What Is the Florida criminal court process?
If you’ve been arrested on a criminal charge in Florida, you want to know what is going to happen to you. The following are the common criminal classifications under Florida law, and typical steps through the criminal justice system and Florida Criminal Courts.
Classification of Florida Crimes – Misdemeanors and Felonies
Florida Felony Charges
In Florida, a felony is generally defined as any crime punishable by more than one year in prison (state penitentiary / correctional facility). §775.08, Fla. Stat. Felonies are divided into different degrees, as follows:
|Felony Class||Examples||Maximum Jail Sentence||Maximum Fine|
|Capital Felony||Murder||death or life imprisonment with no parole||-|
|Life Felony||40 years to life||$15,000|
|First Degree (1st) Felony||Drug Trafficking,1st Degree Felony Burglary||30 years||$10,000|
|Second Degree (2nd) Felony||Aggravated Battery,Robbery||15 years||$10,000|
|Third Degree (3rd) Felony||Aggravated Assault.Possession of a Controlled Substance.Carrying a Concealed Firearm||5 years||$5,000|
Florida Misdemeanor Charges
A misdemeanor is any crime punishable by imprisonment for less than one year in a county correctional facility.
Misdemeanors are divided into different degrees, as follows:
|Misdemeanor Class||Examples||Maximum Jail Sentence||Maximum Fine|
|First Degree (1st) Misdemeanor||1st Degree Petit Theft,First Offense DUI,Identity Theft||1 year||$1,000|
|Second Degree (2nd) Misdemeanor||Criminal Mischief under $200||60 days||$500|
Florida Criminal Court Procedures and Legal Process
The criminal court procedures in Florida can be confusing. A good defense attorney will not only navigate this process for you and with you, but will help you understand all the steps, the court appearances, what is expected of you, and what is likely to happen to you – every step of the way.
A good criminal defense lawyer is there to help you as a person as well as fight for your legal protection, rights and freedom under the law.
The most common steps in the process are as follows:
- Arrest / Bail
- Pretrial Hearing
In Florida a person may be arrested or, in some cases, issued a criminal summons to appear in court for arraignment. Following an arrest, the individual will likely be taken to a police station. At the police station the accused will be booked and advised generally as to the charges against him/her. However, these charges may be later amended and stated in more detail by the State’s attorney. The booking process involves providing the police background information. The individual may also have his/her fingerprints and/or photograph taken.
In addition, the individual may also be required to participate in a lineup, prepare a sample of penmanship, speak phrases associated with the crime with which he/she is charged, put on certain wearing apparel or give a hair sample. A person has an absolute right to counsel if he/she is asked to participate in a lineup after being formally charged with a crime.
In most cases, defendants must make an appearance before a judge who will first determine if bond is appropriate, and then sets the amount of the bond. The court determines the bond amount by considering, amongst other factors, the defendant’s potential danger to the community and/or whether he is a risk of flight. The individual may be released upon personal recognizance / ROR (a promise to appear in court when directed), or released on bail, which involves the posting of either cash money or a surety bond as security for his/her court appearance. Bail bonds from licensed bail bondsmen are available, usually at a cost of 10 percent of the total amount of bail.
Some serious offenses, like first-degree murder, are deemed “non-bondable” and thus, a defendant is unable to bond out immediately. Defendants charged with domestic violence offenses are also unable to bond out immediately. By law, they are required to appear before a judge prior to leaving custody.
If someone is taken into custody, booked, and held he/she must be brought before a magistrate within 24 hours of the arrest. At that appearance, the individual may request that the magistrate lower the bail in consideration of the following factors: ties to the community, financial resources, employment record, lack of criminal record, and history of appearing in court as required.
Upon arrival at the jail or shortly thereafter, arrestees will be given an opportunity to contact an attorney. The attorney, in turn, may arrange for the posting of a bond and may appear in court and request that the bail be lowered.
