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Kansas City Criminal Defense Law Blog

How does a judge determine the length of a criminal sentence?

Criminal sentencing procedures for defendants in Missouri are not necessarily intuitively obvious. A system for sentencing those convicted of felony offenses exists to ensure fairness and consistency across the board for defendants in the state. When considering a sentence length, the judge will generally weigh three factors: the seriousness of the offense, the average sentence for the same crime and the defendant's previous criminal history.

Serious offenders who have prior felony convictions are likely to receive a prison sentence. However, those who have committed lesser offenses, even felonies, may qualify for probation or a diversion program. Criminal defendants who are convicted of a first-time, low-level felony charge may be eligible for drug programs or "institutional shock," which often involves jail terms of 120 days or less. Individuals who complete the jail-based programs are often eligible to be released and serve only probation for the remainder of their sentences.

Probation rates for murder, assault higher in Jackson County

In Jackson County, Missouri, you are more likely to get away with murder -- or at least with a lighter sentence for committing murder. New statistics show that 15 convicts in the past five years have received only probation after they were found guilty of second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter. It appears that Jackson County is the most lenient jurisdiction in the region when it comes to convictions for this type of deadly crime.

Experts say that the statistics are simply indicative of the way in which Jackson County tends to handle most of its criminal convictions. Violent criminals convicted of assault crimes also tend to avoid jail time altogether, with even those accused of the worst robbery crimes never spending time behind bars. In fact, many offenders in the area are given second, third and even fourth opportunities to straighten up before they are finally sentenced to hard time.

Procedural error with warrant leads to dismissal of drug charges

A Missouri professor is taking a deep breath of relief -- and potentially something else -- after his drug case was dismissed because of a procedural error. The man, a professor at Northwest Missouri State, had reportedly been targeted by law enforcement officials after he posted a threatening comment on a social media site. Officers were able to obtain a warrant to search the man's home, where they only found a pellet gun; however, they also found a marijuana-growing operation during that search. The man was taken into custody and hit with a series of drug charges after officers found the illegal plants at his home.

However, a judge ruled that the search warrant should have been quashed and the evidence suppressed in the drug offense case. The reason: Officers should never have sought a search warrant in the first place, as the professor was clearly joking in the Facebook post. Reports show that the man had said that he was optimistic about the beginning of the semester, but he hypothesized that he would want to climb to the top of a bell tower with a high-powered rifle by October.

Kansas City area man, woman arrested on multiple drug charges

A 31-year-old woman and a 37-year-old man are in the Stone County, Missouri, jail after being arrested on charges of trafficking in drugs and distributing controlled substances. The pair was arrested on July 1 after deputies with the Stone County Sheriff’s Office responded to a Table Rock Lake resort. The initial call for law enforcement came because someone believed the two were allegedly using fake identification.

The deputies allegedly found the fake identifications and later obtained a search warrant for two vehicles and a cabin. According to the Stone County sheriff, over 500 OxyContin pills, marijuana and three-quarters of a pound of methamphetamine were found. In addition, about $7,500 was seized.

Missouri man faces life sentence for sex crimes against child

A Missouri man is facing a mandatory life sentence after being convicted of the sexual abuse of a child. The man, age 50, will be sentenced under a relatively unknown provision in Missouri law, which is designed to characterize defendants as predatory sexual offenders. The defendant was convicted of sex crimes against an 8-year-old child after a recent criminal trial.

Authorities say that the "predatory sexual offender" tag was applied in this case because the man apparently had an extensive history of sexually abusing children. The defendant revealed some of this information during the second phase of his criminal trial, when he admitted under oath that he assaulted a 5-year-old girl when he was 15 years old. Those previous acts are not considered as additional convictions; instead, they are used to inform the sentencing decisions that will determine the man's future in custody. He will be formally sentenced in August, at which time a judge will determine the length of the man's actual stay in prison before he can be paroled.

Driver accused of felony offenses after police chase, fatal crash

A Missouri man is facing murder charges after he allegedly killed his girlfriend in a car accident as he was evading police. Authorities report that the 31-year-old woman died in the wreck in Raytown, Missouri, as she was riding as a passenger in her partner's vehicle. The defendant will have to mount a felony defense against charges of murder, though an alternate charge is also being considered: involuntary manslaughter due to a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit.

Authorities say that the collision threw the woman from the vehicle. The couple's infant son was also ejected from the car, though he did not suffer life-threatening injuries. The crash occurred after the man was seen speeding by a local police officer. That officer attempted to stop the vehicle, but he abandoned the effort after realizing that a dangerous high-speed chase could ensue.

Alleged DUI driver charged in injurious crash involving trooper

A Missouri driver has been arrested after striking a trooper during an alleged DUI accident. The defendant, age 43, has been charged with second-degree assault and intoxicated assault in connection with the collision, which occurred on May 25. Authorities say the DUI crash occurred when that driver veered off the road and ran into the trooper's vehicle and another car during a traffic stop on southbound Interstate 55.

Authorities say the 32-year-old trooper has recently returned home after suffering injuries in the collision. The man suffered wounds that were not life-threatening, and he was sent home on May 26 with a few bumps and bruises. However, physicians appear to have cleared the man to return to work in the future, though it is not certain when he will do so.

Man to stand trial for assault, other charges in party death

A 59-year-old Missouri man who has been waiting to stand trial in connection with a shooting on July 20, 2013, will face a jury this month. The defendant, accused of felony assault, second-degree murder and armed criminal action, is currently only on trial for the murder charge. He allegedly shot a 48-year-old man during a float party on the Meramec River.

This case could prove critical for future Missouri defendants. This highly publicized case has some elements of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. Experts say that Missouri courts will likely be asked to decide on issues of property rights and lethal force along the state's public waterways.

Woman sentenced to 7 years' jail time for role in child abuse

A Missouri woman accused of severe child abuse will serve seven years' prison time for her role in the child endangerment. The 28-year-old woman entered a guilty plea in January in connection with the abuse, which reportedly involved locking a school-aged girl in her basement without adequate access to food or washroom facilities. The child's father, age 30, may also be facing jail time for his involvement in the incident.

Authorities say that the child was forced to stay in the basement after she was suspended from school. An investigation showed that the basement's walls and floor were tainted with mold. Further, the unfinished basement was filthy and lit with only a single dim bulb. It appeared that the girl had been using an air mattress in the basement for three months, according to a prosecuting attorney.

New measure could change sex crime plea deal strategy

Criminal defendants accused of specific crimes against children could be facing longer prison sentences if convicted under proposed changes to the law in Missouri. Potential modifications, supported by advocacy group Missouri KidsFirst, would result in longer prison terms for family members accused of sex crimes against kids. Adults accused of abandonment could face similarly heightened consequences.

Missouri lawmakers in both the House and Senate have passed two different versions of the new criminal code. Now, they must work together to hammer out a new draft by mid-May. The bills are designed to bridge sentencing gaps for those who commit sex crimes; however, they could also lead to longer prison terms for those convicted of certain offenses. Defendants who are convicted of repeat offenses, inflicting serious injury, engaging in a ritual and other contributing factors could also face additional punishment. Kansas attorneys may be able to help defendants learn more about the impact of these changes on their individual criminal cases.

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