It is stressful enough to receive an official notice that you must appear in criminal court. It only makes matters worse when you are left to attempt to decipher what the purpose of the hearing is with names like Arraignment, Pre-Trial, and Dispositional Hearing.
So, here are the most common court hearing types and what each actually means:
ADVISORY HEARING / FIRST APPEARANCE HEARING
Florida law typically requires that a Defendant who has not already bonded out of jail must be seen before a judge for an ADVISORY HEARING. There are some types of criminal cases where a Defendant may not be able to post bond including domestic battery / violence cases and some serious felony cases. At an ADVISORY HEARING the judge makes a determination as to whether or not there was probable cause established for an arrest, and then sets conditions of release including bond.
An ARRAIGNMENT is a court hearing in which the defendant is advised of formal charge(s) that the State Attorney has filed in the case. This is typically the first court hearing. If you have a private attorney, your attorney may waive your appearance at ARRAIGNMENT.
At ARRAIGNMENT, the defendant:
- Can plead not guilty at which time a date will be set for a pretrial conference and/or a trial
- Can plead no contest or guilty to the charge(s) and be Sentenced either at that time or at a subsequent date
PRE-TRIAL (also known as PRE-TRIAL CONFERENCE)
A PRE-TRIAL is a court hearing in which the State Attorney and the Defense Attorney briefly advises the judge of the status of the case including the progress in the Discovery process (gathering and reviewing evidence and interviewing or deposing witnesses), and the position of the case in terms of potentially being resolved without trial or proceeding to trial. If you have a private attorney, your attorney may waive your appearance at PRE-TRIAL.
The State Attorney may advise the judge of the facts of the crime(s) charged, and the Defendant or Defense Attorney may advise the judge of the facts they believe the judge should consider. The judge may indicate the sentence likely to be imposed, though this is less common.
At a PRE-TRIAL Conference the defendant or Defense Attorney:
- Can ask for additional time to complete the Discovery process
- Can ask for additional time to negotiate with the State Attorney
- Can ask to proceed to trial at a later date
- Can plead guilty or no contest and be SENTENCED either at that time or at a subsequent date
CHANGE OF PLEA
A CHANGE OF PLEA is a hearing when the Defendant changes his previously not guilty plea to a plea of no contest or guilty and may be SENTENCED either at that time or at a subsequent date. In many cases the Defense Attorney may have already negotiated with the State Attorney for an agreed-to resolution of the case.
The State Attorney will present evidence and witnesses in an attempt to meet their burden to prove the Defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury acts as finders of fact, where the judge acts as the determiner of law (referee). A verdict is typically issued by the jury indicating guilty or not guilty. If guilty, a SENTENCING HEARING is held where the judge will impose the sentence under the law.
SENTENCING / DISPOSITIONAL HEARING
A SENTENCING or DISPOSITIONAL hearing is when the judge imposes the sentence or disposition on the Defendant Under Florida law. The Defendant and/or Defense Attorney has the right to make a statement at the time of sentencing. In the statement, the Defendant and/or Defense Attorney may bring to the court’s attention any facts of the case which are important for the court to consider.
If you have received a notice from the Court for any of the above hearing types, your appearance is typically mandatory unless your attorney has advised you otherwise.
If you have an upcoming court hearing and are seeking a private criminal defense attorney, call the Morris Law Firm at 727-388-4736, Option 1 for New Clients for a strategic review of your case. The Morris Law Firm handles misdemeanor and felony criminal cases throughout the Tampa Bay area (Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Manatee Sarasota) and is dedicated to criminal defense.