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What Can I Expect When Charged With A Misdemeanor? The Criminal Justice Process In County Court

When people get arrested, even for relatively minor offenses, they always tell me the same thing: I'm afraid.
Fear is a common reaction to an arrest, especially for a first-time offender. This is because somebody who has never been arrested before doesn't know what to expect. Are they facing jail time? Are they going to have a conviction on their record? Are they going to lose their jobs? These are just a few of the concerns of those who now find themselves involved in the justice system.
If you find yourself involved in the process, here is what you should expect.
If you arrested for a misdemeanor:
Every crime begins with an accusation. In the event of a domestic violence situation, you may have a spouse or ex saying that you hit them, which constitutes the crime of battery.
The police are called, they do a cursory investigation (this is a misdemeanor, after all), and make an arrest. In the event of a domestic violence arrest, you will be physically taken to jail. If the misdemeanor is something like petit theft (shoplifting), you will likely be issued a promise to appear (PTA).
If you are arrested, you will see a judge within 24 hours and will be given a bond, or perhaps some non-monetary form of release, like an ROR (release on recognizance). You will then be given a future court date.
If you are issued a PTA, you will be given a future date by the police officer, or you will receive one in the mail. Either way, a PTA is still an arrest, and you must go to court or else the judge will issue a bench warrant. If you hire a Miami-Dade County criminal defense attorney, your attorney will appear on your behalf on your court date and you will not have to appear.
The first court date following your bond hearing or arrest is your arraignment. At the arraignment you will enter a plea (not guilty, guilty, or no contest). If you plead guilty or no contest at arraignment you will be sentenced on the spot and the case will be over. If you plead not guilty, you will also make a demand for discovery (which requires the State Attorney's Office to show you police reports, photos, the names of witnesses, and any other evidence they have against you), and set the case for trial.
Misdemeanors move quickly in Miami-Dade and Broward County Courts. The trial date will likely come up within 30 days of the arraignment. On the trial date you can decide whether you want to plead guilty or no contest or take your case to trial.
Misdemeanor pleas can vary. If you have no prior criminal history, you may be eligible for pretrial diversion (PTD). However, don't expect to get a PTD offer on the day of trial. As a former Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney, I can tell you that it is office policy not to offer PTD on the day of trial. In Broward, you will likely only get one shot to enroll, and it won't be on the day of trial. Talk with your criminal defense lawyer about how to negotiate for PTD.
If you take a plea, your case will be closed. You may be put on probation and be made to pay costs. You may be given an adjudication (conviction). You may be sentenced to jail.
If you opt to go to trial, you may be placed in a trial order. Remember, your case is not the only one set for trial. There are likely 20 or 30 cases ahead of yours. These cases are older and get priority.
If it is the first time up, you may be able to get a continuance. This will delay the process but it resets the trial for a later date. The State may also seek a continuance if their witnesses are unavailable. Continuances are strictly limited in County Court.
At some point in the near future, your case will be up again for trial. As it gets older, it will move up in the trial order (unless you file a demand for speedy trial, then your case will be number one for trial).
If you decide to go to trial, the State will have to prove every element of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high burden to satisfy. The State will attempt to meet its burden through the testimony of their witnesses, the introduction of physical evidence (photographs or a 911 tape in a domestic violence case, breath test results in a DUI case). Your defense attorney will have an opportunity to cross-examine these witnesses and challenge the value of the physical exhibits. You may also testify in your defense if you like (although you are constitutionally permitted not to), and you may call your own witnesses (again, not required to do so, this is the State's burden of proof). If the jury believes that you are guilty, you will be found guilty and sentenced by the court. If the jury believes that you are not guilty, you will be found not guilty and will be forever discharged from this prosecution.
Even in County Court, where misdemeanors are tried, a criminal charge can be a long, stressful event. Don't attempt to travel through this system alone. Hire a criminal attorney who knows and understands the process.
Call me today to discuss your case.
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