The Florida Criminal Process
Helpful Insight from Leading Criminal Lawyers in Tampa, FL
When dealing with a criminal investigation or an arrest, you likely have a lot of questions. We know this can be one of the most confusing times you will ever experience; without qualified legal guidance, you can be unsure of your next move. That's why we created this website. We hope you will find the information you need to feel prepared to face the future. To help with this, we have given a basic breakdown of the criminal process below.
Know What to Expect After a Criminal Arrest
The first step of many people's involvement with the criminal process is the actual arrest. How this occurs will depend entirely on your exact case. For example, an arrest could happen after a law enforcement officer pulls you over for suspected drunk driving, after months or even years of pre-trial investigation, or after a search of one's property leads to the discovery of allegedly incriminating evidence.
Regardless, law enforcement must have what is known as probable cause. This means they cannot just arrest someone on a whim. There must be hard evidence backing up the fact that you have committed a crime. During the arrest, the officer must read your Miranda rights. This is a warning that lets you know of your rights and gives you a brief overview of what you can expect after being taken into custody.
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.
- They have the right to stop answering questions until they talk to a lawyer.
Following an arrest, the defendant will be placed through the booking process. This is the formal process by which a defendant is entered into the system. After the arrest, they will be taken to the police station. Their information will be gathered there, including their name, birth date, and physical address. The defendant will then be fingerprinted, photographed, and searched. Their personal belongings will be taken from them to be cataloged and stored until they are released from custody.
First Appearance & Pretrial Release
Within 24 hours of the arrest, the defendant will be taken before a judicial officer for their “first appearance.” The judge will inform the defendant of the criminal charges that they are facing. The defendant is NOT required to say anything during the 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 to send for counsel. If they are unable to afford counsel, the judge will immediately appoint counsel on their behalf.
Unless the defendant faces a capital offense during the first appearance, they will be entitled to appropriate pre-trial release. Bail may be granted by something such as a surety bail bond or a recognizance bond. Unless the state has filed a motion for pre-trial detention, the court will determine the bond. 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, such as being placed into another’s custody.
Read on to continue learning about the criminal process in Florida, or contact Thomas & Paulk for a free, private consultation regarding your case.
Most people know little about criminal proceedings. This can make an investigation, arrest, or other matter involving criminal charges confusing and frightening. By learning what's involved, you can make better, more informed choices. We're here to help you do that.
After charges have been filed, you will have the right to a preliminary hearing. If you choose not to waive this hearing, it will be the prosecution’s responsibility 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 “non-adversary probable cause determination.” Typically, it must be done within 48 hours of the arrest.
The arraignment hearing will include a judge or clerk, the defendant, the defendant's legal counsel, and the prosecution. During this proceeding, done either in open court or by audiovisual device, the defendant will be read the charges and asked to enter their plea. Should the defendant enter a plea of not guilty, they will be given a reasonable amount of time to prepare for 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.
The "meat" of the process is the actual trial. During the trial, both sides will present their argument to convince the court that the defendant is guilty or innocent. The burden of proof rests on the prosecution; they are responsible for proving guilt. The trial involves several parts, starting with the selection of the jury and the opening statements of prosecuting and defense attorneys. It will then move into witness testimony, cross-examination, and 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 are facing a criminal charge or if you you are under investigation, don't hesitate to involve an experienced Tampa criminal lawyer. If you are looking for an attorney to step up to protect your rights, you need look no further. At Thomas & Paulk, we have more than 20 years of legal experience. We know what is at stake and can sit down with you to explain the criminal process. We can help ensure you know what you are facing and what to expect.
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