Entering the Criminal Justice System can be a frightening experience, that usually begins with an arrest.  Below is a simple outline of how a case progresses through the criminal justice system. 


You’ve been arrested! Now What? Obviously a police officer has determined there is probable cause that you have violated the law. A bond will be set at the jail from an approved schedule that has been established by the Court System.


The purpose of a bond is to insure that you will appear for all court hearings. If you fail to appear at a scheduled hearing, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. If that happens, securing a future bond will be most difficult because you have demonstrated to the court that you can not be trusted!


If you have not posted bond, you will be taken before a judge within 24-hours of arrest. You will be “advised” of the charges filed against you and the amount of the bond. Judges have the power to raise as well as lower the bond already set. At this time the court may also determine whether or not you have the financial ability to hire a private attorney. If not, the Public Defender may be appointed to represent you.


All criminal cases are turned over to the States Attorneys Office for investigation. A team of lawyers and law enforcement personnel review your case and based on the evidence, decide whether or not to proceed. If a decision is made to prosecute, formal charges will be filed against you, which may be the same or different from those for which you were originally arrested.


Although the police may have arrested you on one charge, the final determination as to the formal charge(s) rests with the State Attorney's Office. You will learn of the exact charges against you in either of two ways, by an Information document or an indictment. The Information document informs you of the nature of the charges against you. An indictment is a document that is returned by a grand jury recommending that you be prosecuted for violations of the law.


Each time you are required to appear in court, it would be to your advantage to dress appropriately. This will show the proper respect due the court and let the judge know that you take this matter seriously. As a general rule, if you would wear it to the beach or a club, don't wear it to court.


After the filing of the Information or Indictment documents, a formal hearing before a judge will be set expressly for you to enter a plea of guilty, no contest, or not guilty. If your plea is one of guilty or no contest, the judge will sentence you then and there for the crimes you have committed. If a plea of not guilty is entered, a pretrial hearing will be set.  There is usually a period of 4-6 weeks between the arraignment and pretrial conference. This time is usually reserved for you attorney to investigate the case, speak to witnesses, and prepare a defense. If additional time is needed by your attorney, or you are unavailable for some legal reason, you may be required to waive your right to a speedy trial.

This conference allows the prosecutor and the defense attorney to meet with the judge to discuss your case, its status, and possible disposition. If disposition of the case is not possible, another pretrial hearing will be scheduled.   If you are not willing to accept an offer made by the prosecution or the sentence recommended by the judge, the case will be set for trial.
Discovery is exactly that! Your attorney will file a "Demand for Discovery" with the court.  The State Attorney's Office will provide your attorney with all of the evidence relating to your case. You can discover pertinent details relating to information and witnesses gathered by the prosecution about your case. You will be informed about any accusations made against you, if experts will be used in the case and if there has been analysis of any evidence.  
In Florida, you have the right to a speedy trial. The state must bring you to trial within 90-days plus a grace period on misdemeanor or within 175-days, plus a grace period, for a felony charge. It is usually in your best interest to waive the speedy trial option if more time is needed to prepare a proper defense. Sometimes staying within this time frame can be helpful to you, but whether to waive or not waive your right should be decided by you and your legal counsel.
If your case is set for trial, it may be a jury or non-jury trial. A jury trial carefully solicits select members of the community who do no know each other in any way. Their task collectively is to listen to and weigh all evidence applicable to your case, making a determination as to whether the State has proven your guilt beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt. Since each set of circumstances differs from case to case, the decision to choose between a jury or non-jury trial should only be made after consulting with your attorney.

This is just a brief overview of the criminal justice system.  Every case has different facts and circumstances that can change how a case is handled.  Although it may seem intimidating, the Gapske Law Firm can advise and help guide you through the entire process.  Call today for a free consultation to discuss the particular facts of your case.