What is the typical path a criminal case takes from an investigation, to arrest, to a plea deal or trial in Fort Lauderdale?
A criminal case usually starts with a report of an alleged crime occurring. This can come from the victim or a witness of a crime (neighbors, bystanders, pedestrians, anonymous tipsters, etc.). After a report of a crime is made, there are two ways that a formal arrest can occur.
What is the Arrest Process like in South Florida?
Typically, the police will immediately respond to the scene of the alleged crime if the alleged crime is currently ongoing.
Upon arrival, officers will conduct an on-scene investigation of what has occurred and try to piece the puzzle together of what events transpired at the time of the alleged offense. Their on-scene investigation may consist of questioning witnesses, taking evidence into custody, testing any discovered drugs, collecting DNA and fingerprints to be tested at a later date, and taking photos. The extent of the investigation typically depends on the seriousness and severity of the alleged crime, or the availability of witnesses at the time the officers arrive.
Scenario #1: Suspect is On-Scene at the time the Police Arrive
If the suspect is on-scene at the time law enforcement arrives, they may temporarily detain the suspect or ask him/her for their contact information so that they can discuss the events if needed. It is important for you to ask police whether you are being detained at the time they approach you. If they tell you “no,” you are technically free to leave. The police may ask you for your name, address, phone number, and date of birth so they can attempt to contact you later on. If you are not being detained at the scene and officers ask you for your contact information, a refusal of this request could lead to a resisting without violence charge for obstructing a lawful investigation. This may lead to more harm than good for you as a bystander of a crime.
On the other hand, if the officers tell you that you are being detained for the purposes of a criminal investigation, remain silent. When they begin to ask you questions while you are being detained, tell them only that you would like to remain silent and that you would like to have legal counsel present during any questioning. Learn more about your Miranda Rights & your right to remain silent.
How Rossen Law Firm can Help during an Active Criminal Investigation
Having Rossen Law Firm present during an active criminal investigation is enormously helpful to your case. As defense counsel, Rossen Law Firm can act as a “buffer” for you, or the middleman between you and the police officers. Defense attorneys have the ability to ask the police officers the reason for the arrest, what the probable cause is, and get all of the facts and circumstance surrounding the arrest - all without any technical “admissions” from the suspect. When a suspect asks certain questions, the police may skew it or analyze the question in a way that could be used as an admission of guilt. When Rossen Law Firm arrives on-scene and asks the same questions, however, we are acting as defense counsel and thereby none of the questions that we ask can be used as our client’s admission of guilt.
Additionally, it is good to have defense counsel present so that they can answer questions on your behalf without running the risk of making things worse for you. Most people aren’t clear on when they should or shouldn’t answer questions - and an answer to what seems like an easy, straight-forward question can actually end up putting you in hot water. When Rossen Law Firm arrives we are able to tell the difference between a harmless question from police officers and a question that’s meant to get their clients in trouble, and choose to answer or decline to answer accordingly.
Scenario #2: Suspect is No Longer Present at the Scene of the Crime
If the suspect is not present at the time the police officers arrive, they may attempt to reach the suspect by a phone call or a visit at another known residence of the suspect. If the police do make contact with the suspect, at this point, Miranda warnings are not necessary as this is considered a “lawful encounter” and any answers given at this point are considered “voluntary.” You do not have to answer any questions or go down to the station just because they ask you to. By accepting an invitation to discuss the case with them, a court may later find that you voluntarily went and met with officers to discuss the case, and any statements you made at that point could be considered “voluntarily” made as well - which means they could be used against you.
If the police do contact you and ask you questions, you can decline to have any involvement with the criminal investigation at this point. That doesn’t mean, however, officers will cease their investigation. They will continue to gather evidence and/or speak to other witnesses to get enough information to establish probable cause (which is necessary to make a formal arrest).
Once officers have enough probable cause to make a formal arrest, they will go to a judge and present an “application” for an arrest warrant. If the judge finds there is sufficient probable cause, they will then issue a warrant that is in all law enforcement databases. This makes it so that if someone’s name is run through that system, then an active arrest warrant will appear, and officers can formally arrest that individual at any time.
How can Rossen Law Firm help?
