What to expect when you are accused of a crime
After a law enforcement officer has placed a person under arrest, the officer transports him or her to the jail facility of the County where the person was arrested. On some occasions the accused will be first taken to the law enforcement office to be questioned. You have a right to remain silent and you should remain silent if this happens. After processing at the jail, the person usually can post the standard bond amount and be released.
Some charges do not have a standard bond amount upon arrest, and they include felony violations of probation, domestic violence charges, murder, sexual battery and kidnapping, among others. If your charge does not have a pre-determined bond amount or if you can’t afford to post the bond that has been pre-determined for your offense, then you will be brought to first appearances within 24 hours of your arrest.
The purpose of the first appearance is for the judge to: (1) advise the defendant of the charges, (2) determine if the police had probable cause to make the arrest, (3) determine whether the defendant can pay for an attorney, and, if the defendant cannot, appoint the Office of the Public Defender, and (4) Set conditions (including bond) of pre-trial release from jail. In our circuit first appearances, is at 1:30 pm. At first appearance, the judge will determine whether to increase, decrease, keep bond the same, or what bond amount, if any, to set.
The Judge will consider conditions of release to ensure the defendant’s presence at future court hearing and what is needed to protect the community. The conditions of release (or not) are based on the nature of the accusations, the defendant’s ties to the community, prior criminal history and prior failures to appear, among other things. It would be beneficial for a defendant, when possible, to have family, friends, and / or employer come to court to speak on his / her behalf.
Domestic violence cases often have the added condition that there be no contact between the accused and the accuser until resolution of the case. This often requires that the Defendant have an alternative place to stay and advise the court of where they will be residing.
Certain charges, like murder, sexual battery or kidnapping, there may or may not be a bond set by the judge as the Constitution does allow that people accused of these offenses may not be entitled to a bond.
If you remain in custody, your attorney will call you at the county jail facility and discuss the pros and cons of scheduling a bond hearing. If after discussing this you and your attorney believe it is in your best interest, he or she will write the motion and schedule it in front of the judge that will be hearing your case. These hearing often take several weeks to calendar.
In Florida, the overwhelming number of cases are charged by Information. In these cases, the State Attorney’s Office (SAO) has sole discretion to file charges and what charges to file. They can file charges even if the initial person accusing you of a crime is not cooperating. There are some occasions where the State does not pursue charges but rather, drops the charges.
If the accused has remained in jail, the SAO has 30 days from the date of incarceration to file charges. If no charges are deposited with the clerk of court the by the 33rd day your attorney will inform the court by filing a Motion to Release Uncharged Defendant. If there is no information filed, the court will order your release. On occasion, with good cause, the SAO can ask for an extension to the 40th day to make a filing decision.
If the accused is out of custody the State Attorney’s Office has 90 days to file a misdemeanor charge and 180 days to file a felony charge.
For some homicide cases, and on occasion other cases, the SAO may empanel a grand jury to determine if charges should be filed. In these cases, the grand jury decides if and what to file.
Arraignment is the next automatically scheduled court date after first appearances and / or arrest. Formal charges should be filed by this court date. If there are charges the accused is asked to enter a plea of guilty, no contest, or not guilty. If the accused has not been appointed a public defender and wants one this is another opportunity to qualify for our services. In this circuit incarcerated individuals accused of felony offenses and represented by the Office of the Public Defender to not get brought to court and we file a not guilty plea on your behalf.
For Misdemeanors, the next court date is called a pre-trial conference. An accused may have several pre- trial conferences while the attorney prepares the case for mitigation and a plea or for trial. Once the accused has determined that he or she wants a trial the case is next set for Docket Sounding. Docket Sounding is to tell the judge if there are any last minutes needs to continue the case, if the accused wants to accept a negotiated plea, or if the case will remain on the docket for trial – usually approximately two weeks later. Every case is different, and some will include the need for optional court dates to include motion hearing to exclude evidence and other pre-trial motions.
For Felonies, the next court date is called case management. An accused may have several case managements if the parties are close to resolving the case. Once the accused has determined that there is more work that needs to be done the case is set for Docket Sounding. Docket Sounding is to announce to the court a plea, request a continuance, or announce ready for trial. Trial is approximately two weeks later. Again, every case is different, and some will include the need for optional court dates to include motion hearing to exclude evidence and other pre-trial motion.
If you do not want to resolve the case with a negotiated plea, for whatever reason, then it is the attorney’s responsibility to research the case and prepare for trial. This includes reviewing discovery, deposing witnesses, interviewing witnesses, filing motions, and learning both the facts of the accusation and the law surrounding your case. You have a right to help us in your defense and we urge you to actively help us secure names of defense witness and help in any other way you feel would be beneficial. You also have a right to review your discovery and be kept apprised of the attorney’s work. If out of custody, you have a responsibility to keep up with your own case, let us know your whereabouts and phone number, and schedule appointments to see your attorney when you would like some information.
There are two kinds of trials: a jury trial and a bench trial. A very small percentage of trials are bench trials. This is where the judge is the trier of fact and acts as a jury would to determine your innocence or guilt. The case will proceed similarly but the attorneys speak to the judge only.
Jury trials are the norm and the vast majority of criminal trials in Florida use a jury of six people. The trial begins by selecting the jury on the first day of your trial. On rare occasion this process extends more than one day. After the jury is empaneled, then the opening statement is presented to the jury which is a summary of the case from the parties’ perspective. The State Attorney then, as they have the burden of proof, must start their case in chief which means call witnesses to prove that the accused is guilty. Your attorney will have an opportunity to cross examine / question each witness to expose weakness or bias. After the State Attorney has called all their witnesses and presented all evidence then they “rest.” It then becomes the Defense Attorney’s job to present all evidence, call witnesses etc. Sometimes, the defense does not call any witnesses or present any evidence but relies on reasonable doubt. After this, each side has an opportunity to summarize the case to the jury and we try to persuade the jury that the accused is not guilty. Once both parties have spoken to the jury, the jurors retire to a room where they must discuss and determine unanimously the accused’s guilt or innocence. At the end of trial, if convicted of any criminal act, the judge either that day or at a future date, will sentence the accused. The attorney will help mitigate the sentence and will be with you during sentencing to try to ensure that the sentence is fair and legal. Within thirty (30) days of your sentence you must advise your attorney if you would like to appeal the trial and / or sentence.