Facing criminal law charges is a time of great uncertainty. Will you be arrested? Will you go to jail? Is this going to effect the rest of your life? Consulting with an experienced attorney, such as Sasha Shulman with Shulman Law, will help answer all of your questions and put your mind at ease.
There are many types of criminal law cases, and no two cases are alike. For this reason, consulting with an attorney EARLY, as soon as you’re aware of your legal predicament, will maximize the opportunity to assist you. This website is intended to provide general information about the criminal case process, and is not legal advice.
Criminal Law Investigation
There are times when a case is initiated through an investigation. Maybe the officers do not have enough evidence or are in the process of collecting evidence. You may be contacted to give a statement. Before you have any contact with law enforcement, contact an attorney. You need to discuss the benefits and pitfalls of providing evidence to law enforcement, especially by way of a statement.
Once the officers have completed the investigation, the case may be closed without an arrest, it may be referred to the Office of the State Attorney, or it may result in an arrest warrant being issued for your arrest. It is essential to contact an attorney as soon as you know you are under investigation, as an experienced and knowledgable attorney can potentially assist with the charges not being filed, or lesser charges being filed.
After the case results in an arrest, it will progress as any other case.
More often than not, there is no forewarning when an arrest is going to occur. The majority of criminal cases begin with an arrest. An arrest is based on probable cause – the legal standard for police officers to make an arrest. Probable cause cannot be a hunch, or guess work, or a belief. There must be evidence to back up the allegations in order for you to be arrested.
During an arrest, no matter how upset, frightened or mad you might be, do not speak with the officers other than to provide biographical information (your name, date of birth, etc.). The officers will likely read your Miranda Rights. Your Miranda Rights are a set of rights you MUST be informed of before giving a statement. Many people who are arrested think their case can be thrown out because their Miranda Rights weren’t read – this is not accurate. Except in very specific scenarios, a failure to receive your Miranda Rights will affect the statement you gave, and not the arrest.
What are your Miranda Rights?
- You have the right to remain silent
- Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law
- You have the right to an attorney before and during questioning
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you
- You have the right to stop questioning and refuse to answer further questions at any time
Statements are most often taken at the police station, and are recorded. Keep in mind, that even if the officer does not have a recorder that you can see, that the rooms are wired and recorded for video and sound. If you are left alone in a room, do NOT make phone calls, do NOT talk to yourself, and do NOT speak with any co-arrestees, co-defendants, parents, significant others, etc. Even if no officer is in the room, you are still being watched and monitored.
Booking is the process when biographical information is taken from you. Your information will be entered into a central database, and you will be photographed and fingerprinted. At this point, if you have any other cases pending anywhere, the law enforcement agency will likely be made aware. You will also be searched, your personal items will be inventoried (collected) by the officers, and your items will be placed in property. Property is a holding area for items that will be returned to you upon your release, unless they are illegal in nature.
Make sure that you only discuss the necessary biographical information with the officers during booking and do not talk about your case. Even statements made, whether responding to a question or said spontaneously, can be used against you in court under the right circumstances.
While in jail, whether during booking, waiting for court, or at any point during the process, know that your phone calls are recorded! Anything you say, whether you try to use a three-way call or use a friend’s account, is recorded. Be careful with what you say. Also, your letters and postcards are monitored. Any statement in a letter or a call can be used against you! Finally, some jails have the capability to record visitation. Again, be careful what you say during visitation as it can be used against you. Any conversations or meetings with your attorney are confidential and should not be recorded or monitored.
Bond and First Appearance
It is required by law that you appear before a judge within 24 hours of your arrest. This is commonly referred to as magistrates or first appearance. Most jurisdictions will have you appear before the judge via closed circuit television – in other words, you will most likely not physically appear before a judge. You will be informed of your charges and a bond will be set. You are permitted to have a private attorney appear with you for this hearing, or a public defender will be present. There is no requirement for you to discuss your case, the facts, or the circumstances. Your statement and actions are recorded during first appearances and can be used against you.
