Guide To Florida's Criminal Court System

After an arrest, you will enter the tangled world of the criminal court system. You should understand a little about how it works, so that you can better understand what to expect — and how an experienced criminal lawyer can help you through the process.

Which Court Will Your Case Be Assigned To?

In Florida, misdemeanor cases are assigned to the county court. A criminal case in county court can be punished by no more than a year in jail. Most cases there end up with a probation sentence.

Felony cases are handled in the circuit court. Felonies are crimes that are punishable by more than a year in prison. First-degree felonies carry up to 30 years, second-degree felonies carry up to 15 years, and third-degree felonies carry up to five years.

From Arrest To Arraignment

Once you are arrested, you are not yet formally charged. It is up to the state attorney to decide whether to proceed with the case in the court system. A prosecutor will review the arrest information, speak with witnesses, and decide if to charge you, and what charges will be filed.

Once you are charged, you will receive an arraignment date. This is simply a hearing at which the judge advises you of your charges, and asks you how you wish to plea. Most cases begin with a plea of not guilty in order to have time to investigate and litigate the case.

The Discovery Process

Next comes the discovery process. This is the exchange of information between the state and defense. Florida is an open discovery state, and both sides have to reveal evidence they intend to use at trial. This process includes the taking of depositions, production of documents and other items (recordings, videos), and a general investigation of the case. This is a critical part of every criminal case.

Throughout the discovery process — which could take many months — there will be monthly court dates. This is to ensure that the case is moving along. At some point, the case will be ready to resolve.

Resolving The Case

Criminal cases resolve in one of three ways. First, charges can be dropped. This can be because the state does not have enough evidence, or because the defendant enters a diversion program, or because a motion has been granted and evidence excluded from use at trial. Second, the defendant may enter a plea and accept his or her punishment. Third, the case may go to trial.

While the experience in federal court is extremely similar, the discovery process is extremely limited. You need an attorney who can uncover facts that the government is not required to reveal until trial.

We Can Help You Navigate The System

Tallahassee criminal attorney Joe Bodiford has handled thousands of criminal cases from both sides of the courtroom. In addition to working through the discovery and motion process of countless cases, he has been to actual jury trials in well over 100 cases, including cases of murder, white collar cases, drug cases and everything in between. He has taught trial advocacy and Florida Criminal Procedure to law students at Stetson University College of Law.

You need an experienced attorney who knows the criminal system. Contact Bodiford Law, P.A., today to discuss how your case will progress through the criminal system, and how Mr. Bodiford can help you through this difficult time. Call 850-222-4529 (for existing clients) and 850-583-7381 (for new clients) or contact us through our secure online form.