How Do You Appeal A Municipal Court Conviction?
Not all cases begin in the District Courts of Kansas. Many matters are handled by subdivisions of the state—municipalities such as cities or counties. The goal of these subdivisions is to better manage the lives of citizens spread across the vast state. However, these “arms of state” are still treated as the government and thus are subject to additional restraints brought on by the Constitution and Kansas state law. These restraints are perhaps must noticeable in terms of appeals. Below is a brief overview of the nature of municipal court and the process of appealing municipal decisions.
Article 12, Section 5 of the Kansas Constitution establishes that municipalities may make and enforce their own laws. Municipal courts hear violations of these city ordinances, while city prosecutors try the matters. Ordinances cover relatively minor matters, such as traffic laws and noise ordinances. All municipal court is trials are handled by the municipal judge, rather than by jury. In Kansas, municipal judges do not have to be lawyers (though many are) and municipal trials are much less formal than state courts. It is also not uncommon for individuals to appear in municipal court unrepresented, even in a trial for their charges.
Despite the informalities, municipal courts deal with serious matters that implement Constitutional rights and protections for defendants. A municipal defendant has familiar rights, such as the right to confront his or her accuser and the right against self-incrimination. However, these rights can be easily waived or ignored when a defendant attempts to defend his- or herself pro se. Additionally, violations of ordinances, like all crimes, must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. One familiar right is absent for most ordinance violations: the right to a jury trial. The United States Supreme Court recognized that “petty offenses” do not engage the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee for a jury. In Blanton v. City of North Las Vegas, a petty offense was held to be one that carries either a fine of $5,000 or more or imprisonment beyond 6 months. This standard means that most ordinance violations will not implement the Sixth Amendment and no jury trial is guaranteed to the defendant.
Municipal courts must operate inside their limited power, or jurisdiction. This limited jurisdiction means municipal courts cannot hear state misdemeanor or felony crimes. In fact, a municipal court must ensure that its ordinances do not run contrary to the state’s laws. In State v. Jenkins, Wichita impermissibly brought an ordinance violation for theft against Jenkins, who qualified for a felony theft charge due to his past convictions. The Kansas Supreme Court held that the city could not choose to prosecute the ordinance when the state had already criminalized the conduct as a more serious violation; only when the state declines to bring charges may a city bring a prosecution for the municipal ordinance violation.
Appealing a Municipal Court Judgment
Section 22-3609 allows for a convicted defendant to appeal to the district, or state trial-level, court. The request for appeal must be made within two weeks of the municipal conviction. The state judge will hear the matter unless the defendant requests a jury trial on the ordinance violation. Unlike appeals to the Kansas higher courts, municipals are reviewed “de novo,” meaning that the city must re-prove each element of the ordinance violation. Additionally, new evidence may be introduced by both the city and defendant. Finally, when the ordinance violation is decided, the decision is final—there is no need to return the matter to the municipal judge.
All familiar requirements of state court are also present in this review. The judges that hear these cases are the same state judges that hear felony criminal cases. The rule of evidence—laws that control what evidence may be used to prove allegations in court—are used during the trial. Additionally, Constitutional rights are again available to the accused. Finally, Section 22-3402 requires that the ordinance violation be tried within 180 days of the appeal, absent special circumstances.
Municipal violations are nothing to take lightly. Though ordinances carry lesser penalties than misdemeanors or felonies, they can still result in hefty fines and imprisonment. The relaxed nature of municipal can lead to an environment where individuals feel more comfortable defending themselves. However, engaging capable counsel is still essential to avoid harsh fines, convictions on record, and imprisonment. But even when a municipal conviction has resulted, capable counsel may be able to overturn the judgment upon appeal. The condensed timeline is filing such an appeal means that there can be no hesitation in contacting an attorney. If you have been charged with a crime or are seeking to appeal a municipal court decision for any municipal court in Johnson County including Overland Park, Shawnee, Mission, Merriam, Lenexa, Fairway, Olathe or Prairie Village please feel free to contact our office.
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