Meaning of a Notice to Appear in Florida

Have you or someone you love received a Notice to Appear? If so, what does it mean exactly? Is it a strange form of an arrest, only you’re not hauled down to the station? Generally, a notice to appear refers to a written order that is issued by a law enforcement officer in place of a physical arrest. By handing the person a Notice to Appear, the officer is accusing the individual of breaking a law, and the officer is directing them to appear at a named court or government office on a specific date, at a certain time.

What if I Was Not Taken to the Station? 

Contrary to popular belief, not all arrests are accompanied by a trip to the police station. In some circumstances, a person will be arrested for a violation, a first or second-degree misdemeanor offense, or because they violated a municipal or county ordinance, which can be tried in the county. If the arrestee does not demand to be taken before a judge, the arresting officer can issue a Notice to Appear, unless:

  • The accused refuses to identify themselves.
  • The accused cannot identify themselves for some reason.
  • The accused says that he or she will NOT sign the Notice to Appear.
  • The arresting officer is concerned that if he or she lets the accused go free, he or she will hurt themselves or someone else.
  • The accused does not have the ties to the jurisdiction to ensure that he or she will appear in court.
  • There is sufficient reason to believe that the accused will ignore the Notice to Appear, or that they are a “flight risk.”
  • In the past, the accused has ignored a Notice to Appear, or they have violated any of the conditions of a pretrial release program.

When the Person is Arrested

If any of the above exceptions apply, the law enforcement officer will most likely arrest the individual and from there, the accused will be taken down to the station for booking. But just because someone is delivered to the booking officer, it doesn’t mean they’ll be jailed.

Once the accused arrives at police headquarters, the booking officer will offer a fresh set of eyes on the case. If the booking officer believes that incarceration is unnecessary and that the accused is not a flight risk, the booking officer has the authority to issue a Notice to Appear at the station. But, a booking officer will not do this until after he or she has conducted a reasonable investigation into the accused:

  • Residential address and how long he or she has lived in the community;
  • Family connections in the community (family ties are a positive);
  • Employment status and history;
  • Moral character and emotional stability;
  • Any history of criminal convictions; and
  • Any past history (good or bad) of appearing for court hearings.

How a Notice to Appear is Served

“How and when are Notices to Appear served in Florida?” If an officer decides to issue a Notice to Appear, the officer will give one copy of the notice to the accused, but to secure the accused’s release, he or she must provide written promise that they will appear in court. To do this, the accused signs three copies of the notice: one is kept by the officer, and the remaining two copies are filed with the Clerk of Court.

As of January 1, 2017, Notice to Appears are issued immediately after people are arrested, before they’re allowed to drive home or leave the officer’s presence. However, if a Notice to Appear is issued by a booking officer at the station, it is issued immediately after the booking officer conducts their investigation and determines that the individual does not have to stay at the station. In these cases, the arresting officer or another official will release the accused from custody.

Were you given a Notice to Appear? To speak with a Tampa criminal defense lawyer, contact Thomas & Paulk, P.A. All of our initial consultations are free.