The Criminal Defense Process

How's The Process Work?

All too often, the client will ask me "what can I expect; or how does this work?" Trying to briefly summarize the criminal process can be as daunting as the task can be in itself. Allow me to "briefly" explain the procedures:

STEP ONE: FIRST APPEARANCE
Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.130

If you are being held in custody, it is required, as a matter of law that you be brought before a judge within twenty-four hours, (24) to see whether there exists probable cause to detain you. If you are not in custody, this provision of the law is not applicable. While law enforcement may have represented that probable cause existed for your arrest, a judge is at liberty to disagree. At the First Appearance a judge has the liberty to actually dismiss the case representing that insufficient evidence exists to detain the accused, however rest assured that is a rare case.

At the First Appearance, the judge therein will invariably represent that there is in fact a lawful basis to detain you. If bail is not set, bail will generally be set by the court. Further, the court can adjust any bail originally having been set upon your arrest by warrant, or by law enforcement. But, please note, you are not always entitled to bond!

STEP TWO: ARRAIGNMENT
Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.160

The process of Arraignment is where a formal plea is entered by the client. It is the time wherein the State is to inform the accused formally of the charges against him, or her.This procedure usually occurs approximately thirty, (30) days after arrest. If the plea is not-guilty, then you are representing to the court that "at least for now," I am not interested in entering into any deal. Otherwise, you can enter a plea of guilty, and such pleas are sometimes entered provided a deal is struck between the State and the accused at that time.

The Arraignment hearing can be omitted, provided counsel is present, or has filed his written pleadings informing the court that at this time you are pleading not guilty. Generally at the same time, any counsel retained will file a pleading informing the court, and the Office of the State Attorney that the State and the court must deal with you by contacting his Office. This document is simply referred to as a Notice of Appearance.

STEP THREE: DEMAND FOR DISCOVERY
Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.220

At the time that the attorney has entered in your case, and has plead not-guilty on your behalf, a document requesting to see the State's evidence is filed. This document requires the State to show all of their cards, so to speak, against you. Nothing is to be held back! Police reports, taped statements, drug tests, written statements of witnesses, and more are all to be provided. The State must provide these items within fifteen, (15) days. Likewise, a demand for discovery requires that the defense provide copies of exhibits, and the names and address of their witnesses that they intend to rely upon at trial. While set in stone as to the time frame, rest assured, the State will not be strictly be in compliance as a general practice.

In conjunction with discovery comes the right to depose any of the State's witnesses, or those who are perceived to have personal knowledge of the facts. Often times, depositions are waived for strategic reasons. In County Court, the attorney must for good cause request that depositions be allowed, contrary to the Circuit Court procedure.

STEP FOUR: PRE-TRIAL MOTIONS
Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.190

Prior to trial your case may involve multiple motions. Such motions may involve suppression of evidence due to an improper search; suppression of confessions, or statements; dismissal of charges based on constitutional principles for multiple reasons; a request to recuse the judge; a request to appoint experts at costs to the State; motions to release the accused from jail; a motion to compel discovery, or exclude evidence based on non-compliance with the rules of procedure; or multiple and unimaginable reasons. Your case may call for one or more motions, or no motions for your benefit. An examination into possible beneficial motions is always examined and discussed with the client.

The decision to file appropriate motions is a relevant matter and sometimes motions are refrained from being filed due to predictable results, or due to the fact that it may simply serve to educate the State prior to trial as to a defensive ploy that would be better served at trial instead of in advance of trial.

STEP FOUR: 3.171
Plea Discussion Conferences

In the process of resolving your case down the road after the Arraignment, your counsel will be directed to appear at a Plea Discussion Conference, sometimes called a Plea Negotiation Conference. At the conference the judge is present as well as the prosecutor for the State. Here the parties are directed to discuss the case, and to see whether a settlement can be reached. Sometimes such conferences are productive, and sometimes they are not. The parties may represent to the court that they are not ready to resolve the case for depositions or motions are pending or they are awaiting on other evidence. In the event an offer is made, discussions then transpire between the client, and counsel, and a decision is made to proceed down the road in the direction of a trial, or whether discussions will continue with the State in the hope of obtaining a better offer.

Often times negotiations will go on for a term of months with repeated Plea Discussion Conferences and multiple meetings. A mix of proceedings may proceed during this period.

STEP FIVE: 3.251
Right to a Trial by Jury

At some point either your case is dismissed through the efforts of counsel, you have accepted a plea from the State at a scheduled sentencing, or you announce to the court that you elect to proceed to a trial. In essentially all cases, barring few exceptions, you will be entitled to a trial by a jury. Working a case, and preparing a case for trial requires great creativity, through investigations, and experience. Here cooperation with the client becomes further significant. Even the process of selecting a jury requires great skill with the design of persuading a jury from the beginning. Your attorney must develop his strategy from beginning to end.

SUMMARY

The above is a most simplistic outline of the criminal process possible. Throughout the entire process there exists multiple slips and falls that await the unwary. It can be as if walking through a minefield blindfolded, or a comfortable and predictable journey. Jeffrey Wiggs has walked this path time and time again, and is familiar with the pitfalls it presents. This knowledge has only come through experience and time. Time spent over and over both preparing and trying cases. At this time, Mr. Wiggs has tried hundreds of cases, and is known by all for his skills. As a potential client, you must make the ultimate decision and Mr. Wiggs can wisely inform you where you should turn, and the risks in front of you. Time and money should not be sacrificed where your freedom is at stake. No one should even contemplate hiring an attorney less than aggressive or afraid to step before a jury. You are welcome to contact his Office at any time to schedule an appointment, and meet with him personally. Mr. Wiggs offers his services at a most competitive price should you seek to retain him.