In Juvenile cases in Florida, a bond hearing is held within twenty-four hours of arrest but is called a Detention Review Hearing.
To give a general idea of what a Florida bond may cost, the standard bond amount in Miami-Dade County for a person arrested for DUI is $1000, while the standard for someone charged with Aggravated Battery is $7,500.
Using a Bail Bondsman
Bail bondsmen are the most utilized method of posting bail in Florida. By agreeing to post the bond, the bondsman guarantees that the defendant will appear in court, on every required date, until the case is resolved. If the defendant fails to appear after being properly notified, then his/her bond amount may be forfeited. In order to secure the assistance of a bondsman, the cost to the defendant is typically 10% of the total amount of the bond. In other words, the bondsman keeps 10% of the bond amount; that is his/her fee.
Additionally, bondsmen often require collateral in the form of cash, deeds, and/or other property etc., to protect the remainder of the bail in case the defendant fails to appear in court as required. If the defendant does indeed fail to appear, then the bondsman keeps the collateral.
Although bail bondsmen are widely used in Florida, individuals are not required to use a bondsman. Defendants may have a family member or someone else post bond at the jail. The depositor assumes the same risk as bail bondsman; money will not be returned to the depositor until after the case is over.
After bail has been set, the defendant will be arraigned in court. An arraignment is a short hearing in which a plea is entered. In Florida, a defendant may enter a plea of “guilty,” “not guilty,” or “no contest.” If a plea of not guilty is entered, then a trial date will be set. If a plea of “guilty” or “no contest” is entered then a sentencing date will be set, generally after the court has received a pre-sentence investigation report from probation.
Usually, arraignment is scheduled several weeks after the initial arrest or summons. Attendance is mandatory unless the court permits defense counsel to file a waiver of arraignment. Waivers of Arraignment are not allowed in most Juvenile cases.
If you are going to an arraignment without an attorney, always plead not guilty. Do not agree to plead guilty or no contest. Do not make any statements about the facts of your case to anyone without an attorney present.
You will leave the arraignment with a court date for a Pretrial Hearing.
Once you have an attorney, he or she will start gathering and analyzing the evidence against you. That evidence may consist of police reports, analysis of any chemical evidence against you, such as breath tests or blood tests, and prosecution witness testimony.
If there are witnesses against you, your attorney may ask for a deposition to find out what the witness saw and will testify to in court. Official court depositions are typical only in Florida felony cases, so in a misdemeanor case, we may want to send an investigator to informally ask questions of any potential witnesses.
At a pretrial hearing, you and your attorney will speak to the prosecutor and see if a deal can be worked out. If a deal, or a plea bargain is agreed to, you will go before a judge and plead guilty or no contest with the agreed upon penalties. If not, your case will be set for a trial at a future court date.
Florida law requires that defense attorneys and prosecutors discuss settlement of every criminal case. A settlement of a criminal case is otherwise known as a “Plea Bargain.”
Though every defendant has a right to hold the government to its burden of proof, it may be in your best interest to agree to a plea to the court. A plea bargain can drastically reduce the penalty for an individual.
An experienced Florida criminal defense lawyer will know whether you are getting a fair offer, and will be able to assess the facts of your case and give you a realistic appraisal of the likely outcome of fighting your case at trial.
In Florida there are Jury Trials and Bench Trials.
Jury Trials are trials in which six to twelve people, representing a “fair cross-section of the community,” are selected to hear the evidence and render a verdict. Jurors do not decide legal issues, only a judge does. A judge makes decisions regarding what evidence will be allowed, and so forth. In other words, jurors decide issues about the facts, the judge decides issues of law.
Bench Trials are trials in which the judge hears the facts in addition to ruling on legal issues. In other words, the judge decides both the legal and the factual matters.
Under Florida criminal procedures, some criminal cases are only heard in a bench trial, such as probation violations. Also, in Juvenile cases, all trials are bench trials unless the juvenile has been waived up to adult court by the prosecutor.