must say “guilty” or “not guilty”.
The judge may ask you questions. You may answer the questions or you may ask the judge to wait to answer the questions until you have a lawyer, or you may remain silent.
Remember, you have the right to:
Have a reasonable time after you are charged with a traffic violation to get ready to answer the charge in court.
Have a lawyer. The judge may provide you with a lawyer if you are unable to afford one and if you face the possibility of going to jail.
IF YOU PLEAD GUILTY:
The judge may ask you questions, You must answer them. The judge will tell you how much money to pay as a fine and court costs or what sentence you must serve. Before you plead guilty, you have the right to ask the judge if you will go to jail.
YOU SHOULD PLEAD NOT GUILTY IF:
- If you did not do what you are accused of doing.
- If you are not sure that what you did was against the law.
- If you are asking for more time to get a lawyer, find witnesses of your own or otherwise be more prepared.
If you do not have a lawyer and you think you need the help of one, you should contact one BEFORE going to court. You may also choose to proceed without a lawyer and represent yourself.
You have the right to bring witnesses to the trial. If you need the court to order the witnesses to appear, the court will give them subpoenas to tell them they must come to court for you. However, you must furnish the names, addresses and telephone numbers of these witnesses to the Court as soon as possible so that they may be located and subpoenas served, at least three (3) weeks prior to the trial.
If you want a trial by jury, you may ask for one. The Judge and/or Court Administrator will tell you how to proceed.
The burden of proof is on the City to prove you’re guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The prosecutor must bring witnesses to tell what they saw and heard. You or your lawyer may ask them questions. The prosecutor has the right to ask your witnesses questions and if you testify, to ask you questions. You don’t have to testify if you don’t want to. There is no significance attached to not testifying in court.
If the judge decides that you are not guilty, the trial is over and you may leave. If the judge decides that you are guilty, the judge will then tell you what the penalty is and what to do.
- Both fine and jail
- Other. Depending upon the charge, the judge may include in the penalty an order to go to driver’s school, alcohol safety school or other schools to help you better understand how to drive safely on the public street or highways. You must go to the school so you won’t face more penalties; including a jail sentence.
APPEAL (Also known as “trial de novo”, which means a request for a new trial)
If you are not satisfied with the Judgement (verdict) of this Court, you have the right to appeal the verdict to the St. Louis County Circuit Court. You must file this appeal within ten (10) days of the judgement. If the judgement is not appealed within ten (10) days it becomes final and you must pay the fines and costs assessed by this Court.
If you do appeal, the case files will be forwarded to the circuit Court once received by the City of St. John’s Court Administrator. You will be notified of a new court date by the St. Louis County Circuit Court and your case will be heard again by another Judge in its entirely.
I understand that if I am not a citizen of the United States, a plea of guilty may result in my deportation/removal, exclusion from reentry to the United States, a denial of naturalization and amnesty, and that the appropriate consulate may be informed of my conviction. The offenses that will result in such immediate action include, but are not limited to, driving while intoxicated, a controlled substance offense, a firearm offense and in certain circumstances, a moral turpitude offense which includes domestic violence.
RIGHT TO HAVE A JUDGE DECIDE IF YOU CAN AFFORD A LAWYER OR PAY FINES:
If you want an attorney, but cannot afford one, you can ask that the judge decide if you qualify for a court-appointed attorney. You may be required to fill out paper work about your finances as a part of this process. You can also 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 paper work regarding your finances as a 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.