Montana law categorizes crimes as either misdemeanor or felony based on the penalty. Misdemeanors carry a maximum penalty of one year, and felonies carry a minimum penalty of one year in prison. Montana law also limits prosecution of these crimes based on a number of years. This is normally called a “statute of limitations.” If the prosecutor does not charge the person with the crime(s) within the statute of limitations, the prosecutor is forever barred from prosecuting the person with the crime(s), with only these exceptions.
Misdemeanors are tried in either City Courts (if prosecuted by the City) or Justice Courts (if prosecuted by the State). There are normally more misdemeanors charged by the prosecutors than felonies. This effects the dynamics of how the prosecutors handle misdemeanor cases. Many times, prosecutors do not have the time or resources to put a lot of time in preparing for misdemeanor cases. They will, many times, offer a plea agreement to the defendant, and wait to see if the defendant accepts the offer. If the defendant accepts the offer, the prosecutor’s job is essentially done.
Thus, it is up to the defendant’s attorney to generate the evidence and reasons for a lesser sentence or dismissal of the case. Defendants cannot expect the prosecutors to find these reasons themselves. This is why you should hire an attorney that is not lazy but works hard to find ways of dismissing the case or mitigating the sentence. This is not always easy especially when the prosecutor “believes” in his case against the defendant or where the prosecutor believes the Judge is “pro-prosecution.”
Essentially, every defendant’s case will end in the following ways:
- The prosecutor will offer to defer prosecution for 6 months (normally). If the defendant stays out of trouble during the time, the prosecutor will dismiss the case at the end of this time.
- The court will defer sentence for a period of time allowed by law. The defendant will have to plead guilty or not guilty to the charge(s) and the court will impose conditions, such as, paying a fine. At the end of that period, if the defendant has stayed out of trouble and paid his fine, the court will dismiss the case.
- The court will suspend sentence for a period of time allowed by law. The court will order the defendant to pay fines, restitution or whatever is allowed by law and appropriate for the case. If the defendant successfully completes his sentence, he will avoid any jail time.
- The court will sentence the defendant to jail and fines. These cases are rare compared to the numbers of cases that are treated as described above. But there are some crimes that require a minimum of jail time, such as DUIs. If the circumstances are such that the court feels is proper, the court could order the defendant to serve jail time.
- The defendant’s attorney will file a motion to suppress or dismiss where he can in good faith. If the motion to suppress is granted, it may persuade the prosecutor to dismiss the case, but if the prosecutor feels he can prove the case without that evidence, he may not dismiss it. If the motion to dismiss is granted, the court dismisses the case.
- If none of the above situations happen, the defendant can take his case to a jury or judge trial, where they will determine the defendant’s guilt.
If you have been charged with a misdemeanor, call Tim Baldwin or email him here.