Municipal Misdemeanor Cases: Amended Charges versus Probation, the best result for you
In the greater St. Louis area, attorneys generally have the ability to get good results for their clients in traffic and municipal matters. Usually once an attorney enters her appearance, she will recieve from the prosecutor a "recommendation" (plea offer) within a month. The question then becomes, what type of plea offer is the best for YOU?
Often the offer involves either amending the charges to a lesser offense (such as "littering") and allowing the defendant to plead guilty to the lesser charge; OR keeping the offense charged as it is, but allowing the defendant to be placed on probation. Here's what you should know about your options:
Probation: SES vs SIS
SES = suspended execution of sentence. This means that you are sentenced to a certain number of days in jail or sentenced to pay a fine, but that sentence is "suspended" (i.e. paused) and you are placed on probation instead. Probation typically lasts 1 to 2 years. Your sentence is called a "back-up" sentence because it sits there waiting for you should you violate your probation. Because you have been sentenced, this counts as a conviction and will be part of your permanent criminal history.
SIS = suspended imposition of sentence. Here you are never given a sentence, so this does not count as a conviction under Missouri law. While you are on probation the crime with which you are charged is a matter of public record. However once you complete your probation, the charge is removed from public record. If asked if you have ever been "convicted" of a crime, you can say "no." However, if asked if you have ever pled guilty to a crime, you should answer "yes."
Often charges such as possession of small amounts of weed, possession of drug paraphernalia, tresspassing, and petty larceny/shoplifting/stealing can be amended to the charge of "littering." The prosecutor amends the charges, and then you plead guilty to littering. You are often asked to pay a fine. Because you have pled guilty and have paid a fine, this is a conviction. However, it is a conviction for "littering" instead of the original crime. Many people are aware that "littering" is not really littering, and thus if it shows up on your background check, you may be asked what you were originally charged with. However, since only law enforcement should have access to your arrest charges and the prosecutor's original charges, the public should not ever find out the true nature of the crime.
In deciding which is better for you, consider:
Can you successfully complete probation?
Will anyone be looking at my criminal history during the time you are on probation?
Are you embarrased by a conviction for "littering" or some other lesser, amended charge?