Criminal Process in Tampa, FL

Know What to Expect After a Tampa Criminal Arrest

When dealing with a criminal investigation or an arrest, it is likely that you have a lot of unanswered questions. At Thomas & Paulk, P.A., we know that this can be one of the most confusing times you will ever experience; without qualified legal guidance, you can find yourself stumbling and unsure of what your next move should be. For this reason, we have created this website. It is our hope that visitors who come to this site will find the information they need to truly feel prepared to face the future. In an effort to help with this, we have given a basic breakdown of the criminal process below. This should not be misconstrued as legal advice; instead, it is simply a generic overview of some of the steps you could find yourself facing.

Criminal Arrest

The first step of many people's involvement with the criminal process is the actual arrest process. How this occurs will depend completely on your actual case. For example, an arrest could happen after a law enforcement officer pulls you over for suspected drunk driving, after months of pre-trial investigation or it could be after a search and seizure leads to incriminating evidence. Regardless, the law enforcement must have what is known as probable cause. This simply means that they cannot just arrest someone on a whim; there must be hard evidence backing up the fact that you have committed a crime of some kind. During the arrest, it is crucial that you are read your Miranda rights. This is essentially a warning which lets you know of your rights and gives you a brief overview of what you can expect to be facing.

The Miranda warning tells the defendant the following:

  • They have the right to remain silent;
  • Anything they say or do may be used against them in court;
  • They have the right to consult an attorney before or during questioning;
  • If they cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for them; and
  • They have the right to stop questioning until they talk to a lawyer.


Following an arrest, the defendant will be placed through the booking process. This is essentially the formal process by which a defendant is entered into the system. After the arrest, they will be taken to the police station; while there, all of their information will be formally gathered. This will include their name, birth date and address. They will then be fingerprinted, photographed and searched. All of their personal belongings will be taken from them to be catalogued and stored until they are released.

First Appearance & Pretrial Release

Within 24 hours of the arrest, the defendant will be taken before a judicial officer by what is known as "first appearance." During this appearance, the judge will inform the defendant of the criminal charges that they are facing. The defendant is NOT required to say anything during first appearance; they are also freely able to communicate with their legal counsel, as well as any family or friends. If the defendant has retained counsel, the first appearance may be postponed for the purpose of sending for counsel. If they are unable to afford counsel, the judge will immediately appoint counsel on their behalf.

During first appearance, unless the defendant is facing a capital offense, they will be entitled to reasonable pretrial release. Bail may be granted by something such as a surety bail bone or a recognizance bond. Unless the state has filed a motion for pretrial detention, the court will determine it. It is the responsibility of the judicial officer to ensure that all defendants are treated fairly, while the community remains safe and protected. Pre-trial release may also be granted with certain restrictions on travel, with the defendant being placed into another's custody, as well as any other reasonable conditions.

Preliminary Hearings

After charges have been filed, you will have the right to a preliminary hearing. If you choose to not waive this hearing, it will be the responsibility of the prosecution to bring up enough evidence to show that there is probable cause to charge you with the crimes you are facing. This is often known as a "nonadversary probable cause determination" and typically, it must be done within 48 hours of the arrest. It is also referred to as a trial before the trial and will determine whether or not you will be tried at all.

Arraignment Hearing

The arraignment hearing will include a judge or clerk, as well as the defendant, the defendant's legal counsel and the prosecution. During this proceeding, which can be done either in an open court or by audiovisual device, the defendant will be read the nature of the charges that are being pressed against them. They will also be formally asked upon this time to enter their plea. Should the defendant enter a plea of not guilty, the defendant will be given a reasonable amount of time for which they can prepare for the upcoming trial. If the defendant has legal counsel, they may choose to file a written plea before arraignment; should this occur, the arraignment hearing can be waived entirely and the criminal process can proceed uninhibited.


The "meat" of most criminal process is the actual trial itself. During the trial, both sides will present the best argument that they can to convince the court either the defendant is guilty or innocent. Remember, the burden of proof rests upon the prosecution; therefore, it is their responsibility to prove that you are guilty - it is not your responsibility to prove that you are innocent. The trial itself will be broken up into several different sections. For example, it will start with the selection of the jury and the opening statements of both prosecuting and defense attorney. It will then move into witness testimony, cross-examination and finally closing arguments. From there, it will proceed into the jury instruction and the verdict itself.

How Thomas & Paulk, P.A. Can Help Protect You

If you find yourself facing a criminal charge or if you know that you are under investigation, it is important that no time is wasted in getting the involvement of an experienced Tampa criminal lawyer. At Thomas & Paulk, P.A., we have more than 20 years of dedicated legal experience. If you have been charged and are looking for an attorney who will step up to protect your rights, you need not look further. We know what is at stake and can sit down with you to help explain the criminal process so that you don't need to feel as if you are facing the future blindly. We can help ensure that you know what you are facing and what to expect. So what are you waiting for? When you have this much on the line, you simply cannot afford to waste time.

To schedule your initial case consultation with a member of our firm, all you need to do is give us a call at 813-321-7323. You can also visit our online case evaluation form or fill it out on the right side of this page.

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