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Your Tampa Criminal Case: The Basics

Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

Your husband and his friends had gone to a Rock the Park Concert at the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. He asked if you wanted to come, but you were really looking forward to some quiet down time, so you sent him off without you. You took a bath and started in on the historical novel that your book club was reading when the phone rang. Your husband had been arrested? Your mind started racing. How did that happen and what happens now? What do you do? What can you expect? To help you we've compiled some basic information for dealing with a criminal case in Tampa.

You may wish to start by looking over the FindLaw section on Criminal Law for a general overview. Then return here for information geared more specifically towards Florida and Cigar City.

Who Is Involved?

The first people usually encountered in a Tampa criminal case are officers from the Tampa Police Department, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, or the Florida Highway Patrol.

The accused will likely spend some time at Orient Road Jail where Central Booking is located. The Office of the State Attorney will typically prosecute the case and depending on financial circumstances, the Public Defender may provide the defense for those that qualify.

Cases will generally be handled in the 13th Judicial Circuit -- either the county criminal department for misdemeanors, or the circuit criminal department for felonies. FindLaw has compiled some information on Tampa courthouses.

How Are Crimes Classified?

In Tampa and the rest of Florida, crimes are classified as either felonies or misdemeanors.

Felonies are the more serious crimes (such as murder or armed robbery) punishable by death or imprisonment in a state penitentiary for more than one year. If you or your loved one has been charged with a felony, check out these frequently asked questions for information from the circuit criminal department.

Misdemeanors are the less serious crimes (such as assault or possession of marijuana) punishable by a term of imprisonment in a county correctional facility for up to one year. If you or your loved one has been charged with a misdemeanor, check out these frequently asked questions for information from the county criminal department.

How a crime is classified can have implications beyond the associated punishment or the court in which it is heard. Check out this article for some general information about the substantive and procedural consequences.

What Is the Process After Arrest?

Generally after arrest the accused will be taken to be "booked." This is when mug shots and fingerprints are typically taken and information about the accused is entered into the system. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department has an online tool to search for individuals who have been arrested here.

The next concern is usually getting home. This is generally accomplished by posting bail. Bail is basically a way to guarantee that you will return to court and it is typically made by way of money, collateral or sometimes simply your signature. Check out FindLaw's article on Getting Out of Jail After You Have Been Arrested for more details on the process of setting and posting bail.

Typically you or your loved one will next appear at the arraignment. At this time the formal criminal charges are read and a plea may be entered. The parties are also informed of any future court dates.

If you or a loved one is appearing in county court, the Public Defender has a helpful guide (Things You Need to Know About Your Day in County Court) for what to expect.

If you plead "guilty" to the charges against you, the case will typically proceed towards sentencing (legal punishment). If you plead "not guilty" you will likely proceed to trial. Prior to trial there will typically be a number of pre-trial hearings during which the parties may argue to have certain evidence excluded or otherwise set the parameters for trial.

Note that if you are a first time misdemeanor offender, you may be eligible for a diversionary program called "MIP" (Misdemeanor Intervention Program). This is the application form - but you can check with your attorney for more information.

Is An Attorney Necessary?

Although you can represent yourself, it may be a good idea to consider consulting with a legal professional when you are facing criminal charges. This is paritcularly the case with serious offenses, but there are consequences to having even minor offenses on your record. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer without substantial hardship to your family or your income is at or below 250% of the federal poverty guidelines, you may qualify for the services of the public defender. Otherwise, you may wish to consider retaining a private criminal defense attorney.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.