In Missouri, as in most states, felonies are serious crimes that carry a potential punishment of more than a year in prison. In contrast, misdemeanors in Missouri may be punished by no more than a year in county jail.
For purposes of sentencing, Missouri categorizes felonies into five classes, with Class A as the most serious and Class E as the least serious. But the class of felony isn't the only thing that determines the sentence you'll receive if you're convicted. Other factors could increase or reduce your sentence, including your criminal history and the circumstances surrounding the crime. Read on for details.
Missouri law sets a maximum penalty for each class of felony, as well as a minimum penalty for the more serious classes. Here are the basic allowed imprisonment sentences for the different felony classes:
For Class D or E felonies, the court has the option of sentencing you to county jail for up to one year. However, any sentence for more than a year must be served in state prison.
Some individual crimes, like first-degree rape, have their own separate sentencing requirements in Missouri law. (Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 558.011, 566.030 (2020).)
If a jury has convicted you of a felony, there will be a separate phase of the trial for sentencing. After hearing evidence—on issues such as the impact of the crime on the victim, the circumstances of the crime, and your history and character—the jury will decide on a sentence within the legal limits for your crime. However, Missouri courts have held that the jury's decision is really only a recommendation for the judge. And the sentencing decision will be solely up to the judge in many circumstances, including when you've pleaded guilty, asked to have the judge issue the sentence, or have the kind of criminal history that calls for an enhanced sentence (as discussed below). (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 557.036 (2020); State v. Van Horn, 625 S.W.2d 874 (Mo. Sup. Ct. 1981).
Missouri has sentencing guidelines that include recommended sentences based on things like your criminal record, age, education, employment status, and history of substance abuse. But judges or juries don't have to follow the guidelines.
In Missouri, a sentence of imprisonment for many felonies includes two parts:
Conditional release is different than parole, even though both involve some form of supervision and conditions that you must meet for a period of time after you're released from prison. There's no guarantee that you'll ever be released on parole; that decision is up to the parole board after you've served a minimum amount of time for parole eligibility. With some exceptions, however, you're entitled to conditional release at a certain point in your sentence. The length of the conditional sentence—and thus the time when you're released—depends on the length of the full sentence of imprisonment:
The exceptions to these conditional-release requirements include when you've been convicted of a crime that's considered a dangerous felony or you've served previous prison terms. (Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 217.690, 558.011, 558.019 (2020).)
In some circumstances, you may receive a sentence that's lengthier than the standard prison sentence for the crime you've committed. When you've been convicted of a felony below Class A, you'll receive a sentence for the next-higher felony class if:
For example, the enhanced sentence for a Class D felony would be within the range of the standard sentence for a Class C felony. The laws for some individual crimes also call for enhanced sentences based on the defendant's criminal history.
Missouri also calls for enhanced sentences for certain crimes when the defendant targeted the victim based on race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or disability. For example, some crimes that are normally Class E felonies (including third-degree assault and first-degree harassment) will be punished as Class D felonies when the prosecution proves that they're hate crimes. (Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 557.035, 558.016, 565.054, 565.090 (2020).)
In some felony cases, the court may suspend the prison sentence and place you on probation with conditions—which could include community service, participation in a treatment program, or a work release program in county jail. You might also receive a type of sentence known as "shock probation" or "shock incarceration," which requires you to serve 120 days in prison at the outset. During that time, you'll receive an evaluation and may be placed in a treatment program. Once you've successfully completed the 120-day program, the judge may then release you on probation.
Certain types of crimes make you ineligible for probation, including dangerous felonies that involved the use of a deadly weapon. (Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 557.045, 558.011, 558.019, 559.115, 559.120 (2020).)
When you've been convicted of a Class C, D, or E felony, you may be required to pay a fine of up to $10,000 or double the amount of your financial gain from the crime. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 558.002 (2020).)
Here are some examples of crimes in Missouri within the different felony classes:
A felony conviction becomes part of your permanent criminal record and means that you'd face a harsher sentence if you get in trouble with the law again. Being a convicted felon can hurt you when you're looking for a job or applying to rent a house or apartment. Convicted felons also lose certain rights, including the right to have a gun.
An experienced attorney can determine whether you have any grounds for dismissal of the charges against you, explore plea options, and represent you at trial if it comes to that. Only someone familiar with the local criminal court system and cases like yours will know how good your chances are for a favorable outcome in court or at the negotiating table. A knowledgeable attorney will take all of this into consideration, assist you in making decisions about your case, and protect your rights.