One of the first questions that I ask a client is whether they are charged in state or municipal court. It is important to know the difference.
Municipal court, also called city court, is a court that is operated by a local city. It follows laws that are passed by the city council. For a case to be filed in city court, it must have occurred within the city limits. Municipal courts see a lot of minor traffic offenses, petty theft, code violations, and simple assault cases. The range of punishment is fairly low. Larger cities have municipal court on a daily basis, but small towns might only have court once a month.
Missouri state courts decide cases based upon laws written by the legislature in Jefferson City. Each county has at least one judge who hears cases occurring within that county. State courts handle misdemeanors and felonies, which can include harsher penalties, including years of incarceration. Examples of state crimes might be chronic drunk driving, sexual assault, theft of significant amounts, and homicide.
Sometimes a crime occurs that can be prosecuted in either city court or state court. For example, if a person drives while intoxicated, that is both a municipal and state violation. It will either go to state court or municipal court based upon law enforcement policy such as whether the person is a prior offender, whether there was an accident, etc. Fortunately, double jeopardy prevents the same offense from being tried in both state and municipal court.
Chad Gaddie is a criminal defense lawyer who has practiced in Northwest Missouri for nearly 20 years.