It’s been a busy year in St. Charles County Circuit Court, with criminal felony cases up more than 13 percent, due in part to criminal suspects from east of the Missouri River.
That’s the word from Presiding Judge Chris McDonough, who reviews all the criminal indictments in the 11th Judicial Circuit Court.
“I have noticed that there is certainly a trend, that the violent crimes being charged by indictment—it’s almost always cross-river crimes,” McDonough says. “I mean, you have people coming from St. Louis City or County committing auto thefts, car break-ins, the burglaries. It’s a big issue.”
For the year 2023, some 4,580 criminal felony cases were filed in the county—compared to 4,045 last year. That’s a 13.2 percent increase in criminal felony cases.
At publication time, no numbers were available from the court on where all the people charged with felony crimes in St. Charles County in 2023 came from. But about 2/3rds of the people awaiting trial in the St. Charles County jail live outside the county.
Of the 382 people now in the jail, 36% come from St. Louis County, another 12% from St. Louis City, while 4% each come from Lincoln County, Metro Illinois, and the Kansas City area; and 3% each come from out of state and the area surrounding St. Charles County.
The percentage of the population in the jail now from St. Charles County is 34%.
Judge McDonough says the ongoing police crackdown on cross-river crime has driven up the number of arrests and court cases here. Another factor driving up the numbers is drugs, which seem to be the root of many cases.
“You have people addicted to these drugs who are out there robbing people because they’re trying to get money to fund their drug habits,” McDonough says. “The same is true of burglaries or catalytic converter thefts.”
McDonough says the Circuit Court judges and juries here continue to have a reputation for being “tough on crime, but fair.” He says he hears about it from some defendants during sentencing.
“I’ve actually heard this from some of the bad guys. I’ve heard things like, ‘Yeah, I know, I shouldn’t have come to St. Charles County to do this … you don’t want to go to St. Charles County … St. Charles County doesn’t play.’ That sort of thing,” McDonough says.
One thing the Court seldom sees is murder cases. McDonough says they usually have about five a year, compared to hundreds of murder cases elsewhere around the region.
Two murder cases went to trial in 2022 and two murder cases went to trial in 2023.
“We don’t want any more murder cases,” McDonough says. “I think a big part of the reason people choose to live in St. Charles County, as opposed to St. Louis City or St. Louis County, why people choose to raise their kids here, why people choose to locate their businesses here, it’s because by-and-large it is a very safe community.”
Other trends on the docket:
- A rise in probate cases involving people experiencing a mental health crisis (frequently with co-occurring substance abuse issues), people facing 96-hour and other mental health commitments, and guardianship cases for people who are physically or mentally incapacitated.
- Commercial litigation. More businesses are starting here, which means more business disputes.
- Breach of contract and employment discrimination claims.
- Medical malpractice cases.
The Circuit is also seeing more personal injury cases, thanks to state legislation that prevents lawyers from venue-shopping cases to more plaintiff-friendly circuits.
McDonough says the jurors in St. Charles County are “great.”
“They show up. They’re attentive, they take their duty seriously. In these criminal cases, when you have jury sentencing, our juries tend to be very, very tough, especially on violent crime, drug crimes, sex crimes. And that’s just a reflection of our community standards,” McDonough says.
The St. Charles County Circuit Court consists of 16 divisions—15 judges and one Probate Commissioner.