The judge has the option of setting a monetary bond (i.e. $1,500 bond), releasing you with pretrial release conditions, or holding you without a bond. A judge is also permitted to release you on a monetary bond AND put pretrial release conditions in place. For instance, in a domestic violence case, the judge may order you to not return to your residence, to not contact the victim, to undergo drug testing, and/or undergo mental health counseling. It is very important to know and understand any pretrial release conditions – a violation of a condition means a violation of your bond, which means that you can be held without bond for the pendency of your case!
There are certain offenses where the judge cannot give you a bond, and nearly all violations of probation will allow the judge to hold you without a bond. Do not plead your case in first appearance court. Contact an attorney to set a formal bond hearing before your assigned judge. Many times, a full hearing before your assigned judge will work to your benefit when your attorney has time to speak with witnesses and prepare.
The date for your arraignment is set by the clerk of court. You will receive paperwork in the mail with the date; however, be sure to check the online clerk’s system to make sure you don’t miss this first court date. Typically, the arraignment will take place in front of your assigned judge, and will be handled by your assigned prosecutor. At arraignment, the judge will inform you of what charges are formally filed, will ask “how do you plea?”, and will make sure you have representation. It is important to hire an attorney BEFORE arraignment so if there are any time-sensitive issues, they can be addressed early on. One benefit of hiring an attorney prior to arraignment is that your attorney can enter a plea, via paperwork, on your behalf. Most jurisdictions will then waive your appearance for the arraignment. Being proactive with hiring an attorney may mean less court appearances for you! Following arraignment, the clerk will provide the next court date. Typically, the court date are set 1-2 months apart to allow you and your attorney time to prepare.
Preparation Process (Discovery)
You may hear the term “discovery.” This term refers to the process of preparation for trial. Discovery can include reviewing reports, taking depositions, interviewing defense witnesses, hiring experts and more. It is essential to stay in touch with your attorney throughout the discovery process, as you will be able to review the police reports and any evidence that is available (for instance, videos, photographs, etc.). Throughout the discovery process, there will be periodic court dates so the judge can keep track of the status. It is also during this time that you and your attorney will discuss the options of going to trial or negotiating a plea bargain.
Trial is the process where a jury of your peers is chosen to hear your case. For the majority of cases, the jury has six members. For capital cases, the jury is comprised of 12 people. During the trial, the prosecution has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. It is NOT your obligation to prove anything. However, you will want to discuss with your attorney whether it is advisable to testify and whether any witnesses will be/should be called on your behalf. Keep in mind that even the closest of family members might not be a good witness. Once the jury hears the prosecution’s presentation of evidence, the defense decides whether to present any evidence. Then, both sides present a final, closing argument before the jury deliberates. In Florida, the jury must unanimously vote whether you are guilty, not guilty, or guilty of a lesser charge. There is no time limit for deliberations.
At Shulman Law, you are provided aggressive and knowledgeable representation in all criminal law matters, in the tri-county area: Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade. Having more than a decade of experience as a prosecutor before handling criminal law defense matters, you will have top notch representation in Assault and Battery, Aggravated Battery, Arson, Bribery, Burglary, Capital Offenses, Criminal Conspiracy, Criminal Defense, Domestic Violence, Drug Crimes, Fraud, Investigations, all Prosecutions, Driver’s License Suspension, Driving while Intoxicated, DUI/DWI, Sealing and Expungements, Extortion, Extradition, Felonies, Forensic DNA cases, Forgery, Grand Jury Practice, Gun Charges, Hit and Run, Homicide, Manslaughter, Misdemeanors, Murder, Parole and Probation, Search and Seizure, Sex Crimes, Sexual Assault, Shoplifting, Stalking, Ten-Twenty-Life cases, Theft, Traffic Violations, Trafficking, Vehicular Homicide, Victim’s Rights, and Weapons Charges.