What Should I Expect After Arrest?

The Parts of a Criminal Prosecution

So, you or a loved one has been arrested, received a Notice to Appear/Ticket, or received a Summons. These are all entry points to a criminal prosecution. Those who receive a Notice to Appear/Ticket or a Summons will be given a court date which they must attend. Those who are arrested are not so lucky.

Those who are arrested may bond out immediately if they are fortunate enough to have been accused of a crime which is on the bond schedule. If, however, one is accused of a crime not on the schedule, one cannot afford bail, or one is accused of a crime for which there is no bond, they will have to wait for First Appearance.

First Appearance is where a judge will review arrest paperwork for probable cause, hear from the State regarding priors, hear from the defense, then set a “reasonable” bond. Fair warning, though, bonds can go up or down at First Appearance and “reasonable” is not always reasonable. In addition, the Court may set special conditions or order people into programs during pretrial release. Of course, some crimes are simply non-bondable, but if someone’s accused of one of those crimes, they have bigger concerns than short-term release. Ideally, if you are going to hire an attorney, they would love to be on a case this early. Attorneys can ease the terms of release, often, and prevent the client from incurring additional, unnecessary conditions.

Regardless of how one enters the process of criminal prosecution, The Office of the State Attorney then reviews the case for formal charging. Just because a law enforcement officer has probable cause, it doesn’t mean the charges can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a courtroom. Sometimes, the evidence supports an altogether different charge. The Assistant State Attorney assigned must make the decision as to what charges, if any, they think can be proven. On occasion, an attorney can be extremely helpful in this stage, by communicating with the State, pointing out issues, and in some cases preventing charges from going forward.

The next thing to happen is Arraignment. Arraignment is the opportunity to plea not guilty, guilty, or no contest to the charges. If you’ve hired an attorney by this time, they will often plea not guilty for you and waive your appearance. This way you don’t have to go to court.

Attorneys general engage in a process called Discovery after arraignment. This is where the State is required to reveal all its witnesses and evidence. The defense is afforded an opportunity to review that evidence and speak to the witnesses to determine the strength of the State’s case. The defense is likewise required to turn over any evidence and witnesses it intends to use.

Either side is obliged to make any pretrial motions and seek rulings on Motions to Dismiss, Motions to Suppress Evidence, etc. during this time. Cases can turn on these issues and a good attorney can spot any legal issues in your case that are worth litigating.

Meanwhile, the Court holds several hearings called Status Hearings, Calendar Calls, Docket Soundings, etc. Basically, these are all opportunities for the Court to assess attorney progress and determine which cases are ready to be resolved by dismissal, drop, plea, or trial. These court dates are usually mandatory unless your attorney waives your appearance. Our office generally does, but not all do. If avoiding unnecessary court appearances is important to you, make sure you ask about your attorney’s policy on this.

If a case is not resolved by plea, dismissal, or drop, it must be tried. Many have seen examples of trial on T.V. and it is not unlike that. This is where the State is required to prove the allegations beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt. The judge acts like a referee, making sure the rules are followed. In a non-jury trial, the judge will also act like a jury. Ultimately, the jury or judge renders a verdict. Those found not guilty are free to go. Those convicted must then proceed to sentencing.

Sentencing is in the hands of the judge. Should a case come to this, both sides get to present any supporting, aggravating, or mitigating circumstances regarding their respective proposed sentences. The judge must then pronounce sentence.

Though this is a very simplified version of the general proceedings, there are many more complicated legal and extra-legal factors at play. If you find yourself or a loved one accused of a crime in Broward, Miami-Dade, or Palm Beach County, call our office to schedule a free consultation.