Facing criminal charges in Florida is one of the most stressful, frightening experiences you can go through in life. But fear doesn’t even begin to cover the tidal wave of emotions crashing down on you— anxiety, guilt, shock, and anger are also quite common.
But you aren’t powerless in this situation.
The better you understand the Florida criminal case process, the more prepared you’ll be for every step along the way. When you also consider that your emotions can actually work against you as the criminal case unfolds, it’s even more important to have a clear grasp of what comes next.
What are the Phases of a Criminal Trial in Florida?
The phases of a criminal trial in Florida can be broken down into these 10 steps:
- Jury Selection: Attorneys from both sides go through a process of talking with potential jurors. This allows them to uncover any biases or other issues that prevent a juror from being impartial. If you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor, this step may not happen. Misdemeanor cases in FL often are heard only by a judge, unless the defendant specifically asks for a jury too.
- Opening Statements: Both your attorney and the prosecution’s attorney make their opening statements. The purpose is to provide jurors with an overview of your case and the specific evidence they’ll be presenting.
- Presenting the Evidence: First, the prosecution goes through witnesses, physical evidence, documents, expert testimony, and anything else they feel will prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. After each witness’s testimony, your attorney can cross-examine them, with the hope of discrediting that witness or even getting new information that strengthens your defense. Then, the roles swap. Your attorney presents their evidence to challenge the charges against you. The prosecution is given the same opportunity to cross-examine your witnesses.
- Motions and Other Legal Arguments: You might be picturing a TV drama where the attorney clinches the case by shouting, “Objection!” Though these motions and legal arguments are far less sensational in an actual courtroom, the purpose is the same. Objections to specific evidence, motions to instruct the jury, and other legal matters are brought before the judge, who makes the final call on each.
- Closing Arguments: The attorneys for both sides present closing arguments, which summarize the evidence and arguments presented throughout your trial. It’s the final opportunity for each side to win the jury over.
- Jury Instructions: The judge gives instructions to the entire jury regarding the relevant laws they need to consider while deliberating.
- Jury Deliberation: The jury moves to a private room, where they deliberate on a verdict. This includes discussing all evidence, testimony, and arguments presented, with the end goal being to agree unanimously (unless otherwise specified by the judge, which happens in some cases).
- Verdict: The jury informs the judge they’ve reached one of these conclusions:
- Guilty: The jury finds you guilty of the charges against you
- Not guilty: The jury acquits you of any wrongdoing and you aren’t sentenced
- Guilty of lesser charges: The jury agrees you committed a crime, but not to the degree the prosecution stated
- Deadlocked: The jury can’t agree, resulting in a mistrial and typically a few more steps, depending on the nature of your charges
- Sentencing (If Convicted): If you’re found guilty, the judge will issue penalties based on legal guidelines, the severity of your crime, your criminal history, and other details specific to you.
- Appeals (If Convicted): If you’re unhappy with your sentence, you have the right to appeal the decision to a higher court. Your trial will be reviewed for legal errors and violations to ensure due process was followed. If they rule in your favor, you may be given a new trial, have your charges dismissed, or have your sentence modified.
As you can see, there are quite a few opportunities throughout a Florida criminal trial to make a strong argument to the jury.
Even if your trial is well underway, you can still benefit from hiring one of our experienced Florida criminal defense attorneys here at Simko Law Group.
What is an Arraignment, and What Happens During It?
An arraignment is the hearing during which you’re arraigned, which means being called before the court for a formal reading of the charges against you. In Florida, you have the right to be present for this, but it’s not required.
During the hearing, you’re informed of the exact charges against you and your right to an attorney. If you state that can’t afford an attorney but want legal representation, you may be appointed a public defender by the judge.
What is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony in Florida?
The difference between a misdemeanor and a felony in Florida is that misdemeanors are less serious crimes, and therefore incur less severe penalties, while felonies are serious charges with major consequences.
If you’re convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor—which is more serious than second-degree—you face a maximum fine of $1,000 and a maximum jail sentence of up to one year.
But following a first-degree felony conviction, your penalties could be as high as a $15,000 fine and up to 30 years in prison.
There’s also a difference when it comes to the laws governing how each type of charge is prosecuted. Per Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.191(a), you must be brought to trial within:
- 90 days of being arrested for a misdemeanor
- 175 days of being arrested for a felony
No matter what type of charges you’re facing, hiring a dedicated, experienced Florida criminal defense attorney is your best option for winning a favorable outcome.
The Florida Criminal Case Process for Misdemeanor Charges
- Arrest: You can be arrested after a law enforcement official witnesses you commit a crime, or after a judge reviews an affidavit, determines probable cause, and issues a warrant for your arrest (Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.121).
- Booking: You’re taken to a local jail or police station to record your personal information. This includes things like your fingerprints, name, and sometimes photographs (also called mugshots).
