If you or a loved one are facing investigation or have been arrested, be prepared with the knowledge of what to expect in a criminal case.
When police become aware of a suspected crime, it is up to them to determine whether the crime occurred and whether anyone should be arrested.
The investigation begins when police are informed of suspected criminal activity.
Police collect physical evidence, interview witnesses, conduct searches and identify suspects.
You may be arrested if police uncover evidence that provides probable cause for an arrest.
During an arrest, you will either be taken into custody or directed in writing to appear in court on a specific date. The manner of arrest depends on the severity of the charge.
If you are taken to jail, you may be: released with no charges filed, released on bail or held without bail awaiting arraignment. If you are arrested, talk to an attorney before saying anything to the police.
You can stop an interrogation at any time, even if you have already waived your right to remain silent. You do not have to agree to anything during interrogation, like taking lesser charges in exchange for talking.
When police interview you, they are trying to to get you to confess. And they can lie to get you to do so. Your lawyer can help beat their tricks.
At the arraignment you are formally told of charges, informed of your rights and given a chance to respond to charges by entering a plea of Not Guilty, Guilty or No Contest. With few exceptions, you should plead Not Guilty, demand any discovery in the prosecutor’s possession, and request a trial by jury. This will reset the case and give your attorney time to prepare a defense.
A plea of not guilty means you claim you did not commit the crime. A plea of guilty means you admit to committing the crime, and a conviction is entered into the record at the arraignment. A plea of no contest means you do not plead guilty but do not disagree with the charge.
The arraignment is the first time you will be asked to appear in court. It is procedural, not a trial.
Bail, or pre-trial release, is usually determined within 48 hours of your arrest; at your first appearance before a judge. Your attorney can help argue for the lowest possible bail and help you decided the best time to post bail.
The purpose of this hearing is limited; guilt or innocence is not at issue. The judge can consider your past criminal record, the nature of the allegations, the strength of evidence, potential danger to the community, and risk of flight versus your constitutional presumption or entitlement to a reasonable bail. You might be held with no bond, granted a monetary bond, pre-trial release program, or released on your own recognizance (ROR’d).
For the defense, discovery can involve acquiring police reports, taking depositions, receiving documents from opposing counsel, including evidence the prosecution plans to introduce at trial, and receiving drug or alcohol test results.
Discovery is the pre-trial period when a case is investigated and the parties involved trade information. This is your attorney’s chance to find out about the prosecution’s case.
A pre-trial period occurs after an arraignment but before the start of a criminal trial.
In pre-trial, your attorney will prepare for trial, attempt to prevent a trial, or attempt to secure certain advantages at trial. This can include filing motions to cancel or dismiss charges, filing motions to prevent evidence from being used at trial, challenging the admissibility of evidence and legal research.
Much of the work of a case occurs during the pre-trial period. Some cases are resolved during this period, although this should only occur if not going to trial is in the best interest of the defendant.
A plea bargain is an agreement in which the prosecutor agrees to drop a charge (or charges), reduce a charge or recommend a lesser sentence in exchange for a plea of Guilty or No Contest (nolo contendere).
More than 90 percent of convictions are the result of a plea bargain, but a plea bargain is not always in the defendant’s best interest.
Your attorney will try to get the best offer and will recommend whether you should accept it. The answer is not always yes.
A trial proceeds through the following steps:
You may choose to go to trial to defend yourself against all charges. You have the right to a trial by jury, or you may opt to have your trial heard by a judge.
Ideally, you will be successful at trial. However, should you be convicted, you have the right to appeal a guilty verdict.
An appeal is a review of the evidence already admitted at trial; it is not a new trial. You must file a notice of appeal within 30 days, and appellate courts strictly enforce this 30-day deadline.
Imagine if you could know exactly what questions a teacher will ask and the correct answers before you take a test? You can with field sobriety exercises.
To lawfully initiate a DUI investigation in Florida, a police officer only needs to have reasonable suspicion of DUI, a relatively low legal standard.
The trilogy is often used as a foundation for reasonable suspicion, in addition to a traffic infraction, like speeding. The trilogy consists of: slurred speech, an odor of alcohol, and red, watery, bloodshot eyes.
Police are looking for a reason to stop you. Some of these reasons include weaving in or across lanes, failure to stay in your lane, braking erratically and driving to fast or too slow.
Listen carefully to all instructions; do not start until told to.
After a traffic stop and during most DUI investigations, you will be asked to perform one or more approved field sobriety exercises, or FSEs.
Police are trained on five exercises: the walk-and-turn, horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), one-leg stand, Rhomberg balance and finger-to-nose.
Arms at side.
Heel and toe touching.
During the walk-and-turn, you must walk on a straight line always touching heel-to-toe for nine steps, turn in a specific manner and walk nine steps back to where you started.
Never allow more than a six inch gap between your heel and toe or between your arms and side. If you falter, correct yourself and keep going; do not ask to start over.
Nystagmus is supposed to be involuntary, so just stay calm and focus.
Police will ask you to follow an object with your eyes only; don’t move your head and neck. They are looking for nystagmus, an involuntary jerking of the eye.
Police will ask you a series of questions first. Answer them calmly. HGN results can be challenged and possibly excluded from trial.
Do not raise your leg too high, stick to 6 inches.
You will be asked stand on one leg while raising the other leg in the air at least six inches off the ground.
Listen carefully! You will be asked to keep your hands at your side and look down at your raised foot’s toes.
The officer will call out alternating hands and may not call them out evenly.
