How to Survive Your Criminal Case in Florida
(part 4 of a 9 part series)
By: Carlton “Duke” Fagan, Esq.
101 Century 21 Drive
Jacksonville, Florida 32216
(904) 733-1234 – Telephone
If the State Attorney decides to charge you with a crime, your case will be set on the court’s calendar for “Arraignment”. Arraignment is the formal proceeding where your charges as filed by the State Attorney will be read to you in open court and a copy of the Information or Indictment will be provided to your attorney. At Arraignment you will be required to enter a plea to the charges. There are 3 pleas that may be entered in Florida: “Not Guilty”, “Nolo Contendere” (Latin for “No Contest”), and “Guilty”. YOU SHOULD CONSULT WITH AND CAREFULLY CONSIDER THE ADVICE OF YOUR LAWYER BEFORE ENTERING A PLEA. If you enter a plea of “Nolo Contendere” or “Guilty”, you will be sentenced or your case will be set for a Sentencing Hearing. After sentencing, you will begin to serve your sentence which could be fines, court costs, and time served or some form of probation or prison or a combination of these penalties.
If you enter a plea of “Not Guilty”, your case will be set for a “Pre-Trial Hearing” on the court’s calendar. After your arraignment, you should ask your lawyer to send you a copy of the Information or Indictment along with copies of any other documents such as motions or initial discovery that were provided by the State at arraignment. In most cases, your next appearnce in court will be at a Pre-Trial Hearing which is usually scheduled from 1 to 4 weeks after your arraignment.
Your Constitutional Rights
The first ten amendments to theUnited States Constitution contain many of the rights that directly affect you in a criminal case. These first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were so important that after the Constitution was drafted and sent to each of the 13 states for ratification, the founding fathers and leaders in those states refused to ratify it until these protections for citizens were added.
The Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments provide specific protections for criminal defendants such as the right to be free from warrantless searches and seizures, the right against self-incrimination (right to remain silent), and the right to trial by jury. The Sixth Amendment specifically provides for the right to counsel. If you cannot afford a lawyer, the Office of the Public Defender will be appointed to represent you. If you believe your constitutional rights have been violated, tell your lawyer what happened to you and ask him what can be done about it.
About the Public Defender
The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 16 of the Declaration of Rights of the Florida Constitution guarantee that someone who is accused of a crime in Florida has the right to counsel. A case that originated in Florida, Gideon v. Wainwright, extended that right to all criminal defendants regardless of their financial circumstances. To meet this mandate to provide lawyers to criminal defendnts who could not afgord to hire a lawyer, the Office of the Public Defender was created.
There is a Public Defender’s office for each one of Florida’s 17 Judicial Circuits. We are very fortunate to have outstanding and excellent lawyers in the offices of the Public Defender in Florida. Some of Florida’s finest attorneys are Public Defenders. Unfortuntely, Florida’s public defenders are grossly underfunded for the amount of cases they are requred to handle. These dedicated lawyers do the best they can but they have very high case loads so they must stretch very limited resources over alarge number of cases. In fact, some of the Public Defenders in Florida have so many cases that they have had to ask the courts to stop appointing them to misdemeanor cases. This is a very unfortunate situation that is the result of underfunding by the legislature. It is not the fault of the Public Defender.
If you have a Public Defender, try to remember that he is doing the best he can with a very large caseload and a very limited budget.