Whether a person is arrested at home, in public, or by turning yourself in at the police station, being arrested can make a person panic. In many cases, a person may be in shock and may not know what to do. If possible, stay calm and try not to panic. Request an attorney. The steps that you take in the hours and days following an arrest can have a significant impact on the outcome in your case.
As soon as possible, your first priority should be contacting a Florida criminal defense attorney to discuss your legal rights and your options for defending yourself against the charges. A Florida criminal defense attorney can help you avoid making mistakes that could hurt your case.
Steps in a Florida Criminal Case
The steps in a criminal case may differ depending on the charges and the court that has jurisdiction over those charges. However, some of the basic steps that a person can expect after an arrest include:
- Booking — After your arrest, you are taken to central booking for processing. Officers will inventory and take your personal items, take a booking photo, and may take your fingerprints. The booking process places you in the “system” and prepares you for housing within the jail.
- First Appearance — Your first hearing, often referred to as first appearance, is held within 24 of your arrest. The judge reviews the probable cause in your case, informs you of the criminal charges against you, and sets or denies an initial bond.
- Arraignment — At an arraignment hearing, you enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. This is also a formal reading of the charges. If you have been released on bond, you may not need to appear at the hearing if you have hired a Florida criminal defense attorney. However, you should always check with your attorney and show up for court if you are in doubt.
- Preliminary Hearing/Status Conference — You may have a preliminary hearing or a status conference in your case after the first appearance and arraignment. At this hearing, your attorney may file one or more motions and notices, such as a Notice of Discovery, Motion to Dismiss, Motion to Suppress Evidence, and Demand for a Jury Trial. This is generally the first substantive court appearance and an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the Court.
- Discovery — If your attorney filed a Notice of Discovery, the prosecution must disclose all evidence it has collected. Your attorney must also provide any available evidence you intend to use as you defend yourself against the criminal charges. The Discovery process is the exchange of information.
- Early Resolution or Pretrial Intervention — Some counties in Florida have an Early Resolution Program and a Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI). If an attorney for the state reviews your case and offers a deal, you might end the case quickly. However, you may have a criminal record, and there will be conditions with the deal. PTI is for some offenders who are first offenders, non-drug related charges, or non-violent offenders. If you are accepted into the PTI program, you may be required to perform community service, pay restitution to a victim, attend drug courses, and other requirements. If you complete PTI, your charges are dismissed.
- Pretrial Hearings/Case Disposition Hearings — You may have a series of pretrial hearings or case disposition hearings every so often as your case proceeds through the system. Your attorney may file motions at these hearings, or you may discuss plea deals and settlements. If the case is not resolved, the court notes that the case is still in progress. During this time, your attorney may continue with additional discovery, such as taking depositions of witnesses and pursuing other evidence.
- Plea Deal — You can accept a plea deal at any time to end your case. Your attorney will discuss the terms of the plea deal and advise you of his legal opinion whether it is a wise decision to accept the deal or go to trial.
- Trial & Sentencing — At trial, the state presents its evidence, and you present a defense. If you selected a jury trial, the jurors decide your guilt or innocence. The judge decides guilt or innocence in a bench trial. If you are found guilty, the judge will pronounce your sentence. Many factors might impact your sentence, including your prior record, mandatory minimum sentences, and mitigating factors.
The above steps are a brief introductory example of the track a criminal case may take. Depending on the factors in your case, there could be less or more steps involved in resolving the charges against you.
Call a Florida Criminal Defense Attorney for Help
Even minor criminal charges can have significant consequences. It is best to seek the advice of an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The prosecutor is not on your side. He or she wants a guilty verdict and many times a conviction. Therefore, the prosecutor will not tell you if you have a valid defense or the state’s case is weak. In fact, that is not their responsibility. You need a trusted advocate on your side who can protect your legal rights. Consult with a Florida criminal defense attorney immediately if you are charged with a crime.