If you are visiting this website chances are that you or someone close to you has been arrested or charged with a criminal offense & needs a criminal law attorney. This is a very nerve shattering experience. The most important thing to remember is not to panic. The decisions that will be made during this period could affect the outcome of the case.
The information on this webpage is going to take you through the criminal justice system in the state of Florida. It will walk you through every stage of criminal law from arrest to trial. Our website is prepared in a manner that I believe will help you with answers to your questions. It will also give ideas on how to handle decision making along the way. The criminal justice system is very complex.
This website was constructed to address those complexities in an effort to simplify them. I want to make it clear in no way do I believe an individual should be their own attorney. As you read the information on this website and you have a question I ask you to write them down, email them to us and we will be happy to respond.
Our goal is to make this website something that you will be able to use in looking for answers to your questions. Look through and give us a call. Let our experience and knowledge work for you.
When the person is first arrested they must go before a magistrate. The magistrate will read the charges against the person. The Magistrate or the State Attorney may make what is called a "plea offer". This is an offer made to end the case. The person that they are making the offer to should not make a decision until they speak to a qualified attorney. At the ZAGERLAW, PA Firm you will receive the advice of an attorney with more than 21 years of experience as a trial attorney in criminal law. You will be walked through every scenario so you can make an informed decision. Let the firms experience work for you.
When dealing with a situation like the one just described it is important that you try and bond out and not accept any offer just for the sake of getting out of jail. After the arrest, the person is either granted a bond or held without bond. Under most circumstances, a person is granted bond because a person is entitled to bond under our constitution except in certain cases. The amount of bond set will be determined by the seriousness of the crime and whether the person is found to be a flight risk.
It is important to understand that just because a person has been arrested for a crime does not mean that the State will bring those charges against the person. This sounds a little confusing, but it is important because accepting a deal relating to the charges for which a person was arrested but not yet charged will have a long lasting effect. In some cases, the State will choose to file a less serious charge or may choose to not go forward with the charges at all. If a person chooses a deal when they go before the judge or magistrate, they may be accepting responsibility for something the State cannot prove.
Once the person bonds out of jail the first thing they should do is get a copy of the police report and anything else in the court file. Doing this will help you to make informed decisions about your case. Remember, no matter how good the lawyer is, the individual being charged has the most to lose so they should KNOW everything about their case. Once you get the police report, look at the section that states what the police charged you with. Once you do this go on the internet and find the Florida statutes and make a copy the statutes that you are being charged with. Once you do this print it out and put it in your file.
It's important you keep this file organized because you will be taking it to the lawyers that you will be hiring on your case. The file will help you educate yourself and show the lawyer you are interviewing that you will be keeping yourself informed and that you are on top of your case. The most important thing it will do is give you the security that you know everything about your case. With this file you will begin to search for the lawyer that you will choose to represent you. Remember you are the one doing the choosing not the other way around. DO NOT represent yourself. There is an old saying which states that "a person that represents themselves has a fool for a client". The reason for this is "perspective". It is very important to have perspective.
At this point all the information gathered by the police will be sent to the State Attorney's Office of the county where the arrest occurred. The filing department of the State Attorney's Office will decide whether they have enough evidence to file the charges. If the State Attorney decides to go forward with the charges they will file what is called an "Information". It outlines the charges that are being brought against the individual. In many situations the charges the State brings forward are different then what the person was arrested for. The reason for this is that the State Attorney making the decision on whether to go forward on a case has had the time to review if the evidence is enough to prove the case. If the State decides that there is not enough evidence to file charges, then they will file a "No Information" which states they decided not to file any charges. If you ever need a copy of this document, it will be in the court file. If the State does decide to file an Information but later decides to drop the charges it will be called a "Nolle Prosse".
For the purpose of this explanation we will presume the State filed an "Information" and are going forward on the charges. The court will set a date for what is referred to as an "arraignment" At the arraignment the court will read the charges brought against the person. The person will be asked how they will plea. The person in almost all cases will answer guilty, not guilty, or no contest. He or she will then get a court date to see how the case is coming along. If the person hires an attorney, the attorney can waive the arraignment by filing a Notice of Appearance and a Written Plea of Not Guilty. At this point the person or their attorney should also file a document that is referred to as a "Notice of Intent to Participate in Discovery". This document is a formal request that triggers the States obligation to turn over all the evidence that the State intends to use against the person/defendant. If they refuse to comply and do not produce all the evidence, they have then they will have committed what is commonly referred to as a "Brady Violation". This rule requires that the State turn over all evidence to the defendant. Once receiving the information present in the discovery the defense can get to work.
The defense plan of attack can be started in many ways. The ZAGERLAW, PA Firm will begin by setting up and preparing for all the depositions of the State witnesses. This is done by going over all the discovery and reading every document before going to the deposition. Once the depositions are set a notice is filed and a subpoena is served on the person being deposed. This requires a person to show up to the deposition or face sanctions by the court. Once depositions are done you will decide whether to order transcripts of the deposition. It is my advice not to try and save money here. I believe all transcripts should be ordered. Something that does not seem important today could be vital as time goes on for potential motions and if necessary, preparation for trial.
