State and federal protections exist to preserve justice and ensure a fair system for criminal defendants and prosecutors. These protections involve clear, consistent laws that make sure cases run through the system fairly. But a pair of cases before the Supreme Court has cast doubts on the consistency of laws governing Missouri’s prosecutors.
Missouri state law allows prosecutors to bring charges for a felony for up to three years after the offense is allegedly committed. The clock is stopped when prosecutors file a criminal complaint or indictment. However, the state’s Constitution requires an indictment or information to go ahead with prosecution, which does not include a criminal complaint.
Typically, prosecutors file a complaint first. Then a judge reviews the complaint to decide whether there is probable cause that a crime was committed, after which prosecutors may file an information. An indictment returned by a grand jury can also start a case.
The Missouri Supreme Court is about to hear two cases that involve these conflicting laws and the results could shape criminal justice in the state. In both cases, prosecutors filed a complaint within the necessary three-year window. Greene County judges dismissed the cases, deciding that the law allowing complaints is unconstitutional.
The Missouri Attorney General’s office is defending the current statute of limitations. They are arguing that filing a complaint stops the clock on the statute of limitations but does not allow prosecutors to skip the essential step of filing an information or indictment.
But those who oppose the law disagree. “”The constitutional provision prohibits a prosecution absent information or indictment; the statute decrees that a felony prosecution commences with the filing of a complaint. By its terms, the statute contravenes – is contrary to – the Missouri Constitution,” said a public defender in one of the cases.
Source: The San Francisco Chronicle, “Mo. high court considers prosecution time limits,” Chris Blank, Sep. 29, 2012
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