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
. 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.
Every crime begins with an accusation. In the event of a
situation, you may have a spouse or ex saying that you hit them, which
constitutes the crime of
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
(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
, 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
. 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
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
and be made to pay costs. You may be given an
(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
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.