Process of a Criminal Case
The legal process can feel overwhelming, especially when you’re facing the prospect of a conviction and a criminal record. Knowing and understanding the process can help alleviate some of that anxiety, restoring a sense of control. Below, we discuss the criminal process in Florida following an arrest. If you have any questions, or if you’ve been arrested for a crime in South Florida, call a knowledgeable West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer at The Law Office of Scott N. Richardson, P.A. today.
Arrest or Notice to Appear
In Florida, the criminal process can begin in one of two ways: arrest or notice to appear. If you are the subject of a warrant, or the police have reasonable cause to believe you have committed or are in the process of committing a crime, the police can arrest you and take you to jail. You’ll be booked, fingerprinted, etc., and kept in custody awaiting your first appearance. The process will begin almost immediately, and you should have your first court appearance within 48 hours.
Alternatively, the police can choose to issue you a notice to appear in court. The notice will designate a place and time for you to appear and answer to the charges. Typically, a notice to appear will be issued if the defendant faces misdemeanor charges and is compliant with law enforcement. The police issue a notice to appear because they have good reason to believe you will show up in court rather than flee. You will be released from custody and you will not be forced to wait in jail until your first appearance. If you do not show up to your appointed court appearance, the judge could issue a bench warrant for your arrest.
If you were arrested and detained, within 24-48 hours you’ll be brought before a judge. The judge will advise you of the charges against you, determine whether there was probable cause for your arrest, and maybe consider releasing you on bond. You do not need to (and should not) speak at the first appearance, other than to request an attorney if you do not already have one. You are allowed an attorney at this appearance, who can help protect your rights and try to get you out on bond.
After your arrest, the prosecution will review your case and determine whether to bring charges. They must follow certain timetables depending upon the nature of the offense. If formal charges are filed against you, you’ll be given notice of your arraignment. At the arraignment, the judge will inform you of the charges and ask you to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. If you have an attorney, and this is a state (rather than federal) case, your attorney will enter the plea on your behalf. If you cannot afford an attorney, you can ask the court to appoint you a public defender at this time.
Plea Bargaining and Case Preparation
Between the arraignment and the trial date, your attorney will gather evidence relating to your case and build your defense. At any time during this process, the prosecution and the defense can reach agreement on a plea bargain. A plea bargain can technically be reached at any time before final adjudication–even after trial has begun.
A plea bargain typically involves the defendant agreeing to plead guilty to a lesser charge or in exchange for the prosecution recommending a lower sentence. The weaker the prosecution’s case, the more generous the plea bargain may be.
Eventually, if the case continues, the parties will attend a pretrial conference. The plea can take place at the pretrial conference or before. If no plea is likely to be reached, the trial date will be set at the pretrial conference.
The trial takes place in a courthouse, presided over by the judge. The prosecution will present evidence and witnesses to prove to a six- or twelve-member jury that you are guilty of one or more offenses. You and your attorney have the right to question that evidence, cross-examine the witnesses, and present evidence and witnesses of your own. The defendant has the right to testify if they choose to do so, and the right not to testify. If the jury decides to acquit the defendant, the case is closed and the defendant is released.
The jury must unanimously decide to convict or acquit. If the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, the case will be declared a mistrial and reset for a new trial.
If you are convicted, you’ll be scheduled for a sentencing hearing. The judge determines the sentence based on a variety of factors. The prosecution will present their recommendation, often informed by the probation department, and the defense (by and through their attorney) can present mitigating factors and ask for a reduced sentence, including probation.
If you are convicted of one or more offenses, you have the right to appeal your conviction to a higher court, unless you explicitly waive that right (such as through a plea bargain). There are specific criteria and deadlines for bringing an appeal, which your attorney will explain to you. To succeed on appeal, you’ll have to show there was a serious error of law or fact that either demonstrates the case should be retried or that you should not be convicted and your case should be dismissed.
Call The Law Office of Scott N. Richardson, P.A. Today
If you’ve been arrested or charged with a crime in Florida, you need assistance from a seasoned criminal defense lawyer. The Law Office of Scott N. Richardson, P.A. has dedicated more than forty years to litigating criminal matters in Florida, and founding attorney Scott Richardson has been recognized as one of the preeminent members of his practice. Our criminal defense legal team is here to help protect your rights, your future, and your freedom. Contact our dedicated West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer today.