If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, one of your first questions will be: what comes next? This is one of the most stressful, upsetting, and uncertain challenges a person can face in their lives. A defendant wants their day in court and wants to prove their innocence as soon as possible. There are steps in the legal process, however, that both prosecutors and defense teams must follow.
Generally speaking, most criminal cases include the following sequence of events:
- Arrest or Notice to Appear
An arrest occurs when an officer witnesses a crime being committed, or when an investigation leads to probable cause that a crime has been committed and an arrest can be made.
A notice to appear under Florida’s Rules of Criminal Procedure is a written order issued by law enforcement instead of a physical arrest. This notice will require the accused defendant to appear in a designated court or governmental office at a specific date and time. If the defendant is served with the Notice to Appear and does not appear for the court date, a bench warrant for their arrest can then be issued.
This is the formal process during which the defendant’s information is entered into the system. This information will include basics such as their name, birth date, and physical address. The defendant will also be fingerprinted, photographed, searched, and have any personal items taken and inventoried until their release.
- First Appearance and Pretrial Release
If you aren’t bailed out on the day of your booking, a judge will review your bond during a “first appearance”, or advisory hearing. This usually occurs within 24 hours of an arrest and booking. At this point, the judge can review the bond that was set and make any necessary changes. A defendant is not required to make any statements or plead one way or another during this initial proceeding. In most cases, unless a defendant is charged with a capital offense or is a significant flight risk, they will be granted pretrial release per Florida Statutes upon payment of bond (or on personal recognizance).
An arraignment hearing is an important legal right that defendants have, in which they must be made aware of the charges made against them, and given an opportunity to state their position on the record. They may plead no contest, guilty, or not guilty. Most often, this will be a not guilty plea entered by the defendant’s attorney. This allows the defendant and their attorney time to review the facts involved, obtain police reports and evidence, and build a defense strategy.
The prosecutor will file formal charges, known as an “information”, if they believe the evidence warrants prosecution of the case to trial. The information includes the exact charges a defendant will face at trial – which may differ from those included in the initial arrest paperwork.
A defendant’s attorney will then file a Notice of Discovery (usually with a Demand for Jury Trial as well). This notice puts the burden on the prosecution to provide certain evidence, such as:
- Police reports
- Witness statements
- Bodycam or dashcam videos
- Other supporting documentation they relied on and intend to use
Depending on the nature of the case, there may be additional types of evidence needed, some of which may take additional time to produce.
- Motions to Suppress
If evidence was obtained in a manner that violated a defendant’s Constitutional rights, their attorney will file a Motion to Suppress evidence that was gathered in violation of those rights. If successful, certain pieces of evidence or testimony may be excluded from use at trial. If the prosecution can’t take their case to trial without this evidence, their entire case may come to an end.
- Pretrial Hearings and Plea Negotiations
Pretrial hearings are opportunities for prosecutors and defense attorneys (and the defendant) to assess where the case stands, and to update the judge on what the issues are. Any updates on plea negotiations are typically discussed during pretrial hearings as well. The courts encourage both sides to use these hearings as opportunities to discuss a resolution of the case to avoid trial.
If plea negotiations fail and both sides want to make their case in court, a trial date will proceed and a jury will be called. The trial begins with jury selection and continues as each side calls their witnesses and presents evidence and testimony. Depending on the nature of the case, a criminal trial can last anywhere from one day to several weeks or even months.
The Tampa Criminal Defense Attorneys at Trombley & Hanes Will Fight for You at All Stages of a Florida Criminal Case
At Trombley & Hanes, our Tampa criminal lawyers have years of experience defending criminal cases involving Florida and Federal law. Every step of the way, a defendant faces certain challenges but also opportunities to resolve the case or even have it dismissed. If you face any type of criminal charge and have questions about what comes next, don’t hesitate to call our office at 813-229-7918, or visit our firm online today.