Florida Criminal Procedure
For the benefit of our clients we have briefly explained the procedure used in Florida courts for criminal offenses. This is written in layman's terms with links to more detailed information should you want to know more.
The Arrest / Summons to Appear
Every criminal case starts either with an arrest or a summons to appear in court. An arrest lands a person in jail. A summons orders a person to appear in court on s specified day.
Your First Appearance
For someone who has been arrested and booked into jail the first appearance is usually within 24 hours of the arrest. It involves being brought before a judge and the judge makes a determination regarding probable cause and typically will set or amend the terms of pretrial release. A person can bond out prior to the first appearance if a bond has been set for that offense (see also Bond Hearings). Some offenses, such as domestic violence, require that the accused person first see a judge at first appearance before any conditions of pretrial release have been set.
Note: You may not have control over what you wear to your first appearance but you will for all other court appearances. Our clients must always dress appropriately (see our Clients Are First page).
Arraignment on a Criminal Case
An arraignment is a court date when a judge informs the accused what the formal charges being charged against him or her are. This court date is usually about 30 days after the arrest. This is also where the accused makes his or her initial plea. If the accused has hired a criminal defense attorney prior to the arraignment the attorney will waive the appearance of his client to the arraignment and enter a plea of not guilty for him or her.
Criminal Defendant Pretrial Motions and Hearing
Between the arraignment and the first pretrial hearing most of the defense motions need to be filed. The defense attorney can ask for additional time but that request will also be considered a waiver of speedy trial time periods (See column on right side of page). Motion hearings can be set either before or after the first pretrial hearing date. The pretrial hearing is where the court wants to know whether the case will be set for trial, continued, or set for plea.
Discovery (State's Evidence)
Every defendant is given a "reasonable" time to prepare for trial. However, it is difficult to prepare when the prosecutor is obligated to give the defendant the discovery (evidence, or copies thereof) and hasn't. Discovery is an ongoing obligation by both the state and the defendant.
Criminal Plea Negotiations and Plea Offers
"Acknowledging guilt and accepting responsibility by an early plea respond[s] to certain basic premises in the law and its function. . . . Plea bargains are the result of complex negotiations suffused with uncertainty, and defense attorneys must make careful strategic choices in balancing opportunities and risks. The opportunities, of course, include pleading to a lesser charge and obtaining a lesser sentence, as compared with what might be the outcome not only at trial but also from a later plea offer if the case grows stronger and prosecutors find stiffened resolve. [The risks], in addition to the obvious one of losing the chance for a defense verdict [at trial], is that an early plea bargain might come before the prosecution finds its case is getting weaker, not stronger. The State's case can begin to fall apart as stories change, witnesses become unavailable, and new suspects are identified." - PREMO v. MOORE. U.S. Supreme Court. Case No. 09-658. 22 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S749 (Jan 19, 2011).
We all have a right to a trial if we are accused by the state of committing a crime. The trial shall be conducted before a jury of our peers. Today, we live in such a large community the term "peers" becomes quite watered down. But this right is one of many that the accused has to defend himself.
A sentence occurs either after a plea of guilty or no contest or after a jury verdict of guilty. A sentence is either a term of incarceration or a fine or both. A judge can withhold the sentence and place a defendant on probation. Probation is in lieu of a sentence but there are times when a judge can impose a split sentence (sentence followed by probation). The maximum sentences are determined by the law and are based on the level of offense and nature of the crime.
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