If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges in the state of Florida, it is important to know what the process looks like from the point of arrest to case resolution. Florida’s criminal procedure rules are complicated, so you need to arm yourself with knowledge—and get a reputable lawyer on your side to help you navigate the court process.
At Mike G Law, we know the ins and outs of the rules of Florida’s criminal procedure and want to give you the tools you need to prepare yourself or a loved one for the process.
A criminal case in Florida begins with an arrest or Notice to Appear. This occurs when a police officer witnesses a crime being committed or when an investigation leads to probable cause that you have committed or been involved in a crime. An arrest does NOT mean that you are guilty or that you will be convicted.
Often, charges will be filed by the State Attorney directly and without a police officer’s involvement. The result is then a mailed Notice to Appear. If you receive it and do not appear on the specified date, the court will issue an arrest warrant.
After an arrest, the police will take you for booking. This is normally done at the site of a county jail. They may take your photograph, inventory any possessions you have on you, take your fingerprints, scan your ID, and search you. This is to process you through their system and create a record of your arrest.
If you are not bailed out on your first day in jail, a judge will review your bond, typically within 24 hours of the arrest. This hearing is called an advisory or first appearance. During this advisory, the judge can review the bond set and make any necessary changes to reflect a more appropriate bond.
At this time, the judge will inform you of what charges you are facing, including any restrictions regarding your bond.
An arraignment hearing allows arrested individuals to enter in a plea. The options are no contest, guilty, or not guilty. Typically, your attorney will submit the not-guilty plea in writing. Even if you plan not to fight the charge, a not-guilty plea allows your attorney more time to work on the case. If you do not contact your own attorney, one may be provided for you by the court.
In some cases, you will not need to attend the arraignment hearing. Always check with your attorney first. If you are in doubt, show up for the arraignment hearing to be safe.
If the prosecutor thinks there is adequate evidence needed to win, they will file formal charges. This is also called an information. The information lists the exact charge they plan on prosecuting. Listed charges may be more or less serious than those shown in the original report of the arrest.
Sometimes, charges can take months to appear. If the prosecutor chooses not to file any formal charges and the information is not filed, then the case is considered abandoned.
While the plea deal is filed, your attorney may file what is called a Notice of Discovery. They also may file Demand for Jury Trial. These documents are routine and are filed in most cases.
The Notice of Discovery triggers the prosecutor’s duty to give your attorney a copy of every piece of evidence collected. Your attorney also gives the prosecutor their available evidence, which includes:
- Police reports
- Witness statements
If there are other pieces of evidence that are relevant to your case, they should be gathered at this time.
Depositions are recorded testimonies from victims, testifying experts, and witnesses. They may be taken during the discovery phase or before a trial begins. Depositions allow for all involved parties to share what they know and find weak spots in the other side’s arguments.
Some counties in Florida have what is known as an early resolution program. Attorneys working for the state review your case, and if appropriate, broker a deal in exchange for a guilty plea. This means the case ends early and could potentially save you and the court both time and money, but you will be required to plea guilty.
Many cases of theft, drug possession, and traffic offenses end with early case resolution, but no case is guaranteed an early resolution. It is critical to consult a lawyer to ensure the prosecutor’s deal is truly fair before accepting.
In some cases, you will be eligible for pretrial intervention (PTI), also called pretrial diversion. Those who are non-violent offenders, first offenders, or those arrested on drug-related charges may be eligible for PTI. Individual cases are reviewed by an employee at the State Attorney’s Office to decide eligibility.
A pretrial intervention program will require you to adhere to a list of requirements instead of spending time in jail. These requirements may include drug court attendances, paying financial restitution to victims, community service hours, or a combination of these. Individuals who complete PTI have their charges dismissed completely.
Motion to Suppress
If there is any problem with how the police gathered their evidence, then your attorney may file a motion to suppress evidence. Then, a hearing will be held based on the motion. If the hearing is successful, the court may leave out certain pieces of evidence and witness statements. Attorneys typically file this motion to suppress evidence that was gathered illegally.
Excluded evidence is as if the evidence never existed in the first place. In some instances, successful hearings cause a case to be dismissed completely.
At a pretrial hearing, the prosecutor and your attorney will discuss your case before the full trial begins.
At this point, you may discuss, refuse, or accept plea offers. Pretrial hearings are also a chance for the prosecutor and your attorney to resolve any issues surrounding your case, discuss which evidence may be included, and more. You are required to attend pretrial hearings.
Plea deals may occur at any point in the case. Plea deals are similar to early resolutions, wherein a prosecutor may offer you a special bargain in exchange for pleading guilty.
These deals are often offered during a pretrial hearing. It is incredibly important to talk with your attorney before accepting a plea deal, no matter what stage of the criminal procedure they are offered. This is to ensure you get a fair deal—and are not undercut by prosecutors looking for an easy way out.
Sometimes, cases go to trial. This involves you, your attorney, the prosecutor, a judge, and a jury sitting in a courtroom and going over evidence and arguments of a case. Depending on your case, your trial may be split into different parts, but many misdemeanor trials are wrapped up in one session.
At a trial, a jury must be convinced to choose a guilty or not guilty verdict. If the jury finds you not guilty, you are free to go. If you are found guilty, your judge will announce a jail sentence, along with any other consequences such as fines. For felony convictions, a sentencing hearing may be held separately.
Have questions concerning Florida’s rules of criminal procedure?
If you have been arrested in the state of Florida and want to know your rights, you need a trustworthy lawyer to guide you through the process of Florida’s rules of criminal procedure.
Contact our team at Mike G Law today to get the legal help you need. At your free consultation with us, we will discuss your case and help you understand your rights.