What is the Typical Procedure in a Criminal Case?

Facing criminal charges in Florida is stressful, to say the least; the criminal process is complicated, however each step is critical to a successful outcome. Whether the situation involves assault, drug possession with intent, DUI, theft, burglary, or any other criminal offense, you need an aggressive criminal defense attorney and this is the typical procedure is as follows.

Defendant Arrested or Issued Notice to Appear

A person may be arrested by a law enforcement officer due to reasonable cause, or a warrant may be issued by a police or other law enforcement official which requires the accused to appear in court on a specific date and time (notice to appear). In most cases, those arrested will move forward through the criminal process right away. Those who are issued a notice to appear will usually be released from custody upon determining the suspect is not a flight risk or threat to the public or him- or herself. If arrested, the defendant typically goes before the judge within 24 to 48 hours.

First Appearance

At the first appearance the accused will be advised regarding the criminal charges filed, and be made aware that he/she has the right to legal counsel. Bail or other conditions related to pre-trial release may also be determined at the first appearance, which must occur in front of the judge within 24 to 48 hours of the defendant being imprisoned. As the defendant you are not required to speak, and it is imperative to realize that if you do choose to say anything it can be used against you in any step of the criminal justice procedure.

Preliminary Hearing

The preliminary hearing is one of the most important procedures in a criminal case, and is where your defense lawyer will present various legal strategies such as filing a motion to have the charges dismissed or reduced. At this hearing the prosecutor must present sufficient evidence to the judge for him or her to determine the case should proceed forward to a trial.

Plea Bargaining

When criminal charges are not dismissed at the preliminary hearing, the next step in the process is usually plea bargaining, however this procedure may occur at any point between the preliminary hearing and the judgment or pronouncement at trial. Ultimately, this is a time when the defense attorney, prosecutor, or both attempt to negotiate a plea agreement due to the fact that evidence is lacking on the prosecution's side, the offense is one considered non-violent, or for other reasons. A plea bargain generally results in the defendant pleading guilty or no contest rather than going forward to trial, in exchange for punishment or penalties that are less severe.

Arraignment Hearing

This step in the criminal process is waived when the alleged offender agrees to a plea deal or agreement with the prosecution. Otherwise, it is a vital point in the process that ultimately decides whether the case will move forward to trial or sentencing, and involves the alleged offender (defendant) being informed of the criminal charges filed against him or her. At this hearing the defendant will be directed to enter a formal plea, for example not guilty, guilty, or no contest. When a defendant offers a formal plea of not guilty to the charge, the case then moves toward a trial by judge or jury.

Trial

Any defendant who enters a not guilty plea at the arraignment hearing will face trial by judge or jury. At this point, it is critical to work with an experienced Orlando criminal defense attorney so that you can come to a decision as to whether the case should be tried before a judge, or in front of a jury. Your lawyer will also develop an effective defense strategy at this point. If your case is tried before a judge, the defense and prosecution will present the case prior to the judge making a decision regarding your guilt or innocence based on whether you can be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

If you decide on a jury trial, a process is undertaken in which both the prosecution and defense select jurors before arguing your case in front of the judge and the jury. In the event the jury finds the defendant not guilty, the defendant is immediately free to leave. If the jury returns with a guilty verdict, sentencing is typically set for anywhere from two weeks to three months (90 days) from the trial date.

Sentencing

Sentencing is the last phase of a criminal case, and involves the judge hearing what the defense and prosecution recommend as appropriate punishment for the offense committed by the defendant. After hearing these arguments, the judge will take into consideration the recommendations of both sides, statutory penalties for the crime, criminal history, and other factors in order to determine proper sentencing which may be jail/prison time, fines, community service, probation, rehabilitation, education, or other sanctions depending on the offense, circumstances of the case, and above mentioned factors. It is important to have a skilled and dedicated criminal defense attorney in your corner during the sentencing phase so that any mitigating circumstances that could result in less harsh punishment may be argued.

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