Being arrested is one of the scariest and most confusing experiences anyone can have. Nobody wants to feel scared or helpless when it comes to any aspect of their life, especially when their freedom is at stake. So how is a criminal case started? What can you expect while navigating through the criminal justice system? Please read on to learn more about how a criminal case begins and what you can expect moving forward. You can always call the Law Office of Dell & Schaefer to speak with Lead Attorney Grant Schwarz 24 hours a day 7 days a week, even weekends and holidays. Call 954-620-8320 or email at Grant@dnslaw.com
How Criminal Cases begin
An arrest is the first step in the criminal system. There are two types of arrests in the criminal system. The first is a physical or custodial arrest. This is what most people think of when they hear the word “arrested”. This is when the police physically take you in handcuffs and bring you to the police station or to jail. The second is a non-physical or “written arrest”. When an officer gives you a Notice to Appear in court for most misdemeanor cases, the officer is ordering you to appear at a certain place at a certain time. While this is not physically the same as a custodial arrest, the legal effect is the same: You are being accused of a crime and you are being told where to report and when to answer for that crime. Just because you were arrested does not mean that you are guilty of anything. Being arrested only means that a police officer has probable cause to believe that you committed some crime. It is important to never speak to law enforcement without the presence of an attorney. Anything you say while you are being arrested will be used against you in court.
Most times, police officers arrest people who they personally see commit a crime. Other times, law enforcement will know that someone has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime. In those situations, police officers will present that information to a Judge and apply for an arrest warrant. Once law enforcement has a warrant for your arrest, they will try to find you and take you into custody. Depending on the charge, you will be given a reasonable bond and you can begin defending your case.
Sometimes police officers do not make a physical or even a written arrest. Some cases begin with the police filing a report with the State Attorney’s Office alleging what criminal acts you are allegedly guilty of. If the state attorney decides that there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction the prosecutor may decide to issue a summons for you to come to court and answer for these charges. You will not be physically arrested, but you will need to appear before the court and enter a plea, of you could have an experienced criminal defense attorney do this for you. If you have received a summons, contact the Law Office of Dell & Schaefer to speak to Lead Attorney Grant Schwarz.
First appearance in court
Probable cause hearing
After you have been arrested you will likely see a judge within 24 hours of your arrest. The purpose of this hearing is for the court to determine whether the police had probable cause to arrest you. If you have called our office fast enough, we will be able to appear at First Appearance Court and argue that the police made an unlawful arrest. If the judge finds that there was no probable cause, the court will order that you be released on your own recognizance without any financial conditions like bond. If the judge finds the police had sufficient probable to arrest, we will argue that you should still be released on your own recognizance, or that you be given a small bond for release. Contact Attorney Grant Schwarz for any issues involving probable cause hearings or bond.
After you have been arrested and probable cause has been found, the police reports are forwarded to the state attorney’s office for review and case filing. Getting an attorney involved early on could make a big difference in whether charges actually get filed. We are often able to provide additional information not provided in the police report, names of witnesses, pictures, videos or audio recordings important to your defense. This information would not otherwise make it into the hands of the prosecutor assigned to file your case. If the state attorney agrees with our assessment of the case the charges could be reduced or even dismissed without any further need to appear in court.
Once the state attorney has received the paperwork from law enforcement, the State attorney must file the charges within a specified period of time. For misdemeanor cases, cases must usually be filed within 30 days and must be brought to trial within 90 days. A violation of this rule could result in a dismissal of your charges. Felony cases require the same 30 days but must be brought to trial within 180 days of arrest. This is known as the Speedy Trial Rule.
Arraignment is the first time that the Judge will officially notify the Defendant what charges the State has brought. Arraignment is the opportunity to plea Not Guilty and have your experienced criminal defense attorney investigate your case for ways to have the charges Dismissed, Reduced or have evidence suppressed.
Programs run by the court or by the state are an alternative to following the ordinary path of a criminal case. These programs offer a way to take responsibility for your actions and show remorse. Upon successful completion of following rules and performing certain tasks, cases entered into diversion programs are dismissed. This allows for your record to be expunged. Examples of these programs are: Plea and Pass Agreements, Pretrial Diversion Programs, Pretrial Intervention Programs and Drug Court.
Motion to Dismiss
Depending on what issues an attorney is able to spot during the investigation of a criminal case, a Motion to Dismiss may be filed. A case can be dismissed for a number of reasons. Either the State failed to bring you to trial within the speedy trial period, the State failed to bring charges within the Statute of Limitations. Also in limited circumstances, even if everything the state is accusing you of is true, there was no crime committed. This is known as a C-4 Motion to Dismiss.
