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Florida Criminal Process

Being charged with a criminal offense in Florida can be very overwhelming – especially if you aren't familiar with the Florida criminal process or the rights available to you at each step. These are critical things to understand, because every step in the process is important to your case and whether it will go to trial, be reduced, or be dismissed altogether. Hiring an experienced St Petersburg criminal defense attorney at the very beginning of the process can help temper you fears and may be beneficial to your case as a whole.

Criminal Process in Florida

With over a decade of experience litigating in Florida on both sides of the courtroom, Melinda Morris of Morris Law Firm builds her defense cases with the knowledge of what it takes for the prosecution to prove important factors such as reasonable cause and proof beyond a reasonable doubt. If you or a loved one has been arrested in Pinellas County, Manatee County, Pasco County, Hillsborough County, or Sarasota County and face the intimidating Florida criminal process for your criminal charges, you don't have to face it alone.

The dedicated criminal defense lawyers of Morris Law Firm will work with you every step of the way to fight against your charges and defend your rights. Whether you have a pending arrest warrant or are facing a notice to appear in court, call (727) 388-4736 today.

Arrest or Notice to Appear

After a crime is allegedly observed or a criminal complaint is made, the alleged offender will be arrested and/or served with a notice to appear in Florida court. For the alleged offender who is arrested and booked, the criminal process will begin almost immediately. In some cases, a law enforcement officer may issue a notice to appear in lieu of physical arrest, or will issue the notice to appear after the arrest but before booking the accused into jail.

The notice to appear is a written order issued by a law enforcement officer requiring an alleged offender to appear in a specific court at a designated date and time. The alleged offender must sign the notice to appear to be released from the officer's control. Immediately following arrest and booking or a notice to appear, you have a right to an attorney. An experienced St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney can begin protecting your rights and fighting for your future immediately after you have been arrested or served.

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First Appearance in Florida

Within 24 hours of physical arrest and booking into jail, the alleged offender will be taken before a judge for his or her first appearance. In Florida, the purpose of the first appearance is to ensure the defendant has counsel, serve the defendant with his or her criminal charges, and determine bail as well as other conditions of pretrial release. As a defendant in your first appearance, you do not have to say anything.

If you do choose to speak in your first appearance, it can and will be used against you in future court proceedings. An experienced criminal defense lawyer in Pinellas County will be able to guide you through this initial process regarding your St. Petersburg criminal charges, as well as fight for favorable terms for your pretrial release.

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Preliminary Hearing

The next step in the Florida criminal process is the preliminary hearing. This step is particularly critical when it comes to the evidence in your case, because the preliminary hearing is where the evidence against you can be thrown out, or your case can be dismissed altogether. This is because the preliminary hearing is when the district attorney for Pinellas County, Hillsborough County, or other Florida county – depending on where the crime was allegedly committed – must prove sufficient evidence for probable cause.

Note that probable cause is not the same standard as what you will face at trial, which is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. A lesser standard, probable cause is shown if a prudent and cautious person could reasonably believe that the crime was probably committed by the defendant, given the circumstances and evidence in the case. It is possible at this stage to assert that evidence was attained against the defendant's rights and therefore should be thrown out. A Hillsborough County criminal defense attorney can fight to have your case thrown out due to lack of probable cause.

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Plea Bargaining

After your preliminary hearing is set and prima facie and probable cause are made, either your Pinellas County criminal defense lawyer or the district attorney may initiate plea bargaining. This is an optional phase, as plea bargaining is an unofficial step in the process entered into by the prosecution and the defendant, and is not a right. This can occur at any point after the preliminary hearing, but before the trial ruling.

The process usually involves the prosecution offering a concession to the defendant if he or she pleads guilty. This could mean the defendant has the option of pleading guilty to a lesser charge in lieu of the initial charge, or the option of pleading guilty to the original charge for a more lenient sentence. Since this is a voluntary process, either the defense or the prosecution can withdraw and choose trial at any point.

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The arraignment hearing is the step where the defendant is formally read the nature of the charges against him or her, and then is formally asked to enter a plea. If the defendant pleads nolo contendre or guilty, the next step in the process is sentencing. If the defendant pleads not guilty, he or she will be given a reasonable amount of time to prepare for trial. The arraignment hearing can be waived if the defendant issues a written plea before hand or agrees to a plea bargain. It is critical for you to discuss with your Tampa criminal defense lawyer what will occur in regards to your Florida arraignment hearing before it happens.

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Trial and Sentencing

If you and your Pinellas County criminal defense attorney decide to move ahead with a trial, the next step will either be trial by judge or trial by jury. Trial by judge is where you simply appear before a judge to have both sides of the case argued on your court date. Trial by jury is more involved, as the jury selection process is an active process requiring the attention of the prosecution and the defense.  Once the trial begins, the process generally goes in the following order:

  • Opening statements
  • District attorney's case is presented
  • Defense cross-examines D.A.'s case
  • Defense's case is presented
  • D.A. cross-examines defense's case
  • Closing arguments
  • Verdict

Upon a verdict of not guilty or other dismissal, you are free to go and don't face sentencing. However, on a guilty verdict or guilty plea, sentencing usually occurs two weeks to 90 days from adjudication. The judge will hear arguments from the D.A. and your St. Petersburg defense attorney, as well as a statement from you if you choose, and then decide your sentencing  based on these and the case at trial. At this point, depending on the severity of your offense, you could be facing fines, jail time, probation, community service, or any other measure the judge deems appropriate.

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Common Florida Misdemeanors and Felonies

There are over 300 misdemeanor and felony offenses listed in Florida code. However, some types of offenses occur more than others. The following offenses are commonly litigated in St. Petersburg, Tampa, and the surrounding areas:

  • Traffic Offenses
  • Drunk Driving / DUI
  • Domestic Violence
  • Drug Charges
  • Marijuana Charges
  • Theft Crimes
  • Assault / Battery

A conviction in any one of these areas can have a serious impact on your future. An experienced Pinellas County criminal lawyer can help you through the Florida criminal process and fight to protect your rights and your freedom.

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Morris Law Firm | Criminal Defense Lawyer in Pinellas County

If you have been charged with a criminal offense in St. Petersburg, Tampa, or any of the surrounding areas in Pinellas County, Manatee County, Pasco County, Hillsborough County, or Sarasota County, contact Melinda Morris and the experienced criminal defense attorneys of Morris Law Firm. With knowledge and experience from both sides of the courtroom, we know what it takes to build a strong defense case while exposing weaknesses in the prosecution's strategy. Call (727) 388-4736 today to schedule your free consultation on what Morris Law Firm can do for your Florida criminal case.

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