Court Procedure

Criminal Law 101


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First Appearance

After a person is arrested in the State of Florida, they are taken before a Judge within 24 hours of arrest for what is called a first appearance. Here, the Judge informs you of the charges against you and determines whether or not there was probable cause for the arrest. If they find probable cause, you will usually be given a bond with reasonable conditions (such as a no contact order or a no return to the scene order) unless he or she believes you are a danger to the community or a flight risk. If you are denied a bond (or given a zero bond), you may want to contact a lawyer to help you get a bond hearing as soon as possible. In some cases, you may be released ROR (or released on your own recognizance). Once you are out of jail, it will be much easier to communicate with your lawyer to prepare your defense. If you do not get a bond, the State has 33 days to file charges against you. If they fail to do so, your attorney may be able to file what is commonly called a 33-day motion on your behalf.

Getting Your Bail Bond Set

The bail bond is typically set during the first appearance, unless there are special circumstances such as the judge believes you are a danger to the community or a flight risk.  When you get a bond set, you can either post a cash bond or go with a bail bondsman.  If you go with a bail bondsman, you will pay 10% of the bond(s) or a minimum of $100 per charge, whichever is greater.  But when the case closes, you don’t get any money back.  You only get money back if you post a cash bond.  The problem with that is that most people don’t have a lot of cash sitting around.  And, if they do, they usually prefer to give that money to a good defense attorney (like our lawyers!) to defend the case.

Arraignment

The arraignment is usually the first court date you will have in any criminal case after you bond out. It is where you plead guilty, no contest, or not guilty. If you have retained us well prior to your arraignment date, your presence should NOT be necessary and we will have filed a written plea of not guilty on your behalf. From there, the State Attorney’s Office will forward us all of the discovery in your case (e.g., police reports, photographs, videos, interviews, witness statements, DNA reports, forensic lab reports, results of urinalysis, blood, and so on). In Florida, you are entitled to know every piece of evidence the State intends to use against you in any given case before you decide whether to fight the charges or enter a plea.  So it is usually advisable to plead not guilty and wait to see what the State has on you!

Pretrial Conference

The pretrial conference is the next court date in most criminal cases. This is a date that also usually does NOT require your presence if you have retained us to represent you and you have signed our waiver of appearance.  The pretrial conference is attended by the prosecutor, the judge and your defense attorney. It is where we discuss in what direction your case will proceed (for example, with a continuance, pretrial diversion, trial, motion hearings, or a plea).

Motions and Case Management Conferences

After your pretrial conference, your case will proceed as necessary to your defense. Each case is unique. Please watch for our letters in your mailbox for future court dates. Some court dates (such as case management conferences) will require you to be in court with the attorney, while others (such as motions to suppress) may not. Again, we will inform you whether or not you will have to be present.

The length or duration on your case will depend on the complexity of the issues and number of witnesses involved. For example, a simple petit theft case may take 2-3 months to resolve, an average DUI maybe 4-8 months, and felonies can range from as little as 1 month to several years. If there is a particular reason you need your case to resolve by a certain date, you should inform your lawyer right away. Most of the time, a month or two may go by without any news on your case. This is normal. Criminal cases sometimes take a long time to resolve. Remember too that criminal defense cases almost always get better with time. So do not panic if you have not heard from your lawyer in a while or think your case is taking too long. It may be a good thing. And rest assured, we are diligently working on your case.

Trial

The trial is naturally the final stage of your case and is only necessary in a small percentage of our cases. If we believe your case will require a trial, we will discuss the procedure and together we will prepare your defense strategy (e.g., theory of defense, presentation of evidence, defense witnesses and so on).  We will inform you of all possible outcomes and go into court by your side, prepared and ready to fight for you.

Appeal

The appeal is post-trial and is usually only necessary when there is a verdict of guilty at trial. In this event, we will either help you with your appeal or help your appellate lawyer in continuing to fight for your case.