Facing a Florida Criminal Charge is Serious!
Being charged with a crime in Florida, whether you are charged with a felony or a misdemeanor, can seem like an insurmountable task. But there is hope. This posts discusses a general roadmap of a case to help you understand what you face. But we’ll get to that soon enough.
First off, I know you are stressed out, scared, unsure of what’s next, and you may be facing other issues related to being charged with a crime. You have come to the right place. I have been a prosecutor in two states, and I have prosecuted and defended some of the most serious cases in Florida.
I am here to answer any questions you may have, and I will not judge you. I am here to defend you!
I offer FREE CONSULTATIONS on all criminal matters and I will take all the time necessary to answer all your questions.
How A Criminal Case Starts
Generally speaking, a criminal case will either start when the police see you doing something they think is a crime, they are called out to investigate a crime and develop probable cause that a crime has been committed and you committed it, or they have a warrant.
There are potential defenses to each way a case starts and I use every available resource to investigate any possible defense that may be available throughout your case.
You Can Be Charged with a Florida Crime Without Being Arrested.
Some misdemeanors begin with a Notice to Appear (NTA) ticket. An NTA is looks like a traffic ticket, but it carries all the weight and force of a misdemeanor crime. And unlike civil traffic tickets, failing to comply with an NTA can lead to a warrant for you arrest for failing to appear. A few common examples of NTA tickets are:
- No Valid Driver’s License
- Driving with a Suspended License
- Possession of Marijuana less than 20 grams
- Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
But a criminal citation does not mean there won’t be an arrest. For example, most Driving Under the Influence charges start with a NTA, but they also end with an arrest. Make no mistake, an NTA charges you with a Florida Crime!
Generally, felonies in Florida start with either a warrant, or an outright arrest.
Misdemeanors and Felonies
The terms misdemeanor and felony are simply descriptions on the severity of the punishment that is related to the crime committed.
Being charged with a crime in Florida can be either misdemeanors or felonies. Both have degrees that increase in severity the lower the number.
For examples, the potential punishment for a second-degree misdemeanor is less severe than a first-degree misdemeanor; and the punishment for a third-degree felony is less severe than that of a first degree felony.
Generally, you know what you are being charged with well before you get to first appearance, which is your bond hearing.
First Appearance, also called a bond hearing, usually happens within 24 hours of arrest and it is either in person or through video monitor.
For arrests in Sarasota or Venice, a newly arrested individual will be taken, booked, and processed in the Sarasota County Jail at 2020 Main Street, Sarasota, Florida 34237.
First Appearance in Sarasota usually happens at 1:00 p.m. each weekday, and 8:30 a.m. on the weekends. Whether a newly arrested person gets the same day bond hearing generally depends on when that person’s arrest occurred.
For instance, a late morning arrest, or anytime after noon, means you will most likely spend the night in jail if your charge does not permit posting a scheduled bail.
After you are booked, you are taken into an enclosed room with all of the other people that will be appearing for bond hearings that day. There are a few attorney rooms next to the holding area where you can meet with your attorney prior to the hearing. Just prior to the hearing, an attorney representing the Public Defender’s Office will make announcements about the procedure.
There Are Many Benefits in Hiring an Experienced Sarasota Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you hired me, and experienced criminal defense lawyer, I would have already met you prior to this hearing, and chances are I would already have discussed your case with the prosecutor assigned to the bond hearings in order to discuss getting you a reasonable bond! No only that, but my team would already be investigating your case to develop defenses.
Not only do I meet my clients prior to First Appearance, but I speak with the Prosecutor before the hearing in an effort to get you a reasonable bond.
Once all inmates are transported, the court begins calling cases. Private attorney clients usually go first.
Your name will be called and you will step to the middle of the room. Your defense attorney will be on your left and the prosecutor will be to your right. The Judge will usually be in the room on the other side of the cages with the lawyers. Manatee County is different.
Manatee County bond hearings are a little different. For instance, you will not be brought over to the courthouse. You will stay at the Manatee County Jail, which is located at 14470 Harlee Road, Palmetto, FL 34221. And you will not see the judge or lawyers in person. You will appear before the judge through a video monitor. The procedure is the same for the hearing.
What Happens at First Appearance?
These hearings are usually very quick. The court will inform you of the charges against you based on the probable cause affidavit (PCA). A PCA is the Police Report and any supplemental reports provided to the court at that initial hearing. The court reviews the PCA to determine if probable cause exists on the charge(s).
Then the court will hear argument from either your private attorney or the public defender appearing on your behalf. Some information that the court is interested in hearing are as follows:
- The defendant’s ties to the community. Does the defendant have family in the area, a business, history of living here?