Once the depositions are done. It is import that you and I go over the transcripts along with the other discovery. After reviewing everything, the decision is made as to what motions to prepare and file. If there is anything that was illegally obtained, then I will prepare a "Motion to Suppress" if the information is vague, I prepare a "Motion for Particulars". This will require that the State make the charges as clear as possible. It is important to note that this is a skeleton defense plan each case has its own individual characteristics that will need to be addressed.
Once all evidence is reviewed and all motions are filed and heard, the defendant through their lawyer will ask the State for a plea offer. This can also be done at any point in the case, but I always like having all the information before accepting a plea. Some State Attorneys will revoke an offer if discovery is conducted. In my experience it is a red flag showing that the State does not want you to see weakness in their case. You cannot make an informed decision without having all the information. Depending on the information you and your attorney obtain, you will make a decision as to whether you will accept a plea or go to trial. If a plea agreement is reached then the defendant will go before the court where the judge will ask a series of questions to determine whether the plea agreement that is being entered is being done so "freely and voluntary" and that the individual was not forced to or tricked in order to have them enter the agreement.
If the person decides they do not want to take a plea and go to trial instead then many things must be done. During the trial, ZAGERLAW PA will be completely prepared and attentive to take advantage of any mistake that the State may make. This sounds calculating but when you are in trial it's a reality that can make the difference between the individual going home or going to prison. This can only be accomplished if the defense is organized and ready.
The first part of conducting a trial is picking a jury. This can be the most important part of the trial. This is done by the judge bringing a group of people to choose a jury from. This group is called a panel. You will choose your jury from this panel by asking the panel questions. You are measuring the potential jurors and they are measuring you. The better lawyers know this and begin trying their case in the jury selections stage.
Once everyone asks their questions the lawyers will begin the process of picking a jury from the panel. The judge will more than likely begin by asking if either side has any challenges for cause. A challenge for cause is when a person has said or done something that demonstrates that they cannot be a fair and impartial juror. There are an unlimited amount of challenges for cause. After the parties finish their challenges for the cause both parties will begin to use their peremptory challenges. Depending on the nature of charges the person is facing they will have 3 to 10 peremptory challenges. Once the jury is picked the trial will begin.
The State and the Defense begin the trial by doing what is referred to as opening statements. Both sides state what they believe the evidence will show. It is my advice that you do not promise anything that you are not 100 percent sure you can produce. In trial credibility is everything. If you say you are producing something and you don't the jury will think you were not honest with them. In my openings, I point out what the State promised and that they will not be keeping their promise to the jury. This puts the pressure on the State to carry through on their promises.
Once openings are done the State will begin to put on their case. They usually begin by putting on their witnesses and presenting their evidence.
After the State finishes asking questions the defense begins what is referred to as cross-examination. This is one of the most important parts of the trial. The defense will have an opportunity to challenge the State's case. I begin my cross-examination by preparing to attack the weak points of the State's case. The client or family members may want to write down some questions you want to be asked. Give your lawyer a copy of the questions and keep a copy for yourself. If the lawyer forgets then you will have your copy of the questions to remind him.
You will be a proactive part of your defense. During cross-examination I give a pad of paper to the client to take notes on anything that they may find helpful. The client does this while I listen to the direct examination and making objections. I have found that clients are able to pick up on things that are important.
Once the state is done with their case, they will rest. After the State rests their case the defense will make a Motion for Judgment of Acquittal. In doing so, the defense is stating that even if all the evidence presented by the State were true it would not be enough to prove the person guilty. The technical term is that the State has not been able to present enough evidence to make a "Prima Facie" showing of the charges brought. The court will look at the evidence in the light most favorable to the State. If the motion is granted defense wins. If the motion is denied, the defense will have an opportunity to present their case.
If the defense chooses to put on a case the same rules of evidence will apply to them. If the defense chooses to not put on a case, they will also announce to the court that the defense rests. In deciding to put on a case I always evaluate whether or not to put on the Defendant. Even though it is their constitutional right not to testify most jurors want to hear from the Defendant and don't admit it. The defense never knows if the jury will hold it against the Defendant/Client. I advise my clients that most jurors want to hear from them and we will never know if jurors will hold it against them if they choose to invoke their constitutional right.
In making our decision as to whether the client will testify, we will do practice cross-examinations. After we do this we will discuss what the best strategy will be and you will make the decision.
The courtroom is a world on to itself. Always remember when making the decision to take the stand or not take the stand you must remember these jurors are ordinary people deciding a person's fate. Do you really want them to make that decision about a person without having all the information? I have tried cases where it was the Defendant's testimony that won the trial. In the end, it is the individual's choice to testify or not to testify, the lawyer cannot decide that.
After the defense is done, they will once again make the Motion for Judgment of Acquittal. If the motion is granted the defense wins. If the motion is denied the parties will do their closing arguments. The lawyers will argue what the State has proven or did not prove. After that, the judge will read the closing instructions to the jury and then they will go to the jury room to make their decision as to whether or not the state has met their burden of proof.