In representing clients in criminal cases in Missouri, some cases go before a jury while others are resolved either with what's called "motion practice", or through a negotiated plea agreement, otherwise known as a plea deal. Motion practice deals with researching, writing and filing motions in court asking, among other things, for certain evidence to be suppressed in the hopes that ultimately the case will be dismissed early on.
A good St. Louis County Criminal Defense Attorney like Anthony Bretz, negotiates a plea deal while at the same time moving forward with motions. This two-pronged strategy provides his clients with options for disposing of their case in a way that aligns with their goals. This way if the motions are unsuccessful, then as a criminal defendant you will still be able to rely on a favorable plea agreement if you do not wish to take your case to trial.
Suspended Imposition of Sentence
In the process of defending clients in criminal court, one question almost every client asks is, "What is an SIS?" In Missouri if you have been charged with an offense, whether it be a felony, misdemeanor or ordinance violation you can often avoid a conviction by taking advantage of a Suspended Imposition of Sentence, or SIS. Sometimes, a judge might grant you an SIS after losing a trial; however, it is most often used in negotiated plea agreements.
SIS stands for Suspended Imposition of Sentence and means that a defendant will get probation without a conviction, as long as he does not violate any of the terms or conditions of his probation.
Negotiating a plea, or plea bargaining, usually involves an agreed upon outcome to a criminal case in which the Prosecutor asks for a lesser punishment than they could otherwise get if they were to win at trial. The Defendant, on the other hand, accepts some punishment that they otherwise could avoid if they were to win at trial. When the parties agree to a certain outcome, they must still gain the Court's approval in order to take advantage of their plea negotiations.
Both parties have their own incentives for entering into a plea. For the State, perhaps it is to avoid the costs associated with a drawn-out litigation and trial, as well as to provide the victims with a sense of closure and justice, and any restitution, without waiting possibly years for a trial and jury verdict. The Defendant has his or her own reasons for agreeing to a plea deal. Some of these include not wishing to risk putting their freedom in the hands of the strangers who make up a jury. Others simply wish to move forward with their lives and to put their mistake behind them as soon as possible.
During plea negotiations, a Prosecuting Attorney may offer you an SIS in exchange for a plea of guilty to the crime with which you have been charged. Additionally, you may be required to complete community service, attend offender classes, etc. The important thing to remember with a Suspended Imposition of Sentence is that as long as you successfully complete your term of probation, and complete all necessary conditions like community service, then you will not have a record of a criminal conviction.
Implications of an SIS
If a Defendant and Prosecutor agree to a plea deal which involves the Defendant being granted a Suspended Imposition of Sentence, then the case will be scheduled for a Plea and Sentencing hearings. At your Plea hearing, in order to take advantage of the negotiated plea, you will need to change your previously entered plea of Not Guilty to a plea of Guilty. In order to do so, you will have to waive certain Constitutional rights. These rights include:
The right to an attorney or to have one appointed for you if you could not afford one. The right to remain silent, or conversely the right to take the stand in your own defense. The right to confront the State's witnesses. The right to have witnesses on your own behalf, and if they chose not to come the right to have the Court issue a Subpoena and have them brought to court to testify. The right to discovery, including the right to take depositions. The right to a speedy trial. The right to a jury trial, during which a jury would have to unanimously find you Guilty Beyond a Reasonable Doubt as to each element of each charge against you. If you were to lose a jury trial, then you have the right to an appeal.
Only after you have entered a plea of guilty, and confirmed with the Court that you not only understand your Constitutional rights but that you also are waiving them, will the Court accept your plea of guilty and proceed to the Sentencing hearing. At the Sentencing hearing, which often immediately proceeds the Plea hearing, the Judge will decide whether or not to accept the negotiated plea agreement or to sentence you within the range of possible punishments. The Judge does not have to accept a plea deal. Though this is true, Courts usually will not upset a plea agreement unless it is manifestly, or egregiously, against the interests of Justice.
Outcome of an SIS
While a defendant is serving his probationary term, his case will be accessible to the general public. For example, if the Court updates its cases with Missouri's Casenet system, then while the probation is still pending the case information, including the underlying charge, will still be accessible on Casenet. Upon the successful completion of probation, the official records relevant to the case are closed and inaccessible to the general public.
Though the general public will not be able to gain access to records of your prior charge, various governmental agencies and courts will still have access to them. This is due to various offenses which can been enhanced for prior pleas or findings of guilt. This means that the record of your SIS can be used for enhancement of punishment by assigning you a prior offender status. It can also be used for purposes of impeachment and to show aggravating circumstances.
As a criminal defendant you have a lot to consider when deciding how you want your criminal case to proceed. An experienced Missouri Criminal Defense Attorney will help you by reviewing the charges against you, analyzing the State's evidence, investigating further on your behalf, and negotiating a reasonable plea deal on your behalf. Ultimately, the decision is yours as to take a deal or proceed to trial. Not understanding the various outcomes of a negotiated plea arrangement can affect you later in life.
When it comes to avoiding a conviction, other than winning at trial or having the case dismissed at an earlier stage, the Suspended Imposition of Sentence is another alternative. It won't give you a "clean slate" but it will provide you with a second chance. Additionally, it will permit you to honestly answer any future questions as to whether you have been convicted. Remember, a Suspended Imposition of Sentence means probation without a conviction.
If you find yourself charged with a Misdemeanor or Felony in Missouri, seek a Missouri Criminal Defense Attorney to protect your interests. Contact St. Louis County attorney Anthony Bretz now to make sure you understand your options before you wind up with a conviction.
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