It's like the difference between a four-course meal and a stop at McDonald's for a cheeseburger.
At Douglas County's District Court, the prosecution of a misdemeanor crime can drag on for months or years. A half-block down New Hampshire Street at municipal court, however, the cases are often disposed of in a single court appearance or two appearances - the judicial equivalent of a trip through the drive-through.
"We're kind of set up for mass production, I guess," city prosecutor Jerry Little said.
The difference between the two courts is a key issue in a local group's effort to get the city commission to pass a marijuana ordinance. The group, Drug Policy Forum of Kansas, is asking city commissioners to send first-time marijuana possession and drug-paraphernalia cases into city court, saying it would save taxpayer dollars.
So far, the most vocal opposition to the idea has come from a White House spokesman, who said it's wrong to view marijuana cases as a waste of prosecutors' resources.
The city commission is expected to discuss the idea for the first time at its meeting Tuesday. Here's a look at some of the key differences between how the two courts work:
Fewer hours on cases
In District Court, it's virtually impossible to resolve your case on your first court appearance.
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In a recent marijuana-possession case involving a Kansas University student, the student was caught with marijuana in January 2002 and not charged until October 2003, when lab tests were returned from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
He was ordered to appear in court on November 7, 2003, for a first appearance, where a judge assigned his case to one of the District Court's six divisions. After the first appearance, the man was booked into jail and released on bond.
He was ordered to appear again on Dec. 11, 2003. Before the court date, he reached a diversion agreement with prosecutors, who agreed to dismiss the case if he stayed out of trouble for a year.
City prosecutor Little said that if the cases are sent to municipal court, the person likely would be given a ticket at the scene when caught with marijuana. The ticket would order the person to appear in municipal court before Judge Randy McGrath, probably about two weeks later.
"I automatically enter a not-guilty plea for everyone and give them a trial date," McGrath said, explaining how he handles misdemeanor cases now. "However, if they want to waive their right to counsel and a trial, they can go down the hall and talk to the prosecutor's office about a plea agreement ... We can take care of their plea that day if they want to."
Different trial procedures
A jury trial in District Court usually takes at least a day because of the time required to pick a jury, Dist. Atty. Charles Branson said. But there are no jury trials in municipal court, so a trial can be finished in a matter of hours.
If a person loses a trial in municipal court, he or she can appeal to District Court for a jury trial, McGrath said.
A major difference is that municipal court is not a "court of record," which means it doesn't have a court reporter taking down every word when court is in session.
On average, the court reporters in District Court's six divisions earn $40,872.
Judges in District Court earn $104,522 per year, while the municipal court judge earns about $79,100.
Different kinds of cases
Municipal court handles only lower-level offenses, such as traffic violations, city-code infractions, first- and second-time DUIs, and misdemeanors such as battery or being a minor in possession of alcohol.
District Court handles felony cases, domestic relations, civil lawsuits and estates, to name a few. It also handles minor traffic cases that happen outside the city limits.