The Criminal Process
It can be intimidating to be arrested. You may be worried and afraid for your future and the consequences for your family. A criminal conviction carries a huge stigma that can affect whether you can get a job, secure rental housing, or obtain a professional license. If you’re being investigated for a crime or you’ve already been arrested, it is crucial to understand how the criminal process works. Although you are innocent until proven guilty, prosecutors typically have significant resources, and it is important to retain a skillful St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to protect your rights from the start of the criminal process.Arrest
If you’re accused of a crime you may be arrested. You can be arrested with a warrant or without one, based on probable cause. You can be arrested without a warrant where a misdemeanor is perpetrated in an officer’s presence, where a warrant is in effect but is held by another officer, or where an officer has probable cause to believe a felony has been committed. After you’re arrested, the next phase of the criminal process commences.Booking
After being arrested, you may be booked. That means you’ll be entered into the system, your belongings will be inventoried, and your fingerprints and photograph will be taken. The fingerprints and mug shots will be sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). The FDLE determines whether there are any outstanding warrants for you. Once you’re booked, you may have an opportunity to be released on your own recognizance for a nonviolent misdemeanor. However, you may need to pay bail. You can be held for 24 hours before a first appearance.The Criminal Process
Usually the first court appearance occurs within 24 to 48 hours of a Florida arrest. During the first appearance, charges will be read and an amount may be set for your bail. The first appearance is also the point at which other conditions of pre-trial release may be set. These conditions can be harsh and it may be difficult to adhere to them. This is one reason why it’s important to be represented by an experienced criminal defense attorney in St. Petersburg through this first court appearance. Your attorney may be able to help make sure that the conditions of pre-trial release are not unduly onerous.
At this point in the process, the prosecutor will need to present enough evidence for probable cause to believe you committed a crime. In other words, she’ll need to show that a prudent person would reasonably believe that a crime had been perpetrated and that you were the perpetrator. You have a chance during this stage of the process to show that there is no probable cause or to establish that the evidence the prosecutor has against you was obtained in contravention of your Constitutional rights or otherwise illegally.
If your charges aren’t dismissed at this stage, it may be possible negotiate a plea. You don’t have a right to a plea bargain. It can help, however, to have an experienced St. Petersburg criminal defense lawyer negotiate for a plea bargain if that’s the strongest course of action. In most cases, a plea bargain requires you to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter charge or sentence. Sometimes prosecutors are more amenable to a plea bargain if important evidence was suppressed during the pretrial hearing.Trial
If you’ve pled not guilty and no plea bargain can be reached, you’ll face trial. A trial can be held before a jury or it can be a bench trial before a judge. During a bench trial each side presents its case and the judge determines whether you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a trial by jury, a jury is empaneled and the case is presented to the jury. The jury will deliberate and then return a verdict. If it’s determined you are not guilty, you can leave court immediately. However, if a judge or jury determines that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt a sentencing hearing will be scheduled. The sentencing hearing may be conducted within 90 days from the trial date. The sentence you face varies depending on the severity of the crime. Often sentences can include prison, fines, probation, or community service. Lengthy incarceration sentences usually accompany more serious crimes. If you are convicted of a sex crime, you may face a lifelong registration requirement as part of your sentencing.Consult a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney in St. Petersburg
The criminal defense process in St. Petersburg can be challenging to face alone. The consequences of a criminal conviction can haunt you far into the future. If you’re being investigated or you’ve been arrested, contact Hanlon Law. Our founder Will Hanlon has provided knowledgeable legal representation and counsel since 1994, and may be able to develop a strong defense for the charges against you. Please call Hanlon Law at (727) 897-5413 or contact us via our online form.