Arrest And Detention Or Notice To Appear
When facing Florida criminal charges, you will either be brought right to jail or receive a written summons, called a notice to appear, that informs you of a court hearing in your case. Do not miss that court date for any reason. If you have to reschedule, contact the court as far in advance as possible. Some of the following hearings and court appearances may be combined or called by different names, but there are a few main court meetings that you will have to be present for as your case goes toward trial.
First Appearance Hearing
If you are arrested and booked into jail, the prosecutor will schedule your first appearance before a judge within 24 hours. The issues that are covered include:
- Counsel for the accused: You have a right to an attorney to represent you in court, and this is one right that every expert recommends that you take advantage of when charged with a crime. This person is your advocate and your advisor throughout the process and is one person who has a lot of power to help your situation improve as much as it can.
- The charges against you: You will get a copy of the written documents that have been filed against you, which explain in detail what they say you have done in violation of the law.
- Bail: The judge will review the allegations against you, assess the type of crime, and consider your personal and financial situation to determine the amount of bail or bond that must be paid while you wait for trial. If bail is set then you must pay the bail or bond amount in order to be released while you await a trial on the formal criminal charges.
- Pretrial conditions: The prosecutor and judge will determine the conditions that are reasonable in your case so that you keep in contact and they maintain supervision over you while the legal charges proceed through the process.
At the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor presents the basics of the case against you and explains the evidence that they will use in their attempts to prove the case at trial. The standard of evidence at this early stage is probable cause, which means the prosecutor only has to establish that it is reasonable to believe that you have committed the offenses that they’ve charged you with. Later, they will have to meet the much higher standard of proof – beyond a reasonable doubt – to get a conviction on the charges.
The judge formally reads the charges against you and asks for a plea. If you plead guilty or nolo contendre (which essentially means that you don’t dispute the charges but do not admit guilt), then the case is usually ready for a sentencing hearing within a few weeks. If you plead not guilty, the judge sets the case for trial.
While it is not an official part of the criminal trial process, there is usually some plea bargaining that goes on sometime between when the charges are filed and when the case comes to court. Sometimes the bargaining may have to do with evidence that got excluded in a pretrial motion, which weakens the prosecutor’s case, so they offer to let you plead guilty to a lower charge. Or perhaps a witness is unclear about some key facts, and the prosecutor worries they may lose the case at trial.
It is always up to you – with the advice of your attorney – to decide how to take a plea bargain offer. It is usually a bit of a gamble for both sides, depending on the facts of the case. A trial typically offers a chance for either side to win or lose, depending on the verdict. A bargain can give both sides some amount of control over the result.
Pretrial And Trial
When all the evidence has been gathered and the arguments prepared, the case goes to trial. Your trial can be before a judge alone, called a bench trial, or you can have a jury trial, where the judge makes decisions and rulings on issues of evidence and law, and the jury views all the evidence and hears the witnesses and makes a decision about the verdict. Often, bench trials are quicker, and you can usually get a verdict in a much shorter time.
Jury trials involve many complicated steps that usually go on over a week or more, in and out of court. The trial starts with jury selection, where the lawyers on both sides go over a group of potential jurors to pick the eight or so who will sit on the jury in your case. A jury trial often has to start and stop, with members of the jury being taken to and from the courtroom for breaks, and so they are out of hearing of the many legal arguments that the judge has to decide.
When your case is over, you will either be found not guilty, which means that you are done with the process and free to go, guilty as charged, or guilty of other offenses that were included within the main charges, depending on the facts of the case. Either way, a finding of guilt will lead to the next step, a sentencing hearing.
Usually, within a few weeks after the trial, the court will schedule a hearing to announce the sentence for the crime(s). All sides review the evidence of the case, consider the character and nature of the defendant, and come up with a proposed sentence that fits their view of the crime. Sentences can include prison time, monetary fines, fees, and restitution payments to victims of the crimes, as well as court-ordered counseling or education and other terms of the sentence.
Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer
Given the various stages of a criminal case, including arrest, arraignment, hearings, plea arrangements, and trial, you’ll want an experienced attorney on your side who knows what they are doing. Whether felonies or misdemeanors, criminal charges are very serious as they carry serious consequences if you are convicted, such as jail time and a big fine. Because of this, it is important to consult with a criminal defense attorney who understands the legal process and who can develop a strong defense strategy to help you fight the prosecution’s case against you. The attorneys at Koberlein Law Offices are devoted to protecting the rights of Floridians who have been charged with criminal offenses. We are here for you. To learn more about what we can do for you, reach out to Koberlein Law Offices today by calling us toll-free at 877.556.2889 or by contacting us online.