Arrested in Florida. Now What?

Whether you are arrested in Florida for a Felony or a Misdemeanor, the procedures are relatively the same. Due to the complexities of most felony cases, the State Attorney (“State”) is given more time to bring your case to trial. The following is the typical life cycle of a criminal case after an arrest in Florida.

First Appearance

Whether you have been arrested with or without a warrant, you will either be offered a scheduled bond, depending on the charge, you will not be given a bond or the ability to post a bond before being brought before a judge. For instance, a possession of marijuana charge will typically result in a scheduled bond being offered before First Appearance. Even a defendant with a bad prior record can typically bond out on a lesser charge if they move fast enough.

Certain charges, however, have no bond attached with that particular charge. For instance, if you are arrested for domestic battery, no matter how severe or insignificant the situation was alleged to be, the bond must be set by the court. That initial court appearance–the first time you get brought to court–is called First Appearance. Again, First Appearance usually happens within 24 hours of being arrested.

Sometimes the hearing is the same day, but sometimes the hearing can be the following date. It depends on what county you were arrested and at what time. For example, in Jacksonville, Florida first appearances are conducted first thing in the morning. In Sarasota and Manatee first appearance is at 1:30 in the afternoon.

Some cases have times for release in addition to a bond. DUI cases for example. If you are charged with a DUI you will be required to spend a full 8-hours in jail prior to getting bonded out (whether by a scheduled bond or a first appearance). Even if you post the bond, you will have to stay for 8-hours.

First appearance usually takes place in the detention facility and it can be done in-person or the hearing can be conducted through a remote, closed-circuit television.

When will I see the Judge?

First appearance is held within 24 hours of your being arrested. At this hearing, a judge informs you of your charges and reviews the police reports to determine whether there is probable cause for your detention. You will also be informed of your right to an attorney. The judge will determine your bond. Sometimes the probable cause affidavits filed by law enforcement are defecting–meaning that what is written does not establish the probable cause that the alleged crime was committed by the person alleged to have committed it. In other words, the police arrested you when they shouldn’t have.

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!

This is as good a time as any to remind you NOT TO DISCUSS YOUR CASE WITH ANYONE! Not other inmates, not friends, and not family. The only person you should talk to is your lawyer. Most, if not all, of the jail phones are monitored directly by the prosecutors! Many a case was made by an inmate making admissions over the phone.

It is important that you contact an attorney right away as there can be deadlines that you may not know about. In DUI cases you have just ten days to challenge your driver’s license from being suspended!

Arraignment

In Florida, the very next time that you get to go to court is referred to as the Arraignment. Although many people think the police charge you with a crime, the State Attorney must file an Information or elect to proceed on the criminal citation in order for the process to begin. Arraignment is a formal hearing wherein you are charged with a crime and are to make your plea of not guilty, No Contest, or guilty. If you hire an attorney, they generally file a Notice of Appearance and a written Not Guilty Plea. 

The written not guilty plea is a formal document filed with the court that simply states that you are pleading not guilty and you are demanding a trial by jury. If the written Not Guilty plea is filed in a timely manner, then neither you, nor your attorney are required to attend this hearing.

Although, the State can have Arraignment continued. But remember, if you are in jail, the State must file upon a case within a certain timeframe (that’s the subject of another blog article). If the State does not, you have the right to be released without posting a bond.

Pretrial Conference or Case Management

The next step of the court process is a pretrial conference. In felony cases, this hearing may be referred to as case management or case scheduling, but pretrial conference and case management are essentially the same thing. PTC or CM, as they are referred to on most court paperwork, are hearings scheduled several weeks after the arraignment. The purpose of the pretrial conference is to update the court as to the progression of your case. The Court is concerned, primarily, 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.” Discovery from the State, however, is frequently incomplete at this stage. 

Pretrial Motions

Whether your case is set for trial or postponed for another pretrial conference, the defense may elect for file a myriad of motions on your behalf. A motion is just another word for petition or request. 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.

Although we hope that the police try to obey all of the rules, the circumstance of each case is different. Some officers make mistakes. Some of those mistakes may be so severe that the court will dismiss the case or suppress the evidence. Ensure that you are honest with your lawyer about what happened, because you may have a defense to the search of your house, car or person.

Criminal Trials

The vast majority of cases are resolved before reaching the date of trial. All defendants, however, have a constitutional right to a trial by jury.

At a jury trial, the State will aim to prove their case against you. If the jury finds you not guilty, you will be able to walk out of the courtroom as a free individual. If you are found guilty, however, you will be given a sentence. The sentence 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.

How long does the average case take?

It is impossible to determine the length of each case, but on average, most misdemeanors are resolved within three months – 6 months. Most felony cases last about twice as long. In any event, you, as a defendant, are entitled to a Speedy Trial

How much will this cost?

Our fees are case specific and they depend on the nature of the charge and complexity of each matter. But unlike some firms, we do not bill criminal cases by the hour or à la carte. In other words, you know exactly what our representation is going to cost you up-front. There are no hidden fees or charges!

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