A promise to appear (PTA) can be issued in lieu of a physical arrest only in misdemeanor cases. If you are arrested for a felony, you will be handcuffed, taken to jail, and likely made to post a bond.
Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.125 provides law enforcement officers with the authority to issue a written promise to appear instead of physically arresting a suspect. As I stated before, an arresting officer can only issue a PTA for second-degree misdemeanors, first-degree misdemeanors, county ordinance violations, and municipal ordinance violations.
Some examples of second-degree misdemeanors would be: petit theft (1st offense or less than $100), prostitution, assault, and disorderly conduct.
Some examples of first-degree misdemeanors would be: possession of marijuana, resisting an officer without violence, petit theft (2nd conviction or more than $100), and assault on a law enforcement officer (technically possible yet highly unlikely given the charge).
A police officer may opt to PTA you instead of physically arresting you. However, in the following situations, a police officer may not issue a PTA and must physically arrest you:
1) the accused fails to identify him or herself;
2) the accused refuses to sign the PTA;
3) the officer has reason to believe that the accused is dangerous to others;
4) the accused has no ties to the community and there is a substantial risk that the accused will not appear in court;
5) the officer has suspicion that the accused may be wanted in another jurisdiction;
6) the accused has a history of failing to appear in court.
If the arresting officer detains you, the booking officer at the police station may issue a PTA based on the following:
1) residence and length of residence in the community;
2) family ties in the community;
3) employment record;
4) character and mental condition;
5) past record of convictions;
6) past record of appearance at court proceedings.
A PTA is better than a physical arrest because the accused will not have to spend time in jail nor will the accused have to post a monetary bond. All a PTA is is a document stating that you agree to appear in court. It is similar to a traffic ticket except that it is issued when an accused person is charged with a misdemeanor.
But make no mistake: a PTA is an arrest. No matter what the outcome of your case is, you will have an arrest on your criminal record. Even if your case is dismissed, your record will still show that you were arrested. If you go to apply for a job, you must legally answer "yes" when asked if you have ever been arrested before. So even if you have been PTA'd in the past, you should look into having your record expunged.
For more information on the expungement process, click here.
PTAs are routinely issued in Miami-Dade County and Broward County. In order to improve your chances of receiving a PTA instead of physical arrest, be polite to the arresting officer (although don't be afraid to kindly assert your constitutional rights). If you live near the arrest location, tell the officer. He or she will ask you for your address. These are considered routine booking questions and are not protected under Miranda. You do not have to discuss anything that may incriminate you, but if the officer knows that you live nearby, have been living at that address for a few years, and have family and a job in the area, he or she may be more likely to issue a PTA. If the officer issues the PTA, sign it! Signing a PTA is like signing a traffic ticket. It is not an admission of guilt, just a promise to appear in court. If you refuse to sign it, the officer has no choice but to take you to jail.
My criminal defense practice covers the Miami and Broward areas. If you have received a PTA, I would like to be your criminal defense attorney. Whether your case is pending and you need an attorney to fight the charges, or you have received a PTA in the past and need an expungement attorney, please call my office so that we may discuss your matter.