Motion to Suppress
If the Court denies a Motion to Dismiss, or if there are no issues which give rise to a Motion to Dismiss, there is always a Motion to Suppress. Police are required to develop sufficient reasonable suspicion to detain you, and probable cause to search and arrest you. In the heat of the moment, police officers may act too aggressively and violate your constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. If this has happened to you, an attorney may be able to argue the police violated the Defendant’s rights. If the Court agrees, any evidence the Police found or the State plans to use against you will be inadmissible in court. Most times, the Suppression of evidence leads to a dismissal of your case. Motions to Suppress are a very powerful tool to use in a criminal case.
Trial – Jury
If the Court denies all motions, or if none are available in your case and the State Attorney or Court will not make a reasonable plea offer, the last resort to take the case to trial. At trial, the State and the Criminal Defense Attorney will pick 6 members of the community. These 6 jurors will listen to all the evidence and decide whether the State has proven your guilty beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt. The State will be forced to prove every element of the crime they are charging you with beyond a reasonable doubt. They will need to call their witnesses and present evidence proving there was a crime committed, and that you are the person who committed the crime. Your attorney will be able to cross examine each of the states witnesses to discredit their memory and knowledge of the facts. You will have the right to call witnesses in your behalf, as well as testify on your own behalf if after speaking to your attorney, you decide it is in your best interest.
Trial – Non Jury
If you decide, and the State agrees, a trial by jury can be waived and instead have the Judge hear all the evidence and render a verdict. The State will still have to prove everything but there will be no jury, only a Judge. In some cases this can be a good option because a Judge can sort through a lot of less relevant evidence the State seeks to introduce and be able to see issues clearly. The decision to waive a jury trial is one that should be made after a discussion with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
When there are no motions to file, and a trial is not in your best interest, the only option to resolve any criminal case is through a plea of No Contest or Guilty through negotiations or to the Court. A negotiated plea is usually preferred because the Defendant and the Criminal Defense Attorney know what they are getting. If the State is unwilling to make a reasonable plea offer, then an Open Plea may become necessary.
This is not because the Judge will supposedly give a more favorable sentence due to some relationship he/she has with the Criminal Defense Attorney. Rather, an attorney who knows the Judge’s temperament and has experience dealing with that particular Judge has a better understanding and can make a more educated prediction about what the Judge will do if asked to participate in plea negotiations. An Open Plea is when the Defendant and Attorney ask the Judge to participate in plea negotiations. A plea of Guilty or No Contest is entered, and the Defendant and Defense Attorney make an argument to the Judge as to why a particular sentence is appropriate. The Judge is then free to accept the argument and impose the proposed sentence, or the Judge can deny the argument and impose a stricter sentence than the State was asking for. An Open Plea is not something to be entered into lightly and should be discussed with an experienced Criminal Defense Attorney before being entered into.
Under Florida’s Sentencing guidelines misdemeanors and felonies are punishable by different minimum and maximum sentences. Sentences may include: Fines, Probation, Community Control, House Arrest, Jail Time, Prison Time or any combination thereof. Once a plea of guilty or no contest is entered, the judge will order you to complete the terms and conditions of your negotiated plea. If there was no negotiation with the state attorney, then the court will impose whatever sentence the court feels is appropriate given your criminal history, lack thereof, allegations in the police report and severity of your offense. Sometimes it is helpful for the court to order a PSI or Pre-Sentence Investigation. A PSI is something that is ordered usually for first time felony offenders. You will submit to an interview with the Department of Corrections. You and your family will be questioned about you, your life, your aspirations for the future and what you have learned from this whole experience. Depending on the outcome of the interview, the Department of Corrections may make a recommendation to the court as to what an appropriate sentence will be. The court is then free to rely on that recommendation or make a sentence of their own.
Violations of Probation
Being placed on probation is a serious commitment. If you fail to complete the terms and conditions imposed by the court, you are considered to be in violation of those terms and conditions. If your probation officers finds that you willfully and substantially vioilated your probation sentence, he/she will file a warrant with the court. The judge will then bring you into court, often without bond and is able to sentence you to the full extend the law initially provided when you were put on probation. Violations of probation can also be resolved with negotiated plea, open pleas or a trial. There is no right to a jury trial when it comes to a violation of probation.
Contact a Criminal Defense lawyer today
You should immediately contact a proven, highly-skilled and experienced Broward, Palm Beach or Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer who has handled thousands of criminal cases and can begin fighting for you as soon as possible to make sure that your rights are properly protected. The Office of Dell & Schaefer has represented thousands of criminal defendants in the tri county area and throughout Florida since 1979 and knows the proven defenses that work in and out of court. Attorney Grant Schwarz is a former prosecutor and knows how the state attorney’s office prosecutes these cases and knows how to properly defend his clients in an ethical and aggressive manner.
Contact the office of Dell & Schaefer right away! 954-620-8320 or email at Grant@dnslaw.com. Call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week even holidays and weekends.