If you’ve been accused of a crime, it’s important to know what to expect next.
Becoming familiar with the criminal justice process will enable you to feel a bit less stressed and better anticipate what you will need to do each step of the way.
Before the Trial
In the state of Florida, the criminal process may begin in one of two ways, an arrest or a notice to appear.
Typically, a defendant who is accused of a serious crime by a law enforcement officer will be arrested immediately and taken to jail.
This may happen due to either the officer having reasonable cause to believe the person has committed a crime or due to the person being the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant.
Notice to Appear
In some cases, an officer may choose not to arrest the defendant and instead issue a notice to appear in court at a specific place and time.
Typically, a notice to appear will be given for more minor crimes such as misdemeanors, as long as the defendant was cooperative with the officer.
If a person given the notice to appear does not appear at the designated place and time, then a warrant may be issued for their arrest.
The first appearance in court will take place within 24 to 48 hours of the arrest.
At the first appearance, the defendant will be notified of the charges for the crimes he or she is accused of committing.
The judge will also make sure the defendant either has a criminal attorney or will request a public defender.
The purpose of a preliminary hearing is for the judge to determine whether there is probable cause to charge the defendant with a crime.
The prosecutors must present enough evidence to prove that a crime was committed and that the defendant was likely the person who committed it.
At the preliminary hearing, the defense can also ask for evidence to be thrown out or for the charges to be reduced or dismissed if the prosecutors do not show probable cause.
If a case is not dismissed at the preliminary hearing, the prosecution and defense may enter into negotiations for the defendant to plead guilty to the charges he or she is accused of, generally for a reduced sentence or to plead guilty to a reduced charge.
Plea bargaining helps the prosecution by ensuring the outcome of the case, and it can help the defense by ensuring a lesser punishment.
Of course, any plea bargain is dependent on the evidence that the prosecution and defense have and how much may have been thrown out at the preliminary hearing.
A plea bargain may be agreed to at any point between the preliminary hearing and the end of the trial.
At the arraignment, the defendant is formally charged and will enter a plea.
If the defendant pleads not guilty, then a trial will commence after the defendant is given time to prepare a proper defense.
The prosecutors will present their case before either a jury or a judge, and the defendant gets a chance to present his or her side.
Once all the evidence has been shown, the judge or jury will render a verdict.
After the Trial
If the defendant is found not guilty, then he or she is released and free to go.
If the defendant is found guilty at trial or pleads guilty, then sentencing will be scheduled at which the judge will notify the defendant what his or her punishment will be.
Punishment may include prison time, fines, probation, or community service.
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