Your Jacksonville Criminal Case: The Basics
It's late, and you just want some peace. The last thing you want to deal with is a loudmouth from Georgia talking SEC sports in your favorite bar and grill. It would take the combined patience of Job and Tim Tebow to walk away. Seeing as how you are neither one of those gentlemen, you punch that loudmouth right where his teeth ought to have been.
We all lose our cool sometimes. It's important, though, to stay calm whenever possible. The threat of criminal charges is scary enough to make anyone panic. Luckily, FindLaw has this guide to the basics of a criminal case in Jacksonville. Review these materials, consult with a local attorney, and get back to whatever peace you can find.
Categories of Crime
State law divides crimes into two primary categories: (1) felonies and (2) misdemeanors. Felonies are the more serious crimes. They are punishable by more than one year of incarceration in a state penitentiary. Misdemeanors, on the other hand, are less serious, and are punishable by less than one year of incarceration.
In most cases, the arrest is a person's entry into the criminal justice system. An officer either witnesses what appears to be a violation of the law, or the officer is informed by a witness that a felony has been committed. In Jacksonville, arrested individuals are typically taken to the Sheriff's Pre-Trial Detention Facility.
Generally, an arrested person's first court appearance, or First Appearance, will occur within 24 hours of arrest. The court will advise the defendant of his/her rights to remain silent and have an attorney present. This is the ideal time to ask for an attorney if you have not already asked for one. Your first appearance will likely be at the Duval County Courthouse.
If you've been arrested, the judge or court personnel may try to determine whether you require an attorney prior to the First Appearance. If so, there's a chance that the attorney for your First Appearance is for that occasion only, and you may have different appointed counsel for later proceedings.
In Jacksonville, and the rest of Duval County, the Public Defender is an elected official who leads an office that represents clients in criminal defense and mental health commitment proceedings. Call the Office of the Public Defender for more information at (904) 630-1440. Be prepared to pay a $50 fee for public defender services.
The State of Florida generally allows arrestees to be released prior to trial. Additionally, the State presumes that the release will only be subject to nonmonetary conditions. If you've been arrested, this means that your behavior will be restricted -- no contact with victims; no visiting the crime scene; no out of state travel; etc. -- but there's a fair chance that you will not have to pay any money to the court in order to be released after a minor offense.
Nonadversary Probable Cause Determination
When a defendant is kept in custody, the Court must conduct a Probable Cause Determination (PCD) -- a hearing to verify that the state has enough evidence to justify holding the accused until the time of trial. This hearing usually occurs within 48 hours of arrest. Even if a defendant is not in custody, he can request a PCD if the nonmonetary conditions of his release are too strict.
So, if you've been released, but you're prohibited from traveling out of state for a family event, for example, you can submit a motion to the court. In that motion, you must describe the restriction against you and request a PCD to eliminate that restriction. This is a "nonadversary" hearing because the defendant does not have to examine or cross-examine witnesses -- or even appear in court. The prosecution must do all of the work.
After the court determines that the State has probable cause to prosecute, the defendant's next court appearance will be at the arraignment -- hearing at which the court formally notifies the defendant of the charges. This is also the occasion for entering a plea of "guilty," "not guilty," or "no contest."
After a "not guilty" plea, the prosecution and defense may discuss possible plea agreements. The parties will work to avoid the delay and uncertainties of trial and come to an agreement based on the evidence that the prosecution has and must share with the defense. The judge, however, has final say on any proposed plea deal.
Between arraignment and trial, the attorneys for both sides may submit motions to the court in preparation for trial. These motions will
- set the rules for presenting evidence,
- finalize the timing of the trial,
- give notice of defenses to be used, and
- resolve other administrative matters.
On the matter of timing, generally, misdemeanor trials must begin within 90 days of arrest, and felony trials within 175.
In Florida, most juries will feature six jurors. A jury will only have twelve jurors if it is a capital case. All jurors must agree on the verdict. If you receive an unfavorable verdict, you may have a right to an appeal. Be sure to talk to your attorney for more on your options.