Accused of a Crime? What's Next?
Florida Criminal procedure, whether you are accused of a crime that is a felony or a misdemeanor, are relatively the same.
A Notice to Appear Ticket (also referred to as a NTA) is generally issued for small amounts of marijuana, drug paraphernalia, or some driving charges. Law enforcement made the decision not to formally arrest you and take you to jail. But you still have been accused of a crime. The next mandatory court date will be on your ticket. If you went to jail then your next stop is bail.
First appearance usually happens within 24 hours of arrest and it is either in person or through video monitor. Sometimes the hearing is the same day, but sometimes the hearing can be the following date. The bail procedure depends on where you are arrested. For example, in Jacksonville, hearings are conducted first thing in the morning in what's called J1. In Sarasota and Manatee "Firsts" during the work week are scheduled starting at 1:00 p.m.
Generally, crimes in Florida have a scheduled bond. A scheduled bond is a just a set amount of bond required for certain crimes (e.g. $500 for a first time DUI). A scheduled bond allows a person to post bond sooner than waiting to see a judge at First Appearance. But some charges (such as domestic battery, no matter how slight or insignificant) carry no scheduled bond and require a bond to be set by the First Appearance Judge.
In addition to bond amounts, some cases have time requirements. DUI/BUI for instance, require 8 full hours in custody from the time of booking before release. The jails are concerned about liability for releasing an intoxicated person.
What Happens When I See the Judge at First Appearances/J1?
The hearings are usually very quick. The court will inform you of the charges against you, a review of the probable cause affidavit (the Police Report and any witness statements provided) to determine probable cause on the charge(s). The court will hear argument from either your private attorney or the public defender appearing on your behalf. The court will then determine your bond.
If the judge determines that there is not probable cause for your arrest and continued detention, the judge will typically release you. That does not mean that the charges will not be brought in the future, it simply means that the court found that no probable cause was established at the time of First Appearance.
This rarely happens as the State can request a continuance of First Appearance, usually for a maximum of 48 hours, in order to get more evidence to establish probable cause. Additionally, the State can bring law enforcement to First Appearance in order to provide the court with more evidence to hold you.
WARNING: JAIL CALLS ARE RECORDED!
DO NOT TO DISCUSS YOUR CASE WITH ANYONE! Not inmates, not friends, and not family. The only person you should talk to is your lawyer. Jail phones and video monitors are monitored by the police and prosecutors!
Generally, Arraignment happens next. Although many people think the police file charges, in Florida the State Attorney is responsible for cases. The State Attorney must file an formal charging document called an Information. But they can choose to proceed on a criminal citation. Arraignment is a formal reading of the charges and the entering of a plea. Possible pleas are Not Guilty, No Content, or Guilty. If you hire an attorney, they generally file a Notice of Appearance and a written Not Guilty.
If the written Not Guilty plea is filed in a timely manner, then neither you, nor your attorney are required to attend this hearing.
Many times before arraignment, I have already had my team of private investigators collecting evidence and getting witness statements. Sometimes we have already contacted the prosecutor on your behalf to discuss the facts of the case. And in some cases, we can present favorable evidence to the State, which may lead to a decision to not file charges at all.
Pretrial Conference or Case Management
The next court date is a Pretrial Conference ("PTC") or Case Management ("CM"). Same thing just different names. In felony cases it's called case management or case scheduling. PTC or CM are scheduled several weeks after the arraignment.
The purpose of the PTC/CM is to update the court as to the progression of your case. The Court is concerned with whether or not the State has provided discovery, and when is the case going to be ready for trial. The date of your trial may or may not be postponed depending on any issues with further negotiations, discovery, availability of witnesses, or even conflicts in the attorneys’ schedule.
It is usually at pretrial conference when the defense finally receives most of the evidence in your case and has received an offer from the State. You may choose to accept the prosecutor’s offer and resolve the case at the pretrial conference. If, however, there are no necessary continuances and an agreement has not been reached, the judge will set a date for your trial.
In Florida, the State is generally required to give you all the names of witnesses they intend to call at trial, and provide you will all the evidence they have (both for and against you). All this information is called “Discovery.”
Whether your case is set for trial or postponed for another PTC/CM, the defense may elect for file a myriad of motions on your behalf. A "dispositive motion" is a motion that resolves the case if granted. Motions to Dismiss or Suppress Evidence are examples of motions that could end the case without you having to go to trial.
At an evidentiary hearing on these motions, the arresting officer usually gives a testimony. In some cases, an expert witness may also be asked to testify. Your lawyer will be given the opportunity to question and cross examine all witnesses, as well as be given the opportunity to present evidence, testimony and argument.
Criminal Jury Trial
At a jury trial, the government tries to prove their case against you. If the jury finds you not guilty, you will be free to leave. If you are found guilty, then most likely you will be taken into custody. A sentencing hearing is usually conducted. The sentence imposed may include costs, fines, community service, and possibly even incarceration. Sentencing usually happens a few weeks after the verdict. That gives you time to prepare mitigation to present to the court in an attempt to get the least amount of punishment.
If you find yourself accused of a crime, do not hesitate to contact me.