- First Appearance: Under Florida law, you must be granted an appearance before a judge within 24 hours of your arrest. The judge will explain the charges and your rights before determining whether there is indeed probable cause for your arrest. If probable cause isn’t established, you may be released.
- Bail: But if the judge believes there is probable cause, they’ll set your bail. Bail is the dollar amount that must be paid to secure your release from jail between now and your trial.
- Arraignment: This is a formal court hearing in which you’re informed of the charges against you and instructed to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Pleading ‘guilty’ or ‘no contest’ can cause your case to proceed straight to sentencing. If you plead ‘not guilty,’ you’ll move on to pre-trial proceedings.
- Pre-Trial Proceedings: This phase is an umbrella for several steps. Discovery (where both sides exchange information/evidence), pre-trial motions, and plea bargain negotiations can all take place during this time.
- Trial: If the charges against you aren’t dismissed or successfully negotiated during the previous step, your case proceeds to trial. In Florida, most misdemeanor cases automatically appear before only a judge—no jury, unless you specifically request one.
- Sentencing: If you are either found guilty by the court or plead guilty at your arraignment, you typically have a separate hearing to determine the sentence. The judge is required to consider both the law and details about you as an individual.
- Appeals: You may be able to appeal the decision to a higher court, which reviews the record of your trial and decides if the outcome was negatively impacted by legal errors or violations.
The Florida Criminal Case Process for Felony Charges
If you’re facing felony charges in Florida, the criminal case process is a bit more complex than with misdemeanors. Here’s how these cases can unfold, depending on a few key details of your specific charges.
- (Optional) Grand Jury Indictment: Sometimes, the prosecution doesn’t have enough evidence to support a felony charge right out of the gate. They may choose to present what they have to the Florida statewide grand jury, which makes the call on whether there’s enough evidence to indict (formally charge) you. If the grand jury finds that sufficient evidence is present, you’ll be arrested or permitted to surrender voluntarily. You’ll then proceed through being booked and straight on to your arraignment.
- Arrest: Like with misdemeanor charges, you can be arrested by a law enforcement official who observed you committing the crime, or through an arrest warrant issued by a judge.
- Booking: Following your arrest, you’re taken to a local police station or jail, where your personal information will be recorded. And like being booked for a misdemeanor, things like your photo, fingerprints, and identifying information may be collected.
- First Appearance: You also have the right to a “first appearance” hearing within 24 hours of your arrest, just like with misdemeanor charges. The judge reviews the charges against you and determines whether there’s probable cause.
- Bail Hearing: This is where the Florida criminal case process for felonies begins to differ. If you’re kept in custody after your first appearance hearing, the judge decides whether you’re eligible for bail and what that amount will be. Because felony charges are more serious, you may not be given the option to post bail—instead, you’ll remain in custody through your trial.
- Arraignment: A hearing where the charges against you are formally read, and you’re asked to enter a plea of guilty, no contest, or not guilty. Pleading ‘guilty’ or ‘no contest’ can result in you proceeding straight to sentencing without a trial.
- Pre-Trial Proceedings: This covers discovery, any pre-trial motions that either side would like to file, negotiations between both sides to reach a plea agreement, and in some cases, additional hearings to discuss the motions filed.
- Trial: If your charges aren’t dismissed, or the two sides are unable to reach an agreement, your case goes to trial. Felony cases in Florida are usually heard by a jury unless you ask for a bench trial, which means you appear only before a judge—no jury.
- Sentencing: If you’re found guilty or you pleaded guilty earlier in the case proceedings, you’ll attend a sentencing hearing. As with misdemeanor penalties, the judge has to consider the laws and specific details about you to determine an appropriate sentence.
- Appeals: Depending on your felony charges, you may be able to appeal the verdict. A higher court will review your trial record for any wrongdoing that affected the outcome.
Especially if you’re grappling with felony charges, working with an experienced, aggressive Florida criminal defense attorney can turn the tide of your court proceedings. When you work with Simko Law Group, we explore every possible avenue for securing the most favorable outcome in your case.
Furthermore, with years of experience working for the Prosecutor’s Office in Clearwater, Florida, we have an “insider’s view” of how they might build their case against you. This makes us uniquely equipped to construct a bespoke defense strategy for your specific charges.
Do I Need an Attorney for My Criminal Case in Florida?
Yes, you should always consult with an experienced attorney when dealing with a criminal case in Florida. You see, the Florida legal system operates based on incredibly complex procedures and laws. You’re held to the same standard of following these protocols whether or not you hire an attorney.
This means without a skilled, focused Florida criminal defense lawyer by your side, you’re at a disadvantage. More importantly, it’s almost impossible for you to ensure your rights are protected throughout the entire case.
At Simko Law Group, we’re here to help, whether you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor or felony in Florida. With years of experience successfully defending clients, we know how to advocate aggressively on your behalf to win a favorable outcome.
Why leave your freedom—and your future—up to chance? Contact us today or call (561) 951-1264.