When you or a family member is facing criminal charges, it can be a difficult and stressful time. Part of this stress is due to the unknown, and wondering what will happen. Criminal cases can be very complex depending on the type of crime and the court that you are dealing with. The Florida Bar Board Certified Criminal Trial Lawyers at Suskauer Feuer, LLC have more than 40 years combined experience in helping defendants facing criminal charges.
Trial attorneys Michelle Suskauer and Leonard Feuer work closely with their clients making sure that they understand the process and what they have been accused of and the options available to them. Working together allows everyone to make informed decision in the clients’ best interest as the case moves forward. Below we share a very high-level overview of the criminal defense process so that you can have a general idea of what to expect during various stages:
Arrest & Booking
In order to be arrested, there must be probable cause (reasonable belief that a crime was committed and the arrested party committed the crime). An arrest warrant is not necessary. When arrested, you have constitutional rights under the Miranda Rule (right to remain silent, right to an attorney) and you must be informed of these rights before any questioning begins. After you are arrested, the police will bring you to the police station for booking where you will be searched and fingerprinted.
You will appear before a judge within 24 hours of your arrest. A judge will advise you of the charge(s) against you / reason you were arrested. The judge will decide if there is sufficient legal basis for the arrest (probable cause). You should not make any statements at this hearing. The judge will also ask you if you wish to be represented by an attorney and if you have hired a personal attorney or need one appointed by the courts. The judge will then decide if pre-trial release is appropriate and the amount the bail amount, if warranted.
It is important to note that when someone is arrested, it is not automatic that they will be formally charged. The State Attorney’s Office or U.S. Attorney’s Office reviews the facts of the situation and your arrest, and decides if formal charges will be filed. Depending on the charge and circumstances (misdemeanor or felony offense), prosecutors have various legal timetables in which to file formal charges. And in some situations, the U.S. or State Attorney’s office will decide not to file charges, and the arrested party will be free to go.
If formal charges are filed by the State Attorney’s office or U.S. Attorney’s Office, an arraignment will be scheduled. An arraignment is the process by which the defendant is read specific charges against him/her. The defendant or their representative counsel will then enter their plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest. In state cases if you retained an attorney, your attorney will do this for you. If this is a federal case, you must be present. At this time a judge will set a pre-trial and trial date.
During this stage, your lawyer and the law firm staff works with you to get all facts of the case and identify and interview witnesses. Your lawyer will begin the discovery process and file motions to obtain State witnesses, police reports, etc., so that he or she may begin carefully and thoughtfully building your defense strategy. Experts will be contacted who can potentially support your case. Remember, anything you say to your lawyer is confidential. If you speak to anyone else about the case it is not confidential. It is very important that you are truthful and honest, and cooperate with your attorney at all times, while following his or her instructions. Your lawyer is there to protect your civil rights and see that you get the best possible outcome for your case.
A trial takes place in a courthouse, and a judge presides over the courtroom proceedings. The judge will address and decide on the questions of the law. A six-person or twelve-person jury of your peers (depending on case type) will hear the evidence presented and must unanimously determine whether you are guilty or not guilty of the crime(s) charged. If found not guilty, the charges are dismissed and you are free to go. If you are found guilty a sentencing hearing will be scheduled. If the jury is unable to reach a unanimous verdict, then a mistrial is announced and the case will be reset for trial at a later date.
This hearing takes place after a plea deal or a jury trial has resulted in the defendant being found guilty of a certain charge, and a judge determines the defendant’s sentence. Basic sentencing options can include incarceration (imprisonment), probation and house arrest. If the convicted person violates any of the probation rules or special conditions set by the judge, the judge may revoke probation or sentence the person to prison.
Even after you are convicted of a crime, you still have a chance to try and reverse the ruling (verdict) on your case, depending on the circumstances surrounding your case and conviction. You are legally entitled to directly appeal your case to a higher court unless you waived that right. There are very specific criteria and deadlines for state and federal appeal filings. Your criminal defense lawyer will explain the allowable reasons for an appeal, and whether any of them apply to your case.
If you have questions regarding the criminal defense case process or criminal defense litigation, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are happy to meet or speak with you anytime.