Understanding the Florida Legal System

Whether or not you have been in legal trouble and regardless of the probability that you will fall into legal trouble, it’s a good idea to understand your rights and the process of the legal system. While the basics are largely the same, certain aspects of the legal system differ from state to state. As legal experts in the state of Florida, we want to make sure you know your rights, as well as the rules guiding law enforcement officers, should you fall into such a situation.

What happens when someone is put under arrest?

If law enforcement officers are able to produce probable cause that you committed a crime, they can put you under arrest. In most circumstances, evidence will need to be gathered through an investigation in order to get a warrant for an arrest. The exception is if the arresting officer witnesses a crime being committed.

While making the arrest, the arresting officer is required to inform the suspect of their Miranda Rights. This is where the suspect is informed of their right not to speak with investigators and their right to have an attorney represent them. These rights are guaranteed by the United States Constitution. If Miranda Rights are not read during the arrest, the case could be thrown out.

Following the arrest, the suspect is booked into custody, they are photographed and their fingerprints are taken, and officials will ask for personal information such as birth date and current address to see if they have a criminal history. Additionally, all of the suspects personal items, such as money and jewelry, will be collected for safe keeping.

What is bail?

In the state of Florida, a suspect must be given his or her initial appearance in court within 48 hours of the arrest. If the suspect does not have a lawyer, the court will appoint one for them, as permitted by the U.S. Constitution. At this point, the judge will determine whether or not there was probable cause for the arrest. If it is deemed that there was probable cause, bail will be set for the suspect’s temporary release.

The amount of bail can be anywhere from nothing to millions depending on factors such as the suspect’s criminal record, employment, and whether they have close ties to relatives in the community. Judges will typically stick to standard practices for bail such as $500 for nonviolent petty misdemeanors. However, the amount of bail is entirely up to the judge. The judge could release the suspect on their own recognizance (OR) or deny bail all together. Bail is typically only denied if the suspect is deemed likely to flee the jurisdiction.

What happens when a plea is entered?

Within 30 days of his or her first appearance in court, an arraignment hearing will be held where the suspect will plead either guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the charges. At that point, the state’s attorney will review all of the evidence and decide whether or not there is enough evidence to make a case against the suspect. If it is decided that there is sufficient evidence, the suspect will be formally charged, meaning they will be formally accused of the crime. The deadline for charging a suspect is 75 days for a misdemeanor, 175 days for a felony, and if the suspect is held in jail, they must be charged within 30 days of their arrest.

What is a plea agreement?

After being charged, and depending on the situation, a defendant might be offered a plea deal by the prosecution. Under the terms of the plea deal, the prosecutor may offer the defendant a lighter sentence in exchange for pleading guilty to a lesser crime. Even if a deal is struck between the two sides, there is no requirement for the judge to accept the deal, though they usually do.

What is a preliminary hearing?

In Florida, defendants have the right to a preliminary hearing within 21 days of his or her arrest. During this hearing, the prosecution will outline their case for the first time and, based on the presentation, the judge will decide whether the case is worthy to go to trial. If the case goes before a grand jury, there will be no preliminary hearing. However, grand jury cases are generally limited to capital cases and corruption investigations.

What is a trial?

If a suspect is arrested under probable cause, doesn’t agree to a plea deal, and if the judge decides the case is fit to proceed, the case will go trial. Under the sixth amendment of the U.S. Constitution, defendants are entitled to a public trial by a jury of their peers, meaning common citizens. Misdemeanors will usually simply go before a judge. During the trial, the prosecution and defense will present their cases and the jury will decide whether the defendant is guilty or not. The verdict must be unanimous or new jurors may be brought in to come up with a verdict.

If the case involves a misdemeanor, the judge will typically sentence the defendant right after the verdict is read. If the case involves a felony, the sentencing will be set for a later date, giving the probation department ample time to conduct their investigation.

Regardless of whether you think you will be in need of criminal defense or not, you should understand the criminal system in your state. You never know if you may need it to prove your innocence. With this guideline, you will go into a criminal proceeding understanding the different steps. If you are in need of criminal defense, come to Yardley Law for representation.


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