Getting arrested is a very stressful experience. We understand that when someone has never been arrested before, that they will have a lot of questions about what to do and what to expect. Here is a guideline to help you to understand how the system works and what to expect from your criminal case.
When someone gets arrested they are transported by a police officer to a jail. Once at the jail, one of three things will occur.
If a bond is set in your case, you can either post bond on your own by providing the full amount of money needed to the jail, or you can use a bondsman. Using a bondsman usually requires that you pay 10% of the bond as a fee, which will not be returned to you. You must have some collateral, or property of some value, to cover the remaining amount of the bond. If you post bond on your own, certain fees, including court costs are deducted from the amount when the case is over, otherwise, as long as you show up for court, you will get your money back. The process to be released from jail is usually quicker if you use a reputable bondsman.
If you were referred to pretrial release you will be supervised by an officer while your case is pending. You must follow all of the conditions placed on you, which could mean AA, random drug testing, anger control classes or other conditions to continue to remain out of custody while your case is pending.
If you are being held without a bond, this means that you have been accused of a serious offense, or you have another open case. You can hire an attorney to file a Motion for Bond on your behalf. In Florida, this hearing is called an “Arthur Hearing.” The State must establish that proof of guilt against you is evident and that there is a great presumption that you are a danger to the community, commonly referred to as the “proof evident, presumption great” standard.
After you post bond, you should consider looking for an attorney right away. Sometimes lawyers can intervene early on your behalf. Your lawyer can attempt to get charges dropped or can attempt to have your bond reduced. In DUI case, you will have to ask for a hearing within 10 days to keep your license while your case is pending.
The first hearing that you will have in your case is called an arraignment or first appearance. It will be set on the 21st day after you have been arrested if you were charged in Miami–Dade County and can occur anytime after you are arrested in Broward County. At this hearing, you will enter a plea, almost always “not guilty” in order for your attorney to work on your case. You will demand “discovery.” This means that you are asking the State to give you all of the police reports, sworn statements taken from the witnesses who will testify against you, and you will also receive a witness list. Your attorney will be allowed to take statements from all of the witnesses before they testify against you. This is called a deposition. It can take several months, if not over a year, to complete all of the statements and get all of the documents that are important in your case.
At the arraignment, also known as a first appearance, you will also receive a calendar call or trial date. Most judges want you to come to court every time the case is set. If you do not come to court, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. Some judges will require your attorney to file a written Motion for Continuance, which they will rule upon before you go to court, which means you won’t have to appear. About 95% of the time, the judge will require you to come to court for a felony case. Most of the time, if you hire an attorney in a county court case, a misdemeanor, your attorney can go to court for you and you do not have to be present. You case will likely be set for trial on several occasions prior to the case being ready to actually go to trial.
If your attorney believes that evidence against you was obtained illegally, they can file something called a Motion to Suppress. This type of a motion tells the judge that your constitutional rights were violated and as a result, any evidence obtained from those illegal actions should be thrown out. You can get drugs, weapons, physical evidence, and taped confessions thrown out of Court with the right legal argument.
At some point in time, you will be presented with a plea offer. This is an offer from the State to close your case without a trial. A majority of cases in criminal court are resolved by pleas, where you agree to plea guilty or no contest for a specific sentence. If you do not like the offer made by the State, you can either take your case to trial, or plea up to the Court, where you rely on the judge to give you a fair sentence, but you have no idea what it will be. Usually, the plea offer gets better the closer you get to trial, because your attorney is able to argue that the proof against you is weaker after they have had enough time to investigate your case. Occasionally, your attorney may be able to convince the State that they can’t prove your case. They will announce a “nolle prosequi,” commonly referred to as a “nolle pros,” which is a latin term that means that the case is dismissed.
Once you accept a plea, your criminal case is over. You either will be placed on some type of supervision known as probation or will be incarcerated. In certain misdemeanor cases you may just have to pay court costs, but be careful, if it is a drug case you can lose your driver’s license for two years. You should always consult with an attorney to see what your options are and what may result before you make such an important decision. If you are not a citizen of this country, pleading to a misdemeanor or other offense can result in deportation, even for minor offenses.
If you take the case to trial, a jury of usually six people will determine whether you are guilty or innocent. You will be able to assist your attorney in choosing the people on your jury, but you can only take a certain number for people who you don’t like out of the running, using what are called preemptory challenges. Jury trials are very unpredictable. No one can tell you that you will definitely win or lose.
If you could go back in a time machine and change the circumstances which led to you getting arrested or wrongfully accused, you would do it. Obviously, you can’t, so the only thing that is within your control is the lawyer you pick to represent you. You must feel confident in the abilities of your attorney and know that they will fight hard for you in Court. It’s hard to decide who to choose from.
Some things you may want to consider are how long your attorney has been practicing law, how many criminal trials they have done, whether they are Board Certified and whether they are AV rated. When an attorney is Board Certified, it means that the Florida Bar allows them to say that they are an expert in this area of law. When someone is AV rated, that means that other attorneys who practice in the same area have found them to be exceptionally qualified.
You should obtain a written contract and you should be quoted a price that will cover representation throughout the entire term of your case. Beware of attorneys quoting significantly lower fees than most. They will often not put their price in writing and will ask you for more money to continue working on your case. At the end you will pay just as much as the reputable and qualified attorney quoted you at the beginning of the case.
Good luck to you in resolving your criminal matter. This is a rough outline about what to expect in your criminal case and should not be considered legal advice. All cases, just like all people, are different and no one can advise you appropriately about your case until they have thoroughly reviewed it.
At The Law Offices Of Teresa Williams, We have over Twenty years of experience doing criminal trials and we are AV rated. Teresa Williams is Board Certified. We are confident that you will feel comfortable and confident in us once we sit down and talk. As a result, we are happy to provide a free consultation, for us to review the circumstances of your case and provide you with a quote for expert, professional representation that you can count on. Call The Law Offices Of Teresa Williams Today for your free consultation.