Florida Criminal Case Process

No one wants to think about getting arrested for a crime, but it’s better to have an understanding of the Florida criminal case process if you do. Accidents do occur that can be considered criminal acts. At least be aware that if you’re accused of a crime and arrested that you’ll need an experienced criminal defense attorney.

The Florida Criminal Case Process

If you have been accused of a crime here’s what may lie ahead for you if you’re considered a suspect. Be sure to ask for an attorney and for a phone call. At that point consult with Roddy Lanigan, an Orlando criminal defense attorney who provides aggressive representation with a personal touch. Talk with a lawyer before talking with the arresting officer in any criminal case. It’s your right and you don’t have to answer questions without an attorney present.

The Arrest
When a crime is alleged to have been committed and a suspect is asked to come in, apprehended, arrested or brought into the police station, an arresting police officer will read a suspect Miranda Rights.

Questions may be asked of the suspect who has the right to have an attorney present and a right to a phone call before questioning occurs. Suspects do not have to answer questions and should have an attorney present during all questioning.

If there is enough suspicion or proof that a crime occurred a suspect is taken into custody and held in jail. Fingerprints and a photo are taken. The arrest report is filed.

First Appearance
When a defendant is arrested and unable to post bond, he or she is entitled to appear before a judge within 24 hours. During this First Appearance, a defendant is informed of the charges for which he/she was arrested and is advised of his/her rights. The Judge reviews the law enforcement reports and may raise or lower the amount of the bond, or may release the defendant on his or her own recognizance.

Filing Criminal Charges
When the State Attorney’s Office receives a formal complaint from a law enforcement agency, an Assistant State Attorney, assigned to the case reviews reports and may interview witnesses. It’s important to first speak with your attorney before talking with anyone at any time. You have the right to have an attorney present.

This review of the case will determine if there is sufficient evidence to pursue criminal prosecution, and if so, the attorney will file the formal charging document, called an “Information” with the court. A suspect will be notified by letter of this decision.

If there is not sufficient evidence to file criminal charges, the attorney will generate a document indicating no charges will be filed.

If an Information is filed and the defendant has not yet been arrested, an order–also known as a summons–for the defendant to appear in court or an order (a capias or a warrant) for the arrest of the defendant will be issued.

The Arraignment
As the victim, you have the right to be present at arraignment. However, your presence is not required. At arraignment, the defendant will be formally advised of the charges filed by the State. The defendant is also informed of the right to an attorney. If the accused indicates an inability to afford an attorney but wishes to be represented, the Judge may appoint an attorney from the Public Defender’s Office to the case.At Felony Arraignment, the defendant may not necessarily appear if the proper legal documents have been filed. Due to the serious nature of felony charges, a judge rarely accepts a “guilty” or “no contest” plea at arraignment. Therefore, other pre-trial proceedings will be scheduled.

At Misdemeanor Arraignments, the Judge will, quite frequently, accept a plea of “guilty” or “no contest.” Should the defendant enter such a plea and the judge be in a position to impose a sentence immediately, the victim, having made his/her presence known, will then be given an opportunity to address the court regarding restitution and sentencing. If the defendant requests a trial, a trial date will be set at some future pre-trial proceeding and the victim will be notified of the date.

A deposition is an interview or testimony taken under oath of any or all witnesses in a case by the defendant’s attorney after formal charges have been filed. In most cases, an assistant state attorney will also be present during the deposition which may be recorded by either a court reporter or by a tape recorder which will later be produced in a written transcript. The defendant is not present during the deposition which is taken outside the courtroom, usually in a private office. The defense attorney may elect to subpoena you for a certain date, time and place and, if you fail to appear you may be held in contempt of court and the case may be continued.

It is important to be prepared for your deposition and essential that you provide truthful testimony to the defense attorney. The statements you make during your deposition may be used in trial to show inconsistencies between your deposition statements and trial testimony.

Attending a deposition for the first time may create anxiety. You have the right to be accompanied by a victim advocate if you so choose. Any questions or concerns you may have may be addressed to the Victims’ Rights Counselors or to the Assistant State Attorney prosecuting the case.

Pre-Trial Proceedings
Case Management, Pre-Trial Conferences, Plea Hearings, Hearings, Motion Hearings, and Docket Sounding are all considered pre-trial proceedings.

Case Management is a scheduled time when the prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney, along with the Judge, select a trial period for the case to be heard. Generally, in felony court, if the defendant’s attorney indicates the defendant’s desire to enter a “No Contest” or “Guilty” plea rather than exercise the constitutional right to a trial, a “Plea Hearing” will be scheduled at another date on the Judge’s calendar and every effort will be made to notify the victim.

Docket Sounding is the last effort of the Judge and the attorneys involved to schedule specific days and times for trials just prior to the beginning of the trial docket All victims and witnesses will receive a subpoena for a time certain when scheduled.

Pre-Trial Hearings and Docket Sounding in Misdemeanor Court are similar to Case Management and Docket Sounding in Felony Court with the exception that, generally, the Judge will accept a Defendant’s plea of “No Contest” or “Guilty” at any of these times. When no such plea is presented, a trial date is set and victims and witnesses are usually notified by subpoena.

The victim has the right to attend any of these public hearings. However, your presence is not necessary nor required, unless subpoenaed or specifically requested by the attorney prosecuting the case. Please contact the Victim Rights Department or the Assistant State Attorney with any questions in regard to your attendance.

The Trial
A jury is selected by the State and Defense Attorney and seated as the first item of procedure.

The trial begins with an “opening statement” from the Assistant State Attorney, hereinafter called “Prosecutor” and the Defense Attorney. The opening statement outlines the facts that each party expects to establish during the trial. The Prosecutor presents the State’s case first by calling and questioning witnesses on “direct examination”. After direct examination of each witness, the defendant’s attorney is permitted to question the witness by “cross examination”.

After the State’s presentation, the Defense is entitled to present it’s case by direct examination followed by cross examination of each witness by the prosecutor. Finally, each attorney presents a closing argument which offers a summation of the facts presented during the trial.

The Judge then instructs the jury on the law, defines the issues and instructs the jury to reach a fair verdict based on the evidence. The jury’s deliberations are in private and, in order to convict, their verdict must be unanimous.

Again, victims and witnesses have the right to be present in the Courtroom during a trial unless their presence is determined to be prejudicial by the Judge. This option should be discussed with the prosecutor in the case.

The Sentencing
Statewide sentencing guidelines became effective on October 1, 1983. These guidelines provide a range of recommended sentences for all felony cases. The Court must sentence according to these guidelines unless the Court states a clear and convincing reason why it chooses to sentence outside the guidelines.

The sentencing of misdemeanor offenses remains the discretion of the trial judge. The Trial Judge in misdemeanor matters may impose any sentence up to the maximum allowed by state law.

Consult an Experienced Florida Criminal Defense Attorney

Criminal defense attorneys may save you from serving time, a prison sentence, a record that could stay with you for years and that could possibly ruin your life. Don’t take chances with a friend’s lawyer, someone you heard of or an unknown person. Orlando criminal defense attorney Roddy Lanigan of Lanigan and Lanigan, P.L. is an experienced attorney who provides aggressive representation with a personal touch.