Criminal Law involves all forms of crimes that a person is accused of in State of Federal Court as an adult or juvenile that may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. Misdemeanors are considered minor offenses and carry maximum sentences of one year in the county jail.Felonies are major offenses and carry maximum sentences of a term of years in prison to life in prison or the death penalty.
Some of the most common misdemeanor offenses are Driving Under the Influence (DUI), Battery, Domestic Battery Petit Theft, Trespass, Hunting or Fishing Violations and Marijuana Possession under 20 grams. Most of these offenses are enhance-able; meaning that a second offense or more provide for greater minimum and maximum sentences and can be charged as a felony for the third offense. Some of the most common Felony offenses include Hunting and Fishing Violations, Drug Possession (other than marijuana), Marijuana Possession over 20 grams, Felony Battery, Grand Theft, Burglary, and Aggravated Battery and Aggravated Assault with a deadly weapon.
The most serious offense include Drug Trafficking, Sexual Battery, Lewd and Lascivious Molestation, Attempted Murder, Manslaughter, Possession of Child Pornography, 2nd Degree Murder, Capital Sexual Battery and 1st Degree Murder. There are also Federal Court felonies involving Grand Theft, Conspiracy, Fraud, Drug Trafficking, and Possession of Child Pornography.
All criminal cases involve either an arrest or a notice to appear. It is important to remember that you have the right to remain silent during any questioning by a law enforcement officer. Most criminal defenses are burdened by a confession or partial confession by a criminal defendant. In most criminal cases, the absence of a statement of the Defendant leads to the charges not being filed or ultimately being dismissed for lack of evidence.
After an arrest, if bond is not determined, a Defendant gets a first appearance with a Judge to determine if bond is appropriate and to set the amount of bond and any necessary conditions. The time period between first appearance and arraignment is a very important part of the criminal case. Law enforcement forwards all of the investigation materials to the State Attorney’s Office to consider in making a filing decision. The State Attorney can decide to file as originally charged, add additional charges, enhance the charges, reduce the charges or not file the charges.
If a Defendant has an attorney during this critical time, a huge difference can be made in the outcome of the case as that attorney can discuss the case with the Assistant State Attorney assigned to the case about the facts and circumstances leading to the filing determination. Most Assistant State Attorney’s make conclusions about a case at the time of filing that may be difficult to overcome as the case proceeds. At arraignment the Defendant is required to enter a plea of not guilty, guilty or no contest. If a Defendant enters a guilty or no contest plea they will be immediately sentenced. If a not guilty plea is entered the case is set on a Docket Sounding or a Case Management Conference.
Defendants have the option of trying to qualify for a Public Defender or hiring a private attorney. Public Defenders are usually very capable attorneys but are horribly overworked and have such a huge caseload it is difficult for them to give each case the attention that they deserve. The purpose of hiring a private attorney is so the case does get the attention it deserves. Usually, private attorneys have more time for management of refined issues in a case, are more adept at negotiating cases that are difficult to negotiate, and have more specialized trial experience.
A case may be continued repeatedly by the attorneys to provide for additional time for completion of discovery (investigation, depositions, witness statements, review of documents, review of reports, hiring and questioning of expert witnesses) prior to trial. During the entire process the attorneys are attempting to negotiate a plea based upon the evidence and witness statements and if new issues arise. The case is set for trial if no plea can be reached and will be heard by a jury of 6 to 12 or to a Judge if the Defendant decides not to have a jury trial.
Trial process and strategy is largely dependent upon the charges, facts and circumstances of the case including whether the Defendant will testify. In felony cases the attorneys and Court use a score sheet that is based upon the Criminal Punishment Code of the Florida Statutes that gives the Defendant scores for the offenses charged, prior offenses, enhancements and other factors to determine what a guideline sentence would be.
If a Defendant is convicted at trial, the attorneys and Court use the score sheet to argue what an appropriate sentence would be.