First, Rossen Law Firm always acts as a buffer between the State Attorney’s Office, police officers, and our clients. Our first step in a scenario when the police may be looking for our client to make an arrest is to try and avoid an arrest from occurring in the first place. There are a number of scenarios that can happen:
An arrest occurs. Rossen Law Firm is notified that one of our clients has been arrested, and we can shut down any means of communication between the police and our client. This means that no statements will be made without our O.K. to do so, making sure that nothing you say will be able to be used against you in the future.
No arrest occurs and the police send the probable cause affidavit to the State Attorney’s Office for a filing determination. This means that our client is able to remain at home while the State Attorney’s Office decides whether they have enough evidence to make a case. For certain alleged crimes, we are able to get the State Attorney’s Office to not file any charges and the case goes away.
No arrest occurs, the State Attorney’s Office files charges, and Rossen Law Firm organizes a self-surrender. While no one wants to have to go to jail for any period of time, a self-surrender is the better of two evils. Self-surrender gives our clients time to make sure things at home are taken care of and accounted for.
What to Expect when You’re Booked in Jail in South Florida
Once someone is formally arrested, they will be transported to the county jail for booking. This involves the transportation police officer taking inventory of the property seized during the arrest and/or found on the arrested individual at the time, submitting the initial reports written by officers on the scene, and obtaining biographical information about the arrestee to complete the booking process. At some point during or after booking, the arrestee will be able to make a phone call.
The most important thing regarding a phone call is that all jail calls are recorded. Do not say anything that could possibly be twisted or analyzed into being “self-incriminating.” You might be tempted to tell the person you’re calling what happened that led to you getting arrested, and our advice is - DON’T. Call someone you trust, tell them you’ve been arrested, and tell the person you are calling to help you obtain a defense attorney as soon as possible. Do not say anything more. Anything you say on a jail call can be pulled by the State Attorney’s Office and used against you in court. Anything you may want to tell your loved ones can be relayed by Rossen Law Firm once we have been retained.
First Appearance Court Date & Criminal Charges Announced
After being booked into jail, what's known as a first appearance court date will be scheduled for the arrested individual. Typically, first appearances are scheduled for court the morning after the arrest but this depends on when you were arrested – factors delaying a first appearance can include if there is a national holiday, if you were arrested on the weekend, or if there was a problem with processing.
At a first appearance hearing, the judge formally advises the arrestee of what charges they are facing. These are the charges that law enforcement officers have arrested the individual on – these are NOT the charges the prosecuting office has decided to formally file. Following first appearances, the State has to file formal charges through an “Information Sheet” and these will be the charges the arrestee will be facing in court moving forward. The State has 30-40 days to file these formal charges. Hiring a lawyer immediately can have a huge impact on your case, as a skilled criminal defense attorney can get to work in the 30-day period before charges are finalized. A lawyer might be able to challenge the charges enough that they are reduced before formal charges are officially filed against you, or even get the charges dropped altogether in some instances.
Bond May or May Not be Granted by the Judge in First Appearance Court
The judge also determines whether there was enough probable cause for the arrest and sets bond at this hearing. Bond is a payment made to allow the arrestee to get out of jail for the time being, but has certain conditions attached to ensure the arrestee attends all future court dates. It would be beneficial to have a criminal defense attorney available to you at this time to discuss the particular conditions of bond in your case. Bond depends on the seriousness of the alleged crime, the degree to which the court believes the arrestee will flee if released on bail (flight risk), and if there are any steps the court can take to ensure that the arrestee will continue to show up for future court dates. The arrestee also enters a plea here – whether it be guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere (no contest). Lastly, at first appearances, the arrestee is able to be considered for a public defender (a criminal defense attorney appointed by the state) if he cannot afford to get his own private attorney.
Benefits of Having a Criminal Defense Attorney at First Appearance Court if Possible
It is extremely helpful for you to have legal defense counsel present as they can help walk you through this entire hearing. Rossen Law Firm can help you get your bond lowered tremendously by fighting for your side of the story. We can talk with the prosecutors and speak more personally to who you are and what you are willing to cooperate with to get the prosecutors to agree to a lower amount of bond or even house arrest.
The charges you are being advised of at first appearances are only what the officers think they had sufficient probable cause to support. These are not necessarily the charges that the State will file, however, they give an idea of what will be coming down the line.
The State must prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” so it will be filing charges that it believes can be proved to that extremely high standard. After first appearances, criminal defense attorneys can help by talking with the filing prosecutors to see where they are at and attempt to get a lower charge filed.