- The defendant’s ability to pay a bond,
- The defendant’s prior history or other mitigating information
Prosecutors will then make arguments. The prosecutor will focus on this crime and any facts that appear to make you look bad (like victim injury). The prosecutor will then provide the court with your complete criminal history.
The court will then set bail if appropriate and permissible. Some cases, like a violation of felony probation, do not qualify for bond.
Probable Cause Determination
If the judge determines that there is not probable cause for your arrest and continued detention, the judge may release you. But that’s not a guarantee. Sometimes the court will grant the State and law enforcement an additional 48 hours to present more evidence to establish probable cause. If that happens, you sit in jail for the next two days.
But assume the court releases you. That does not mean that the charges won’t be filed. The only thing that was determined was probable cause did not exist at the time of First Appearance.
WARNING: All JAIL CALLS AND VISITATION VIDEOS ARE RECORDED!
Warning: Jail Calls and Visitation Videos are Recorded! And they will certainly be used against you if you say something incriminating.
Why did I just repeat that? To remind you that all the communications that you have while in the jail, except for lawyer communications, are recorded. These recordings can and will be used against you. And very effectively, too!
The best rule is to NEVER DISCUSS YOUR CASE WITH ANYONE BUT YOUR LAWYER! Not inmates, not friends, and not family. The only person you should talk to is your lawyer. Police and Prosecutors monitor jail phones and jail visits!
More Serious Charge = More Attention
More serious charges usually carry more effort and experience from law enforcement. They want those charges to stick. Being charged with any Florida crime is serious, and just because you have a minor charge doesn’t mean you will skate by. I’m simply saying that most law enforcement are on-point for more serious charges (e.g. murder versus a public intoxication charge).
I have personally represented clients that were on the verge of walking out of jail and avoiding prison. Right until they made an admission on the jail phone call prior to release. Don’t Do it!
Listen to your lawyer! I emphasize this, because I had a client that didn’t take my advice about the jail calls much to his detriment. My Florida criminal defense client faced drug trafficking (meth) charges. He was looking at up to 15 years in prison with a pre-trial offer of 11 years. Through my team’s investigation, defense strategy, depositions, and motion practice, I had the prosecutor on the ropes and ready to drop the charges, completely!
But the day before the state filed to drop charges, my client, the defendant, got on the jail phones. The client said: “my lawyer is getting these charges dropped…all I had to do was drop the [drugs] off and get the money for it, and then I was out of the game”.
Needless to say, the charges weren’t dropped. Don’t be like that client. Keep your case off the jail calls.
Generally, Arraignment happens next. Although many people think the police file charges. They don’t.
In Florida, the State Attorney is responsible for filing cases. The State Attorney must file a formal charging document called the Information. They can choose to proceed on a criminal citation, but more often they file the Information.
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 plea. Filing the written not guilty plea means that you don’t have to appear for formal arraignment.
In many of my cases, I already have my investigative team collecting evidence and witness statements well before arraignment. And depending on the evidence, I have already contacted the prosecutor on your behalf to discuss the facts of the case. I have been successful in presenting favorable evidence to the State, which resulted in the case being dismissed before the State even filed charges! Each case is different, and the facts dictate the direction.
Pretrial Conference and Case Management
The next court date is a usually a Pretrial Conference (“PTC”) or Case Management (“CM”). Those hearings are generally the same thing, but they are called by different names depending on the court.
Felony court dates are called case management or case scheduling. Misdemeanors court dates are called pretrial conferences. PTC or CM are generally 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 formal discovery (in Florida, the State is generally required to give you all the evidence they have that will be used against you at trial, including the names of witnesses they intend to call at trial, all documentary evidence they have (both for and against you) and any physical evidence that exists. This is “discovery”. Finally, the court wants to know when 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’ schedules.
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 no plea agreement, then the judge may require that you set a date for trial.
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 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.
Docket sounding (DS) is generally the final pre-trial conference a couple weeks before the jury trial date. This is one last meeting with the parties and the court in order to discuss any last minute motions or issues, and it is one final chance to discuss plea negotiations before the 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 happens a few weeks after the trial. The sentence imposed may include costs, fines, community service, and possibly even incarceration. That gives you time to prepare mitigation to present to the court to reduce your sentence.
If you are accused of a crime, do not hesitate to Contact Me. I offer FREE CONSULTATIONS for all criminal cases. I have the successful jury trial experience in serious felonies and misdemeanors from both prosecution and defense to help guide you to your best defense.