From Arrest to Trial
STAGE ONE: Arrest, Notice to Appear, or Criminal Summons
Similar to Okaloosa County felony arrests, bookings, and first appearances; misdemeanors are handled similarly with one exception. Sometimes a defendant with not have to go through the formal arrest process. Instead they are given a document called a Notice to Appear with informs them of the time and place of their next required court date, the Arraignment.
STAGE TWO: Arraignment/Plea Day
Within a month of the arrest in Okaloosa County, the client will have an Arraignment court date. If you are unrepresented or have the Public Defender, the State Attorney will present your charges and the Judge will ask you to either plead guilty, no contest, or not guilty. If you plead guilty, you will most likely be sentenced immediately, which is extremely risky if not wholly unwise.
Sometimes the State Attorney will offer a recommended sentence either before or after you enter the plea. However, in almost every case, it is strongly suggested to speak with an attorney before entering a plea of guilty or no contest to any crime. You have the right to speak with an attorney to discuss your potential defenses and whether or not a plea agreement would be in your best interest. And if you have a private attorney prior to the arraignment, you do not have to attend if your attorney has filed the proper legal paperwork ahead of time.
Here’s one rule of thumb. ALWAYS CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY BEFORE MAKING A DECISION THAT COULD HAVE LIFELONG IMPLICATIONS. A CRIMINAL CHARGE IS ONE OF THOSE DECISIONS.
STAGE THREE: JURY Pre-Trial Conference
Technically, there are two options: the JURY trial track, or the judge or bench trial track. Almost all misdemeanor defendants without a privately retained attorney are set for the JUDGE Pre-Trial Docket in Okaloosa County. This is not what I do for my clients. If you have a right to a JURY trial you should demand a JURY trial track for your case. This is a preferred docket, and for those attorneys who consider themselves excellent in trial situations, it should make sense that you would actually want to keep your client’s case on the JURY trial track.
The only times I would ever put the case on the JUDGE docket:
- If you are not legally entitled to a JURY trial. (Violations of Probation).
- If the Judge has expressly certified that any sentence would exclude incarceration upon a finding of guilt.
- If you and your attorney know with 100% certainty that you are going to win the bench trial. (This is extremely rare.)
All other cases belong on the JURY docket.
Similar to the Docket Day proceedings of felony court in Okaloosa County, at the JURY pre-trial hearing, your case will either be set for trial, continued, or resolved with a plea, dismissal, or diversion. Most of the discussion on the record will be between your defense attorney and the Judge or prosecutor.
STAGE FOUR: Jury Trial Review
Within 2 or 3 weeks of the Pre-Trial court date. The Jury Trial Review is the last court date held before the trial date. Many cases are resolved on this hearing date because the prosecutor has had more time to review the cases set for trial and may have a better understanding of your defenses as well as any weaknesses in their case.
From the initial stages of a criminal proceeding on any calendar cycle, there is a relatively large pool of defendants. As the court dates progress through arraignment, pre-trial conferences, status hearings, and trial review; more and more cases are resolved through pleas from other defendants and their attorneys. At the same time, as the monthly docket winds down to fewer and fewer cases, the prosecution gets closer and closer to having to go to trial with still a very large number of cases.
As we get closer to a prospective trial date, the prosecutor will try to deal the weaker cases and lean on the stronger cases. But at some point, there will be a “choke-point” that could lead to a dismissal in your case right before trial, sometimes on the day of trial. I like to call this the “Court Calendar Bottle-Neck Effect.” And if you have hired a formidable trial attorney, then it would make sense that your chances of a good result would increase because the prosecutor would rather go to trial against someone else. This is why the best trial lawyers usually get the best deals right before trial.
STAGE FIVE: Jury Trial
If is a fact that most cases do not go to trial, but some cases must proceed to jury trial out of necessity or based on the client’s prerogative. Hopefully, when you set about the business of hiring the right attorney you made sure that they have the requisite experience and knowledge and take trial work seriously. I can tell you from my many years in practice that although many lawyers can talk a big game, few criminal defense lawyers can back it up when it matters. And only a handful tried enough cases to establish their trial credentials in a meaningful way.
If you or a loved one has been arrested on misdemeanor charges in Okaloosa County, Florida, call me at (850) 362-6655 for a free consultation.