Combs Waterkotte Interview Part Three

Combs Waterkotte is Missouri’s Leading Criminal Defense and DWI/DUI Law Firm, with over 10,000 successful cases handled. This interview serves as an introduction to our firm and is part of a five-part series designed to educate, inform, and assist you during a stressful time.

Episode Transcript

Scott Michael Dunn: We’ll wrap up DUI and move on to a couple more subjects. We’ll cover some more questions.

But one of the biggest fears and DUI is “Am I gonna ever drive again?” Can I possibly get off from being charged with a DUI? How do I get back on the road, and am I ever going to get back on the road? It’s a big question.

Chris Combs: It’s funny, our wives have to hear us on the phone talking to prospective clients all the time. So this is the infamous, “A DWI is two cases in one.” You’ve got the license side and then you’ve got your criminal charge of driving while intoxicated.

Your case will diverge to one road or the other, depending on whether or not they collected blood, breath, or urine. If they collect blood, breath, or urine, then you’re challenging that and you’re looking at, typically for a first offense, 30 days hard and 90 days soft suspension.

If you refuse on a first offense, typically we’re able to save a license from ever being suspended.

Scott Michael Dunn: Wow. Another reason [to] shut up and not take the test.

Chris Combs: 100%.

Scott Michael Dunn: Love that.

Now, felonies. You’re talking about felonies, murder cases and such too. One of the really important questions in this that I was wondering to, there’s some kind of three strike rule in Missouri. What is that?

Steve Waterkotte: Well, that actually deals more at the federal level. I’ll start with this basic premise on a felony case. You have five classes, which is relatively new. We added an E class about seven years ago or so.

We have E’s up to four years, D’s up to seven, C [is] three to 10, B felony [is] 5 to 15.

Scott Michael Dunn: So the letters you’re saying are the class of the –

Steve Waterkotte: First degree murder is a Class A.

Chris Combs: The most serious level.

Steve Waterkotte: E is the lowest felony. Again, that’s why it’s only up to four years. Whereas obviously on a felony murder one, [it’s] life, which we define as 30 years in Missouri.

We have five levels here in Missouri. A’s and B’s are the most serious of felonies. I mean, every felony is serious at the end of the day. But obviously the stakes change, your sentencing ranges change. The higher level charged, the more likely you may be going to trial.

Plea deals, if – I just had this conversation with a client. I said, on an A or B felony, your plea deal is probably going to be prison time in many cases, Much easier to roll the dice and say, “Let’s go to trial,” versus – an E felony, more often than not on those kind of cases, you’re probably more looking at probation. Unless there’s a history with a client or extenuating circumstances. But that’s kind of a general rule.

Scott Michael Dunn: What do they take away from you when you get charged with [a felony] or convicted? What’s the difference?

Chris Combs: When you’re charged with a felony, then you have a pending case. You’ve been charged. You’re innocent until proven guilty, of course. But, the charge alone, and with technology these days, anyone can find it on the internet. So, it still handicaps people from employment and housing and things like that.

Steve Waterkotte: Voting. Gun rights. That’s a big one.

Scott Michael Dunn: That’s just “charged”?

Steve Waterkotte: No, excuse me. I’m glad we made the distinction.

Scott Michael Dunn: That would be conviction.

Steve Waterkotte: That’s what’s at stake is what I’m saying. Again, E felony, although you’re likely not to go to prison – I know we kind of alluded to this earlier. There [are] still other things than simply prison at stake. We have a lot of folks that [are] big hunters. We live in Missouri. A lot of people want a gun to protect their house or their family. Those are concerns that we often deal with even on a case where you’re saying, you’re almost certainly not going to prison on this case. It’s an e felony or whatever the case may be. But again, we have clients all the time, “I’m an avid hunter.” If that’s your passion, that’s a big thing.

Steve Waterkotte: I’m passionate about sports. If they said, “Hey, if you get convicted, you can’t watch sports anymore.” That would be a major deal. These are things that are major parts of who they are. It kind of underscores the importance that it’s that prison alone that we’re talking about. It’s driving in the DWI sense. It’s voting rights, it’s hunting, it’s housing, that’s a big one.

Chris Combs: Employment.

Steve Waterkotte: Employment, obviously. A lot of clients who are charged with felonies, typically lose their job, just based on the charge. Most employers want to see the case resolved and they don’t want an employee that they think may go to prison. We see that a lot, people losing employment, just based on the charge alone, not an actual conviction.

Scott Michael Dunn: Scary just to be charged with a felony, already, it’s scary. What to expect, right? You get charged, then you find an attorney, then you have to get bond, potentially?

Steve Waterkotte: Yeah. On your lower level felonies, more often than not though, what we call “issue a summons,” which is basically a notice to appear in court. We’ve kind of moved away from all felonies being warrants, in light of some more progressive reform [in the] criminal justice system. And it’s a good thing.

