Your Fort Lauderdale Criminal Case: The Basics

Ever since your son went off to college at the University of Miami, he just can't seem to keep his nose clean. He's always skipping classes and getting into trouble with the law. This week he was home for spring break and made a big mistake. He stole a bike near Fort Lauderdale beach and tried to sell it online to an undercover police officer. Now, instead of worrying about his college tuition, you're thinking about things like bail, criminal sentences, and defense lawyers.

You've come to the right place. We've put together some basic, general information to help you get acquainted with the misdemeanor and felony laws in Florida should you or a loved one get arrested and charged with a Fort Lauderdale criminal case.

Tell Me About the Cops

The cops likely believe they have probable cause to place you under arrest for either a misdemeanor or a felony (or they have a warrant). If you've been arrested, it was likely by one of the following law enforcement agencies: the Fort Lauderdale Police, the Florida Highway Patrol, or the Broward County sheriff. The officer will secure a pair of handcuffs upon your wrists and take you to the Broward County Jail. He or she will then write up a police report to submit it to the Office of the State Attorney to review and decide what charges, if any, to file.

Miranda Rights

You've probably heard about Miranda rights. The police need to tell you these warnings anytime you are in custody and the subject of interrogation -- You have the right to remain silent; Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law; You have the right to consult with a lawyer and have that lawyer present during the interrogation; If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you.

How Do I Get Out of Jail?

After getting arrested, you'll either be released on your own recognizance or have to post bond. A bond is insurance to guarantee you'll appear in court for trial. If you fail to appear for a court date, the bond money is forfeited. A bond may be posted in cash, by you or by someone on your behalf. You can also try and get a surety bond through a bail bondsman.

You can go to the Broward County Branch Jail at 555 SE 1st Avenue to post bond anytime, day or night. They'll accept cash, cashier's checks or money orders. Don't bring a personal check -- they won't accept it. If you want to use a credit card, you can do it online.

Aren't sure if your loved one is in jail? You can look up arrestee information online, too.

Remember, when you post a bond, you are guaranteeing that the defendant will appear for all court appearances and abide by all non-financial conditions. Any cash or property posted is subject to forfeiture if the defendant fails to comply with all orders of the court.

Statute of Limitations in Florida

In the state of Florida, there is a window of time that the prosecutor has to file charges against you for most crimes. This is called the "statute of limitations."

There is no time limit for the prosecutor to file charges against you in a murder case or any charge involving life in prison. For most other felonies, the statute of limitations is either three or four years. If you are accused of a theft-related offense, the time limit can be as long as five years from the date you allegedly committed the crime. Any crime involving abuse, neglect, or exploitation of the elderly or disabled is also five years.

The time limit for misdemeanors is either one or two years from the date of the offense.

How Can I Find a Lawyer?

Since you'll be dealing with the Fort Lauderdale criminal courts, you may want to consider speaking to a lawyer. You can hire a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer or ask for the Broward County public defender.

Florida Criminal Laws and Sentences

Florida's Penal Code is long. There's a crime for just about everything you can think from the sale of fireworks to murder.

Criminal offenses are broken down into the following degrees, ranked from most serious to less serious:

  • Felonies (Capital, Life, First, Second, Third)
  • Misdemeanors (First, Second)

Felonies in Fort Lauderdale

A felony is the most serious of crimes. A conviction in Florida carries huge penalties including years of prison time, large fines, and major repercussions for the rest of your life. You can lose some of your rights such as the right to carry a gun. You can also lose the right to vote, or the right to join the military.

Some Fort Lauderdale felonies include murder, computer-related crimes, grand theft, sexual assault, fraud, drugs sales, and some domestic violence.

Felonies are classified as third degree, second degree, first degree, life, or in the most serious situations, the death penalty. Basically, the worse the crime, the higher the penalty.

Capital Felony

  • Death or Life in Prison
  • Possibility of No Parole

Life Felony

  • Life in Prison
  • Possibility of No Parole
  • $15,000 Fine

First Degree Felony

  • Up to Thirty Years Prison
  • Thirty Years Probation
  • $10,000 Fine

Second Degree Felony

  • Up to Fifteen Years Prison
  • Fifteen Years Probation
  • $10,000 Fine

Third Degree Felony

  • Up to Five Years Prison
  • Five Years Probation
  • $5,000 Fine

Anyone convicted of a felony crime in Florida may also face other fines and probation, drug and alcohol treatment, and community service, among other things.

Misdemeanors

A misdemeanor in Florida is less serious than a felony, but remember, a conviction or guilty plea can have consequences on your career and your freedom. If you are a non-citizen, a misdemeanor can impact your immigration status.

Misdemeanors are classified into two categories: first and second degree.

Common Fort Lauderdale misdemeanors include assault, public intoxication, battery, or violation of an emergency protective order/domestic violence order.

First Degree Misdemeanor

  • Up to One Year in Jail;
  • One Year Probation; and
  • $1,000 Fine.

Second Degree Misdemeanor

  • Up to Sixty Days in Jail;
  • Six Months Probation; and
  • $500 Fine.

Some crimes carry additional penalties such mandatory counseling or substance abuse classes.

The Bottom Line

A criminal conviction can have a serious, lasting impact on your life. You have options and rights. Anyone charged with an offense may want to at least consider consulting a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.