In Oklahoma, when you are charged with an offense your case may be tried at the federal, state, or municipal court level, depending upon the nature of the charges. Examples of municipal courts include Midwest City, Del City, Choctaw, and Spencer courts. This article will focus on the Oklahoma Municipal Courts system, your rights in that system, and legal strategies to maximizing your protections throughout that process.
Oklahoma Municipal Court System
When an Oklahoma city or town creates a Municipal Court they are creating a court which handles violations of their local ordinances. Municipal Courts do not hear cases involving state or federal laws. Under Oklahoma law, when a municipality creates a Municipal Court, that court will be “of record” or “not of record”, depending upon the population of the city. Only cities with a population exceeding 200,000 will be “of record”, limiting Municipal Courts of record to Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
A court of record is a court in which a court reporter takes down a record (transcript) of proceedings. That written record (and all other evidence introduced) is preserved and used during the appeals process. In contrast, in courts not of record, motions and pleadings are not entered and proceedings are not recorded. The difference between these types of courts is your legal rights to appeal and the trial strategies you should utilize.
Appeals from a Municipal Court Not of Record
After a final judgment by a Municipal Court not of record, a party may appeal to a state district court in the county where the Municipal Court sits. However, appeals must be filed within 10 days of the Municipal Court’s verdict. This appeal will result in a new trial altogether, completely replacing the final judgment of the Municipal Court. In addition, a defendant must post a cash bond equal to twice the fine being appealed. Suppose you are convicted of a DUI at the municipal level and the court imposes an $800.00 fine. In order to appeal the municipal courts findings, the court will require that you post a $1,600.00 bond.
Appeals from a Municipal Court of Record
An appeal from a Municipal Court of record is dramatically different than an appeal from a Municipal Court not of record. An appeal from a Municipal Court of record does not result in an all new trial. The judgment of the Municipal Court will not be set aside unless the district court court finds that the lower court’s final judgment was a result of some error of law.
Right to a Jury Trial
You have the right to a jury trial in all municipal and state district courts. However, it isn’t always in your best interest to request a jury. At the municipal level, the court must be able to impose a fine in excess of $500.00 in order to have a trial by jury. When appealing to a district court, the defendant has the right to a jury trial so long as the possible fine exceeds $200.00. However, the city will charge you the expense of impanelling a jury. These costs can exceed $1,500.00
Municipal Court Strategy
It can be difficult to win a not guilty verdict in municipal courts not of record. The reasons are lengthy and will be addressed in a different article. As a result, Sansone Howell typically advises either negotiating a plea agreement with the city prosecutor or waiving your right to a jury trial at the municipal court. A client will spend as much or more money on a Municipal Court jury trial when they could use the same money to appeal the case to state district court. However, every case is unique, and we strongly encourage you consult an attorney regarding any charges you are facing.