Avvo Rating badge
NACDL badge
Expertise badge
Avvo Rating badge
Expertise Best Criminal Defense Attorneys in St. Petersburg
The National Trial Lawyers Top 100

The Criminal Process

St. Petersburg Lawyers for Defense Representation in the Justice System

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.


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.


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.


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 727.289.0222 or contact us via our online form.

Client Reviews
As a practicing attorney, I was shocked to hear that a family member of mine was alleged to have committed a sex crime. Knowing full well the consequences this type of allegation can have on anyone and their future, I immediately reached out to William Hanlon for help. I had every confidence that Mr. Hanlon had the knowledge, expertise, and experience to handle this problem. Approximately 4 weeks from an initial conference with Mr. Hanlon, we received a call with the news that a letter of release was being issued and the case was being dropped. Now my family member can finally exhale, take a deep breath, and go on with his life. Thank you, William! Jerry
Was on the ball. Remembered names, events, places, situations. Never need to re explain the situation. Keeps in touch through out the entire experience and keeps you feeling safe, comforted and protected. Fights hard. Worth every single penny. Would never settle for anything less than Will. Carrie
I was facing a charge that if convicted would carry two years in prison minimally. Not only was he empathetic and listening to what I had to say but he arranged with the prosecutor for my charges not to be filed under terms of a pre trial investigation. Would highly recommend. Alec
I am very happy for what he did for me. Always there when I needed him. Explained everything well. He Fights for his clients. He got me what I needed. Hes an excellent lawyer. Mutaz
Mr. Hanlon did what no other lawyer could do. Not only did he turn my criminal history into a thing of the past so I could move on, he was a loyal associate. No matter how bad the situation is, he has miraculously cleared me on every charge since he became my lawyer 5 years ago. I have the best lawyer that the legal system has to offer. I have had other really good lawyers try to get my business, but I know that no one can do a better job than William Hanlon. Jesse