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The Florida Felony Process

The Florida Felony Process

The Florida state legislature is in charge of defining what crimes constitute felonies in Florida and their respective punishments. The Florida felony process closely parallels that of other jurisdictions.

If you have been charged with a felony, it is important that you reach out to a Florida criminal attorney to help guide you through the Florida felony process. A criminal defense attorney can inform you of your rights as an accused person, analyze the facts of your case, help negotiate a plea bargain and develop a defense strategy.

What Is a Florida Felony?

In the world of criminal law, there are two main categories of crimes: felonies and misdemeanors.

A misdemeanor is considered a lesser offense against the state. These crimes tend to entail a penalty of less than a year in prison, small fines, community service, or a combination of any of these. Examples of misdemeanors include:

  • Public intoxication
  • Speeding
  • Prostitution
  • Vandalism

A felony is considered to be a more serious offense against the state. These crimes tend to entail a penalty of at least a year in prison, major fines, or a combination of both. Examples of felonies include:

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Kidnapping
  • Arson
  • Robbery

Some crimes, such as theft, can be classified as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Usually theft of a small amount is considered a misdemeanor, such as in the case of shoplifting. However, theft of items that exceed a certain value may be treated as a felony.

The Search

The first major phase of the Florida felony process is the search. Police may obtain a search warrant, which gives them the legal right to search a specific place, such as your property. However, for a judge to issue a search warrant, there must be probable cause. Probable cause means that there exists a valid reason to believe you may be involved in illegal activity.

There are times when authorities do not need a warrant to conduct a search. For example, if you are placed under arrest, an officer has the right to search your person without a warrant. Also, if a police officer is making a traffic stop, it is within the officers authority to conduct a search of your vehicle. In addition, if an item of contraband is in plain view, no warrant is necessary. Finally, if you consent to a search, this gives the officer the right to conduct a search.

Arrest and Booking

Once a search has been executed and the police have reason to believe that you have committed a crime, an arrest will be made.

At this stage of the Florida felony process, you may exercise your right to remain silent, which means you do not have to answer any questions, and your right to an attorney, which means you will be given the opportunity to contact a lawyer.

Once you have been arrested and you have been transported to the police station, you will be booked. This is the part of the process where you are photographed and fingerprinted. Many of your personal belongings will be confiscated and returned to you at a later point.

Arraignment

The arraignment usually occurs within three days of your arrest. This is when you make your first appearance in court and the charges against you are read aloud.

It is at this point that you will have the opportunity to enter your plea. The plea options available to you include:

  • Guilty plea: Pleading guilty means you accept that facts of the case as true and you committed the felony you are being charged with.
  • Not guilty plea: This means that you claim you did not commit the crime you are being charged with. If you plead not guilty, the court will set a trial date.
  • No contest plea: This plea means you are not admitting guilt, but at the same time you are not disputing the charges against you. This is usually used if a civil trial is also expected.
  • Mute plea: In Florida, this plea is allowed in place of a not guilty plea in order to show that you do not necessarily admit to the correctness of the Florida felony process up to that point.

Trial

If you do not plead guilty, the court will set a trial date and you will have to appear in court. The trial will occur usually within 175 days of your arrest.

Before the trial takes place, you and your criminal attorney may try to plea bargain with the prosecution, the party in charge of proving the charges against you. If a plea deal is not reached, the case will proceed to trial and both sides will have the opportunity to prove their cases.

A jury will listen to the arguments of your attorney and the prosecution and decide whether to find you guilty or not guilty. If you are found guilty, you will have 30 days to file an appeal.

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