From Arrest to Trial
STAGE ONE: Arrest
The Felony Court Process is very straightforward and is basically the same for Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Walton Counties in Florida. It can be stressful though not knowing what to expect at each stage. For folks that have not been involved in the criminal court system in the past, their knowledge may be limited to only trial procedure as depicted in movies and on television. However, a jury trial proceeding is only a portion of the entire process….a process that starts with the criminal arrest, being taken to the Okaloosa Jail for booking and to await first appearance and the setting of a bond. Once released, the next court date is the Arraignment, locally referred to as Plea Day.
STAGE TWO: Arraignment
The arraignment is the first critical stage in the felony criminal court process. Scheduled about a month after the arrest, at this court date, the State prosecutor normally will have filed the formal charges in your case in a document called an Information. The Information serves to inform the Defendant of the charges being brought against them, while normally the same charges contained in the initial arrest report, sometimes the charges in the Information are modified by the State prosecutor.
If you attend the felony arraignment stage in Okaloosa County, the Judge will enter a NOT GUILTY plea on your behalf, so do not worry about entering any type of plea as opposed to misdemeanor court, which does allow unrepresented individuals to enter pleas at arraignment. And if you have retained a private criminal defense attorney prior to the arraignment date, they will file the NOT GUILTY PLEA in writing on your behalf so you do not have to attend the arraignment court date.
While Florida law still uses Indictments as a formal charging document through the Grand Jury process in certain cases, filing by Information is easier and a more streamlined process for the prosecutors, even though this means less Constitutional Due Process rights for the Defendant. Now we rarely see indictments unless it is a major crime like Murder, or a politically sticky case for the elected State Attorney, like prosecuting individuals from a another public office like Sheriff, Public Defender, Tax Collector, etc.
STAGE THREE: Calendar Status (Pre-Trial Conference)
The Calendar Status court date, held several weeks after the arraignment is something a little unique to Okaloosa County. It is no longer called a Pre-Trial Conference because it is not technically a “critical stage” in the proceeding. And defendants do not attend unless they are representing themselves pro se.
At Calendar Status, only the Circuit Judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys participate, discussing the scheduling track of the case and whether or not the case is ready for trial, or if more time is needed to obtain or review evidence; or if a resolution is forthcoming. These hearings are very short unless there are court calendar scheduling issues.
STAGE FOUR: Docket Day
Docket Day his held about 1-2 weeks after Calendar Status. I have referred to this court date as “moving day.” This is because at Docket Day, the case will either be:
- Resolved by plea, diversion, or dismissal.
- Continued and postponed to next month’s calendar cycle.
- Set for Trial with Jury Selection to commence 1-2 weeks after Docket Day.
Unless your case is continued by written Motion and Order prior to Docket Day or you have a judicially approved Waiver of Appearance, you must attend this court date with your lawyer.
STAGE FIVE: Trial
Only about 1-3% of all criminal cases go to trial, so it is important to prepare each and every case for trial, even if you are not necessarily expecting a trial in every case. And it is the job of a quality criminal defense attorney to find the best result before taking on the risk of a jury trial. Most clients, although they feel strongly about their case and/or their respective innocence, still have trepidation about the trial process.
However, some cases will need to be tried in order to be resolved. It is simply a fact. In my experience however, I have found that serious crimes with minimum mandatory prison sentencing schemes or sentencing enhancements [like Habitual Felony Offender (HFO) and Prison Releasee Reoffender (PRR)] are the more likely to go to trial because prosecutors are given no discretion to modify or drop charges and there is less room to negotiate.
In the end, it is ultimately the client’s decision whether or not to go to trial. It is YOUR Constitutional Right to have a jury decide YOUR case. Just make sure that you have an attorney on your side with the experience to know how to prepare and execute the correct trial strategy.
At several points throughout this entire process, you should expect to have several meaningful conversations with your attorney to discuss risks and benefits, pros and cons—of every decision that you will have to make along the way of the criminal court process.
If you or a family member has been arrested on a felony charge in Okaloosa County, Florida, give me a call at (850) 362-6655 for a free consultation.