Stages of a Criminal Case in Florida
Until you have a highly qualified criminal defense attorney to represent you, the criminal court system will be confusing and risky for those facing criminal charges. The first step in dealing with this system is to know what is coming. The following are the common stages of criminal cases in Florida.
Arrest and Booking
The criminal process typically begins when a person is arrested for an alleged crime and taken into police custody. The person is then taken to jail for the booking process, where they are photographed, fingerprinted, and asked to provide identifying information. In some cases, a person may be served with a “notice to appear” instead of being physically arrested, stating they must appear in court on a given date to answer for their criminal charges.
Once a person is booked into jail, they must appear before a judge within 24 hours. The arrestee now becomes a criminal defendant, and the judge will set the amount of bail and set conditions for pre-trial release.
At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution must present their evidence of probable cause for the defendant’s arrest. If the defendant can show the government does not have sufficient evidence for the arrest, or if key evidence is thrown out because the police obtained it improperly, the case could potentially be dismissed.
The arraignment is the court hearing where the defendant must formally enter a plea – not guilty, guilty, or no contest. For a guilty or no contest plea, the next step is sentencing. For a not guilty plea, the case will move into the discovery phase, where evidence is uncovered before trial.
After you have pleaded not guilty, your attorney will likely serve the prosecution with a Notice of Discovery, which obligates the prosecution to provide your attorney with every piece of evidence against you. Your attorney may also file a motion to suppress certain evidence that was obtained illegally, which can sometimes result in dismissal of the case.
At the pretrial hearing, your attorney and the prosecutor discuss the case, including any plea offers. They may discuss the status of the pre-trial discovery process and any problems with discovery.
If the trial is by judge, the judge will hear the evidence and render the verdict. If the trial is by jury, the jury selection process will have to be completed first. The trial generally proceeds as follows:
1. Opening statements
2. Prosecution presents case (defense attorney can cross-examine witnesses)
3. Defense presents case (prosecution can cross-examine defense witnesses)
4. Closing arguments
If the trial results in a guilty verdict, there will be a later sentencing hearing. The prosecution and defense will both make arguments, the defendant can present a statement, and the judge will pronounce a sentence, which can include fines, jail or prison time, probation, or community service.