Certainly on any A, B and C, even probably – would you agree C?

Chris Combs: Absolutely.

Steve Waterkotte: A, B and C felonies, almost certainly a warrant was being issued. Which is when police come and find you and lock you up. Sometimes it’s a no bond. Sometimes it’s a high bond to begin with, $50,000 cash only or whatever the case may be. Most folks don’t have $50 grand laying around in a duffel bag.

It’s our job then to start conducting a thorough interview with our client or the family member to get as much background. So we’re looking for favorable information. What is this person – again, back to what I said, not a case, it’s a person, right? We don’t view it as a case. This is the example we used this past week with this client that was locked up. We’re talking with her family and saying, “Hey, what’s her education level?” She is a lifelong Missourian, St. Louisian. What [are] her ties to the community? What’s her employment? All these things that [are] part of our initial intake, because we ultimately are going to be arguing for a bond reduction.

Scott Michael Dunn: Sure. A bond reduction means less money.

Steve Waterkotte: We’re trying to get it less. Because again, they normally start high where you’re at $50,000 cash only. Sometimes no bond. The case that we were just talking about is a no bond. So until we get in before a judge and say, “Listen, this client employed here. She has stable housing. She owns a home. She’s educated. She has a college degree.”

Chris Combs: Children.

Steve Waterkotte: Children in many cases. And so we are trying to get as much information from a client at the intake level, or from a loved one or family member, to put together the most compelling case to a judge of why this person deserves to be released pending trial.

Scott Michael Dunn: Well, I would want to be released.

Steve Waterkotte: I said this to Chris. We’ve never had a client that said, “Hey, I’m fine here. I’m going to chill. You guys do your thing.”

Scott Michael Dunn: “My kids drive me crazy. Work sucks. Three squares. The bars are kind of uncomfortable.”

Chris Combs: People get tablets now in some of these jails.

Scott Michael Dunn: Oh my gosh. They just make it nicer and nicer.

Steve Waterkotte: We’ve never had a client in all of our years practicing who said, “Hey, don’t worry about, don’t do that bond reduction. I’m good here.”

Scott Michael Dunn: Duck feather pillows.

Steve Waterkotte: Again, it’s the number one thing when we get hired and somebody’s locked up.

Chris Combs: Just getting them out. Top priority.

Steve Waterkotte: Again, that’s a client intake, getting in as much information about that individual as possible.

Scott Michael Dunn: What about expunged? People throw that word around expunged. What is it? A through E likelihood?

Steve Waterkotte: Two different types of expungement. So let’s say you’re arrested.

Scott Michael Dunn: Can we just say it’s somebody else?

Steve Waterkotte: Okay. We’ll say it’s Joe Smith. Sorry, to any Joe Smiths out there. Jane Doe was arrested, but never formally charged. So the police make an arrest. They send it to a prosecutor. Let’s start with the premise of police arrest, prosecutors charge, okay? They arrest them, send the report to a prosecutor, and the prosecutor says, “You know what, there’s insufficient evidence for us to charge this person.”

Well, that person still has an arrest, right? Despite the fact that there was no case formally charged, There’s no court action. That person still has to deal with that arrest.

And so there’s two different types of expungements. There’s an expungement of arrest records for a situation like that. And then there’s an expungement of criminal records. And that would be like, you were formally charged, you pled guilty. So we have two different types of expungement in Missouri. I’ll say this, when we first started practicing law, it was next to impossible.

Chris Combs: Very tough.

Steve Waterkotte: I mean, there was few cases, a handful of cases, that met the very difficult criteria of an expungement. Again, because of progressive reform [in] criminal justice, throughout the country, really, kind of post Ferguson, which is obviously here in our backyard. A lot of reform in a great way because it allowed a lot more people to be eligible for an expungement.

So I always tell people, if you have an old criminal charge, an old arrest, call us. Then we kind of do a screening to see if they meet the eligibility requirements.

Scott Michael Dunn: That’s huge. Everybody out there watching this should be listening, if you’ve ever been charged.

Steve Waterkotte: A lot of people don’t know it. It usually crops up in the sense that they went and got a job.

Chris Combs: Someone ran a background check.

Steve Waterkotte: Ran a background check, try to get [a] nursing license or whatever licensing. And that’s typically [when] we get the call, because there’s a lot of people that don’t know.

I should say this too. There’s a third expungement statute solely for DWIs. Now that one, there’s a 10 year wait period. The other ones are less stringent. So there’s technically three different expungement statutes to pursue. A lot of people still don’t know that.

Chris Combs: One year for a misdemeanor.

Steve Waterkotte: You got that old college DWI, it’s not really creating any issues right now for you. But you know what? If you ever get another one, that’s still going to be fair game for a prosecutor to look at, and you could be charged as what we call a prior offender. And if you have an old one, it probably doesn’t create an issue, but it’s best to get it expunged, wipe that clean from your record.

