Figuring Out Your Traffic Ticket Court Date in STL County During COVID
Most people know that failing to appear in court on a traffic or DWI case in Missouri can have serious consequences: a warrant for your arrest; a hold on your driver license; and in some cases, a lieu of bail hold that assesses points on your record as if you had actually pleaded guilty to the charge are all possibilities.
Thousands of people received traffic tickets or DWIs in St. Louis County Courts in the weeks or months leading up to the COVID-19 shut downs and had court dates scheduled for March, April, and May that continue to be delayed due to stay-at-home orders. In many of those cases, the letters being sent to the Defendants by the courts or prosecuting attorneys about when they are expected to appear have been confusing. For these people who want to do the right thing and show up when they are supposed to, figuring out when they are due in court has been a bit of a nightmare.
Our office has spoken to a number of people with concerns. We've had people receiving letters saying they 'Failed to Appear' at a court date in early May that actually never occurred. This can be really alarming. No one wants to be accused of missing a court date they thought was canceled. In all of those cases that we've dealt with so far, it was actually just a form letter from the court meant to let Defendants know that their previously scheduled court date had been canceled due to COVID closings and that it had been continued to a new date, but the confusion caused by the letter had many people worried.
We've have also had people who have received no notice whatsoever from the court about canceled dates, and some who received a letter stating their 'trial date' was continued, when they had never previously been set for trial and should have only been on a call docket. It's a new situation for the courts and they're all handling it differently, so it can cause quite a bit of confusion and discomfort for people who are supposed to be appearing, but also don't want to violate stay-at-home orders.
Last week, however, the judges at the St. Louis County Circuit Court, led by the Presiding Judge, held a series of town hall meetings via Zoom meant to inform local attorneys, press, and other interested parties about plans for the reopening of both the Circuit Court and all the municipal divisions in St. Louis County.
Although it remains a fluid situation, the Presiding Judge and the other judges in the circuit have worked hard to come up with a workable, adjustable plan for getting the business of court back on track while following the guidelines issued by the Missouri Supreme Court on May 4.
For both municipal and circuit Traffic and DWI dockets, the Presiding Judge made clear that we must be in Phase 3 of the Supreme Court's guidelines before regular dockets can resume, and even then docket sizes will be limited, cleaning and sanitizing guidelines must be followed, and social-distancing rules and procedures must be firmly in place and followed. Based on the rules set out by the Missouri Supreme Court, there is no chance phase 3 can begin before mid-June at the absolute soonest.
In the meantime, several things can be, and are, occurring within St. Louis County Courts:
Municipal Courts within the Circuit are working on creating procedures and plans for reopening and potentially beginning to hold hearings and smaller dockets remotely via WebEx or some other court-approved platform;
Preliminary Hearings on felony cases are being scheduled for remote and limited in-person hearings beginning in June;
Certain motion hearings on cases with Defense Attorneys can be scheduled for remote hearings;
Prosecuting Attorneys are working hard to resolve cases that don't require an in-person hearing where appropriate before normal dockets reopen.
Judges and Court staff are still working hard even though the court rooms are not yet open for large dockets the way they have been in the past. Certain traffic cases (and possibly some DWI cases) can be handled and potentially even resolved before phase 3 begins if a defense attorney is entered on the case.
One of the most important, and frequently emphasized, take-aways from the the town hall meetings held by the Court was that the situation is changing frequently and that people with court business and court dates should continue to check the Court's website for updates.
For people who have tickets in a Municipal Division of the St. Louis County Courts (this includes both cases in the St. Louis County Municipal Court and any City municipal court within St. Louis County, such as Hazelwood, Florissant, Ladue, Frontenac, etc) you can check that court's website or contact your attorney for more information on when your scheduled court date might be. As is stated above, for many traffic (and possibly even DWI cases), a defense attorney may be able to completely handle your entire case before the courts reopen for regular business.
You can contact us today if you have questions or would like help handling your ticket or case.