Felony Arraignment in Florida
You are arrested for a felony.
A felony, being an offense punishable by prison time (as opposed to county jail time like a misdemeanor), requires a physical arrest (unlike the issuance of a promise to appear). You are taken to jail and may have to post a bond in order to secure your release.
For some offenses, you may be able to post your bond right away. Other offenses will require that you be taken before a first appearance judge. All domestic violence crimes, whether misdemeanor or felony, will require that you be brought before the judge who will set your bond amount.
If your offense is deemed non-bondable you will remain in custody for the time being.
From the time of your arrest, there will be a waiting period until your arraignment - the hearing at which you will be advised of the charges against you (if any), you will formally enter a plea, and the case will be set for trial.
This period - known as the pre-file period - is when the prosecutor will decide what charges, if any, to formally file.
Remember - in Florida, a felony arrest is just that: an arrest. A prosecutor must file a document with the court in order to formally charge you.
In Miami-Dade County, your arraignment will automatically be set 21 days after your arrest. At arraignment, the prosecutor can "no action" your case, which means that no charges will be filed and the matter is over. They may file a felony information charging you with the crime(s) that the police arrested you for. The prosecutor may add or remove charges. They may also file an information charging you with a misdemeanor instead. This is called a "bind down" in Miami-Dade County.
The prosecutor may also request a reset at the arraignment if they need more time to decide what to file.
If you have retained a criminal defense attorney, your physical presence at the arraignment is typically not required as the attorney can enter a plea of not guilty on your behalf.
In Broward, no arraignment date is automatically given after arrest. Rather, prosecutors will file an information only if they decide to file charges. If no charges are filed (called a "no info" in Broward), there will never be an arraignment date. If they do, you will receive a notice in the mail.
If you are out of custody, your Broward County arraignment may not take place until 45-60 days after arrest. If Broward County is filing a misdemeanor (called a "down file"), you will simply receive a court notice by mail to appear in County Court.
If the Broward County prosecutor is filing a felony information and is changing any of the charges for which you were originally arrested, you must appear in person regardless of whether you have hired a lawyer.
I believe that it is during the pre-file stage when an attorney can be most influential. If you have been arrested, do not wait until charges have been filed to hire an attorney. A good criminal defense attorney who works in Broward and Miami-Dade and who understands the pre-file process may be able to influence what charges, if any, the prosecutor will file.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving Miami-Dade and Broward.