Scott Michael Dunn: Any record sucks.

Steve Waterkotte: Yeah.

Chris Combs: You’ve got four types of records. You have a driving record, an arrest record, your criminal record through NCIC – the National Crime Information Center. Then you’ve got DFS/CPS – Child Protective Services. So, everyone has four records. Expungement statutes lightened up in Missouri. Steve handles a lot of them. It turns people’s lives around and opens up a lot of doors.

Scott Michael Dunn: That’s cool.

And yeah, I mean, it turns people’s lives around and opens up a lot of doors.

Steve Waterkotte: I think the two most common mistakes are folks that go, “Well, my case was dismissed.” We get that a lot, “My case was dismissed, it’s off my record.” In fact I literally just had a client come in to sign her expungement paperwork today – that we’re about to file. I had this very conversation with her. She said, “Well my case is dismissed.” You gotta understand, that arrest occurred, right? You don’t have a conviction on your criminal background, but that arrest still occurred.

Scott Michael Dunn: I didn’t know that. I don’t think a lot of people know that.

Steve Waterkotte: A lot of people don’t. Again, because the case was dismissed they think they don’t have to worry about it. It usually pops up when they get that job promotion, when they go change careers or, want a background check to be a coach for their kids T-ball team or rec center, and those pop up and then they call us.

Scott Michael Dunn: Wow. That’s big news. This expungement thing’s really big news.

Steve Waterkotte: It was huge. Like I said, the fact that it opened up – I couldn’t even put a number on it, because prior to the changes in the Missouri law, very, very, very few people would qualify. You get these calls and one out of every 20 calls might qualify.

Now when we get the calls, it’s probably 50 percent or more that qualify. We do an initial screening on them because we’re not going to say, “Pay us,” and take their money. “Oh, by the way, you’re not qualified.” So we’ll do an initial screening, make sure they meet the statutory requirements. Then ultimately what we do is have a hearing before judge.

Scott Michael Dunn: And this is a screening they should say yes to.

Steve Waterkotte: This is a screening that we’ve got to checkmark. And there’s some people that call us still, “Hey, I’m looking to expunge my old manslaughter or homicide or something.” That’s not expungeable.

Scott Michael Dunn: I would say you’re awfully nonchalant about, “Hey, I just want to expunge – I off’d this dude can you hook me up?

Steve Waterkotte: Usually they’re calling 30 years after. So if you have an old criminal charge, an old arrest, it’s probably worth exploring. It’s just a phone call to us to say, “Hey, you, you meet these qualifications.”

Scott Michael Dunn: So that’s important. Like a murder charge or violence charge or whatever kinds of a class. So what’s expungeable? Like A, B, C, D, E?

Steve Waterkotte: As a general rule have what we call dangerous felonies in Missouri. I don’t have the list memorized. But it’s kind of common sense. Any domestic violence felonies. Assaults, violent crime, dangerous crimes.

Chris Combs: Robbery.

Steve Waterkotte: Robbery, murder, rape, sex offenses, child sex offenses. Those ones are not expungeable.

Virtually all drug cases are [expungeable]. Fraud, bad check, DWI after 10 years, misdemeanors, assaults, stealings. Again, as a general rule, dangerous felonies. And it’s kind of common sense. Like, “Hey, can I go get my old a child molestation charge, expunged?” That’s a no.

Scott Michael Dunn: Yeah, no. Let’s never change that rule.

Steve Waterkotte: And that’s fine. There’s a registry for those folks.

Scott Michael Dunn: Right, and stay on it.

Steve Waterkotte: Most of it’s kind of common sense.

Scott Michael Dunn: But hard for people like me and many others. You guys are educated. You’ve got experience. You got 10,000 cases, right? You’ve been through it, around it, up and down it. And for us out there, we’re like, “I don’t know what any of that means.”

Steve Waterkotte: That’s why it’s worth a call. Like I said, we could probably screen it within 10 minutes of talking to one of our lawyers. [We] ask pertinent questions. You don’t meet the qualifications or yes you do.

Scott Michael Dunn: But worth the call.

Chis Combs: Of course.

Steve Waterkotte: Worth the call.

Scott Michael Dunn: It’s worth the call. Because it could very well, like you guys said, change your life.

Steve Waterkotte: Yeah. And we don’t charge for the screening.

Scott Michael Dunn: It can protect you from multiple offender type citations. Just because they’re like, “Well, you did it before.”

Steve Waterkotte: And the thing about it too is you don’t know what you’re doing in five years. Although your job now, or your current position or situation in life now, those old charges aren’t doing anything. But all of a sudden, you get a new career opportunity, a new job, you have a child and then you want to be a boy scout, girl scout leader. Now that’s going to crop up.

If you need Missouri’s leading criminal defense team to defend your rights and freedom, speak to a criminal defense attorney today at (314) 900-HELP or contact us online for a free case review.