How Criminal Cases Move Forward After First Appearance Court in Fort Lauderdale and South Florida
There are a number of ways a criminal case can develop as it moves forward in the court system. There are many different types of hearings that might be held to help the judge determine where the case is at, where it’s going, and how it will likely be resolved. Listed below are the hearings that are typically held in your average criminal case, however, not all of the hearings listed below may occur in every criminal case. It depends entirely on the facts and circumstances of the case and what defense counsel thinks are valid legal arguments.
Types of Hearings for Criminal Cases in South Florida
- Bond Hearing:
- After first appearances, once you have either been appointed a public defender or obtained your own private defense counsel, a separate bond hearing can be held. The defense attorney can advise the court of any mitigating factors the judge should take into consideration (examples include employment, reliance from family members on income, etc.).
- Defense counsel can also ask for varying degrees of release – whether you be monitored with an ankle monitor, strict house arrest, etc.
- The outcome of a bond hearing depends largely on the judge. While some may be more sympathetic to certain factors - such as you having sole custody of your children as a single parent- others may not see the relevance of those factors.
- Status Check:
- Status checks are exactly what they sound like – a hearing so that the judge can know, on the record, where the case is at. The actual name of this hearing can vary between different counties. Defense counsel and State prosecutors will advise the judge on any progress they have made and whether or not a plea deal has been discussed.
- Typically, at these hearings, defense counsel will advise the judge of what they are doing and what still needs to be done. For example, they may tell the judge that a plea offer has been received from the State, however, they wish to conduct depositions of witnesses and law enforcement officers to get a fuller understanding of what happened at the time of the alleged offense.
- The judge has the discretion to decide what future court dates will be set after a status check – they could set another status check and give the defense attorneys 60 days to complete depositions. They could decide to set a plea conference if defense counsel indicates that the defendant is willing to accept a plea offer.
- Depositions are not held in front of a judge or inside of a courtroom, but they are still extremely important as a case moves forward. Depositions are typically requested by defense attorneys to sit down with the State’s witnesses and see what their recollection of events are, piece together a timeline of when things occurred or were observed, and what the reasoning was behind some of the officer’s actions.
- Depositions can be extremely helpful for defense counsel to determine what legal arguments they can make on behalf of their client. Depositions allow defense counsel to get a fuller view of what happened at the time of the alleged offense and to speak with the officers and State’s witnesses themselves.
- It is also a chance to see if there are any places or areas in which evidence or any witness statements include anything contradictory, and depositions of police and witnesses can also help determine whether one party or the other may or may not be telling the whole truth. For example, if a defense attorney can prove via depositions that the arresting officer lied about actions on the scene of the arrest or made mistakes or put untruths in a police report - that is of great value to getting charges reduced or dismissed for a defendant in a future court hearing.
- Rossen Law Firm, for these reasons and many others, does depositions on every single case we litigate. Many lawyers don’t take the time to do these in all cases, but when it comes to your freedoms and your future - we don’t believe there is any room to take any chances.
- Plea Conference:
- Plea conferences can also be a way for the judge to get on the record what plea offer is being discussed between the State and defense counsel.
- Ultimately, defense counsel cannot accept a plea offer against the wishes of their client. The client has the final say in accepting the offer as they are the ones living with the ramifications of the plea. Defense counsel’s role in a plea offer is to help the client understand the plea in its entirety and to negotiate the best possible plea that they can get for their client.
- Plea conferences can mean a case is resolving before trial. Plea offers are often discussed outside of court between the State prosecutor and defense counsel. The defense attorney will then relay the plea offer to the defendant. Defense counsel will typically discuss with their client what the plea offer means for them, whether they think the offer is fair, or if it’s an offer that can be negotiated further. Defense counsel will typically discuss with their client what a realistic outcome of the case looks like. If defense counsel thinks they have a good chance at winning the case in trial, they may suggest taking the case to trial and declining any of the State’s plea offers because they think a jury will decide the defendant is not guilty. If defense counsel thinks it’s a great plea offer and the best-case scenario given their client’s particular case, then they may suggest accepting the offer. Accepting the offer will mean pleading no contest or pleading guilty to crimes, but the offer may include the opportunity to plead guilty to a lesser crime, or to a less harsh punishment than possible if the defendant went to trial and was found guilty, allowing the judge to make the ultimate decision of sentencing for the crimes.
