Florida Criminal Courts: What to Expect in the Process
Published on October 23, 2016
Over years I've had the opportunity to represent many people who never had any involvement in the criminal justice system in their entire lives. On the other hand, I've also had the opportunity to represent many people who are familiar with the criminal justice system and know exactly what to expect.
The first question I'm usually asked by those who have never had any run-ins with the law is "I've been arrested? What's next?"
Certainly, my first response is that you need to hire a criminal defense attorney.
As it relates to the process, however, one of two things can happen. First, if you are charged with a misdemeanor or criminal traffic offense the citation itself could be considered the charging document once filed with the clerk of courts.
The other possibility, especially when charged with a more serious crime or felony, is that the arrest report will make its way to the state attorneys office. An assistant state attorney will review the document and determine what if any charges they will file. There's a piece of paper that is physically filed with the clerk of court called "an information" which is normally the way most cases are charged. Some cases are charged by indictment and through a grand jury.
If you're unfortunate enough to actually be charged, the next court date is usually an arraignment. The purpose of the arraignment is simply to let you know the nature of the charges against you and the potential penalties. Most defense attorneys will enter a notice of appearance as counsel in the case, waive arraignment and enter a written plea of not guilty. You should always consult with your attorney but this normally means that you may not have to attend the arraignment.
Depending on the county in which your case is being heard, you'll likely have some form of pretrial conference, status date, or other court appearance where your attorney may be able to wave your presence. Again it depends on the court in which are cases pending.
Ultimately, your defense attorney will advise the court whether your case is going to trial or is going to be resolved in some other fashion. Normally the mandatory court dates are ones for which your presence has not been waived are motion hearings and trial. But again, if you ever have a question you should ask your attorney and/or your bonds person.
If your case is not resolved through a motion to dismiss or a motion to suppress evidence, for example, you also have to make a determination about how you want to proceed based upon your attorneys advice.
If you decide to take your case to trial, you will appear at court and unless it is a bench trial- a jury will be selected, the state will present its case and you may present any evidence that you have once they have rested their case. The jury will ultimately deliberate and hopefully reach a verdict.
If you decide to resolve your case by a plea, you will still need to appear in court review the rights that you are giving up by entering the plea and in most instances review and sign a plea form. The court will ask you some questions and the sentence will be imposed.
Keep in mind that no two cases are exactly alike and it's impossible for anyone to predict exactly what is going to happen. However arming yourself with some understanding of the criminal justice system and the process will hopefully put you at ease as you go through a stressful time in your life. At NeJame Law we would love to help you through any legal matter and help you through any difficult times in your life.
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