You will be asked to close your eyes, with your hands out, and when prompted, use the the tip of the appropriate hand’s index finger to touch the tip of your nose.
Only touch the tip of your finger, not the pad, to the tip of your nose. Keep your eyes closed, and don’t try to guess which hand the officer will call out.
Have a system for counting and stick to it.
You will be told to tilt your head back, close your eyes, and estimate 30 seconds passing. After 30 seconds, bring your head up, open your eyes and say “stop.”
The officer will be looking for swaying, hopping and lost balance, but also things like forgetting to keep your eyes closed, counting out loud instead of in your head, or counting for way too long.
If you provide a sample that registers above the limit, you will lose your license, and your DUI case will be more difficult to defend. Refusal to give a sample still results in an administrative suspension of your license but often makes your criminal case that follows easier to explain.
A first refusal comes with a mandatory one year license suspension. Second and subsequent refusals come with an 18-month suspension and a misdemea nor charge of “second or subsequent refusal.”
By driving on Florida’s roads, you’ve implicitly consented to give a breath sample if arrested. The machine used to take this sample is the Intoxilyzer 8000.
The Supreme Court has ruled that, almost always, a warrantless blood test is an unconstitutional search. Even if you have been arrested, police must produce a warrant before compelling a blood test unless very specific circumstances arise.
If police are unable to attain a breath sample, Florida’s laws authorize them to collect a blood or urine sample after a DUI arrest arrest ‐ under certain circumstances.
The Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of compelling a urine test. You have the option to refuse, but you may face criminal penalties.
If police arrest you for DUI, you will have to stay in jail for some period of time your arrest. Say nothing to the police without a lawyer present.
You are usually held for at least 8 hours. Criteria for your release are that you are no longer under the influence or impaired and that your blood alcohol level is below .05, or eight hours have passed.
If you or a loved one have suffered injuries and are considering a personal injury lawsuit, you are probably wondering what comes next.
Not all injuries resulting from an accident are immediately apparent. Always visit a medical professional to make sure any injuries are being properly treated.
Keep a record of all doctor’s visits, medical treatments and insurance claims, and take pictures of any visible injuries. Save all accident-related documents in a safe place.
Florida personal injury law contains some provisions that need to be considered if you are planning on filing an injury lawsuit.
In Florida, your insurance pays all claims regardless of fault. You can only hold the other driver liable in cases of “serious injury,” which includes permanent injury, significant and permanent scarring, or disfigurement.
Unlike many states, a Florida dog owner is responsible for injuries caused his or her dog from the “first bite,” even if the dog has never before been aggressive.
In Florida, you have four years from the date of your injury to file a personal injury lawsuit. If you wait too long, the judge will likely refuse to hear the case.
Florida uses a “pure comparative negligence rule” for injury cases, which means that your compensation may be reduced by an amount equal to the percentage of fault it is determined you carry for an accident.
A personal injury attorney will be able to evaluate your case at no cost to you to determine whether you should move forward.
Bring all notes, photos and medical records to your initial consultation. Be wary of attorneys who charge just to meet with you. The best lawyers offer a free consultation.
Pay close attention when meeting with an attorney. Ask questions and choose carefully; your attorney can make the difference in winning your case.
Your attorney will ask a lot of questions about the incident, any injuries, medical records and insurance. Answer honestly. Remember to ask questions yourself. You should know the attorney’s history with your type of case.
Before you officially hire an attorney, you will be asked to sign a client contract. Make sure all your questions are answered first.
Before signing a contract, be sure you have asked detailed questions and that you agree on the lawyer’s fee. Most personal injury attorneys receive a percentage of any recovery — and only if you win.
Your attorney will begin by researching your case thoroughly. It is critical to uncover the extent of damages and injury involved.
Your attorney will keep you informed of any developments, negotiations and progress as the investigation moves forward. During this time, focus on your health and recovery.
A lot of personal injury claims are resolved without a lawsuit, through a settlement. Your attorney should advise you honestly about whether settling is in your best interest.
Your attorney will negotiate with the other party’s insurance company, and they may present an offer to settle. Your attorney will advise you, but it is ultimately your decision whether to settle or go to trial.
A personal injury lawsuit involves three initial stages: complaint, discovery and motions. The complaint is the first official document filed in your case.
Your attorney files the Complaint, which details allegations about your injury and damages. The defendant will “answer” the Complaint in a separate document. The Answer must come within a set period of time, usually 30 days.
A personal injury lawsuit involves three initial stages: complaint, discovery and motions. Discovery allows both parties to gather information from each other about the case.
During discovery, your attorney will request documents and interview witnesses and experts. These sworn interviews are called depositions. Your involvement is critical, and you should work with your attorney closely.
A personal injury lawsuit involves three initial stages: complaint, discovery and motions. The defense has the right to submit motions asking for dismissal of any part of the case.
The defendant can file a motions asking the judge to take specific actions. Your attorney will file responses, and a hearing may be scheduled to consider the motion and your response.
There are six phases to a trial: jury selection; opening statements; testimony, witnesses and evidence; closing arguments; jury instruction; deliberation and verdict.
Each side will have the opportunity to present evidence, call witnesses and rebut evidence. After each side presents, a judge or jury determines liability and what damages the defendant must pay if found guilty.
Even if a jury has decided in your favor, your case may not yet be over. The defense can appeal the decision to a higher court.
You may have to wait to receive your award until all appeals have been exhausted. Your lawyer will then pay any outside parties owed and write you a check. Your personal injury lawsuit will be concluded.