- Motion to Suppress:
- Motion to suppress hearings are a result of a motion filed by the defense to keep out of court certain evidence (the idea here is to suppress - or prevent the use of - evidence to be used against the client or during trial, etc). Defense counsel will typically argue that some action from the State resulted in an illegality that anything discovered from that action should be suppressed. This can include excluding evidence, excluding statements made by their client, or excluding statements from other witnesses.
- The basis for a motion to suppress hearing can vary – defense counsel may argue that constitutional rights have been violated by the law enforcement officers that responded to the scene, that evidence was illegally obtained, or that there is another legal reason as to why the evidence should be found inadmissible by the judge.
- Motion to suppress hearings are not held in front of a jury, only a judge. These hearings will typically involve the judge hearing testimony from law enforcement officers that responded to the scene, eyewitnesses, or the victim of the alleged crime.
- Learn about a DUI case Rossen Law Firm had dismissed through a Motion to Suppress.
Jury Trials in Fort Lauderdale and South Florida
Trials occur very rarely nowadays. Most likely, a criminal case will be resolved at some point during one of the hearings above or through a negotiated plea deal between the State and your criminal defense attorney. If no deal can be reached that all parties agree on, however, the case will go to trial. In Florida, trials are conducted in front of a jury of 6 people. If it is a capital punishment case, there will be a jury of 12 individuals. Trial can be stressful for all parties involved – including the defendant.
Jury trials can be unpredictable and oftentimes it is more desirable for the case to resolve in a different manner. The outcome of the trial depends wholly on the individuals who make up the jury, and it is up to the defense attorneys to show that there is not enough evidence and testimony to support the State’s burden of proving the alleged offense “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means that for a jury to convict someone as guilty of a crime - the jury has to unanimously agree that the prosecutors proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
If we’re talking percentages, the State has to prove that the alleged offense, in the juror’s minds, most likely occurred at about a 90-95% amount of certainty. If the jurors are 70% sure the alleged offense occurred, meaning it most likely occurred but there are certain pieces of evidence or testimony that pokes holes in the investigation or reliability of the evidence or testimony, that is not enough to satisfy the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.
Defendants do have the option to take the witness stand and testify, but defense attorneys typically advise against this as it allows the prosecutor to question the defendant in front of the jurors and such questioning can very quickly go south for the client. Defense attorneys typically discuss this possibility with their clients before going to trial and advise them on whether or not they should take the stand given the facts and circumstances of that particular case. The decision, however, is ultimately up to the defendant themself.
What kind of results has Rossen Law Firm gotten in previous Florida jury trials?
At Rossen Law Firm, we believe in fighting for our clients from beginning to end. Whether we get the results we want through a motion to suppress, or by following it through to jury trial, we want to get justice for our clients.
- Read a case where we got a “not guilty” for a DUI case at trial.
- “Not guilty” at trial for fleeing and eluding.
Sentencing for Crimes in Fort Lauderdale and South Florida
Sentencing for crimes occurs only after a guilty verdict has been reached by a jury after the jury trial.
If the defendant accepts a plea deal, the defendant will begin to serve out the conditions of that plea when the plea is officially read aloud in court and accepted by both the court and the defendant as a suitable resolution to the case.
If a defendant is found guilty at trial, the actual sentencing occurs sometime after the trial has been concluded. Evidence can be shown at sentencing that may lessen the severity of the sentence, but sometimes the judge may have to comply with the minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines for the crimes of which the defendant has been convicted. Before a trial, sometimes it’s possible to get a plea deal that is below the mandatory minimum. After trial, that would be a very unrealistic offer - we’ve never seen this happen. Sentencing is ultimately up to the judge at this point. Minimum mandatories can be waived by prosecutors when offering a plea deal - however, that is ultimately up to the prosecution and the judge also has to accept that plea as well. The waiver of a minimum mandatory in exchange of a plea offer is problematic on its face.
If you have any questions, need additional information about the court & legal process when you’re facing criminal charges in Fort Lauderdale, or want advice on how to hire the best criminal defense attorney for your case -- don’t hesitate to call Rossen Law Firm. We offer free strategy sessions and we take the time to hear your story and let you know how we would plan to fight for you - starting immediately.
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