Attorney Charles Scott has been representing individuals charged in criminal cases since 1996 in the courts of Pinellas County, Florida. Prior to 1996 Mr. Scott worked as a prosecutor in the State Attorney's office for Pinellas County. The vast experience Mr. Scott gained as a prosecutor, as well as defending criminal cases since 1996, provide an extensive background in criminal defense and make Mr. Scott well qualified to represent individuals charged in numerous types of criminal cases.
WHAT TYPES OF CRIMINAL DEFENSE DO WE OFFER?
- Domestic Battery
- Drug Possession
- Violation of Probation
- Petit Theft
- Grand Theft
- First Degree Misdemeanors
- Second Degree Misdemeanors
- Third Degree Felonies
- Reckless Driving
- Illegal Possession of a Firearm
WHAT ARE THE STEPS IN A CRIMINAL CASE?
If you have been charged with criminal activity, the sequence of events follows a similar pattern in every Florida county. It is important to educate yourself on the process that follows so you can make intelligent decisions about your own situation. Always be sure to look up the court public records to track your case, and closely follow the advice of your attorney. If you require advice regarding a criminal case matter, you are welcome to call the offices of Scott and Fenderson at 727.321.0099 to discuss your options.
Arrest or Notices to Appear
The most common ways in which a criminal case can begin are with an arrest by a police officer or a Notice to Appear. An arrest may occur if a police officer witnesses a crime or an investigation produces a probable cause that you have committed a crime.
After an arrest the police will take you to a station or booking building which is often the site of the county jail. In this process they will take a booking photo (commonly called a "mug shot"), document an inventory your possessions, and process you into the facility.
First Appearance – Advisory
If you have not been bailed out during your first day of being in jail, a judge will review your first appearance - or bond hearing - within 24 hours of your arrest. The hearing is called an Advisory or a First Appearance. During this hearing the judge has the ability to review the dollar amount that has been set for your bond and change it as appropriate. In most situations, the bond amount will be reduced at this time. The judge will also advise you on what charges you are facing and any restrictions on your bond.
Following an arrest, the judge at your first appearance will set the value of your bail along with any other conditions for your release from jail. These considered factors may include flight risk and risk to the public of further criminal activity. Factors that might be favorable to granting bail include a lack of prior criminal history and ties to the community. Possible rulings in a bail hearing include:
- Release on Own Recognizance: The defendant is released from jail in exchange for signing an agreement promising to return to court and abide by other conditions.
- Personal Bond: The defendant is released upon signing a bond, which states that he or she will be liable for criminal, and in some cases civil, penalties if he or she fails to appear in court.
- Bail Set with Terms of Release: The defendant may go free by posting bail in the amount set by the court, either by paying it directly or obtaining a surety bond through a bail bond company.
- Denial of Bail: The defendant is deemed too much of a flight risk or a risk to the public.
If the prosecutor feels there is sufficient evidence to win, they will file formal charges. These charges will list the exact charge (or charges) they will be prosecuting. The charges listed may be more or less serious than what is shown in the original arrest report. Sometimes charges can take several months to appear. If the prosecutor declines to file formal charges, the case is considered abandoned and it is likely that no further action/defense is necessary.
DiscoveryA Notice of Discovery will be filed at the time that your plea is entered with the court. This will force the prosecutor to give your attorney a copy of every piece evidence they have collected. In return, your attorney also must give the prosecutor all available evidence which may include police reports, witness statements, and documents. In a criminal court, there are no surprises – each side always knows what evidence the other side has.
Motion to Suppress
In certain situations the police do not follow the law, or required procedures when collecting evidence that is intended to be used to make the prosecutor's case. Examples include: improper search of your home, vehicle, or person; seizure of confidential documents without a subpoena. For example, during a DUI stop there are established procedures that must be followed. If there is a problem with the way the police gathered their evidence, your attorney may choose to file a "Motion to Suppress Evidence." A specific pretrial hearing will be held regarding the motion. If successful, certain evidence and/or statements may be “excluded” as admissible evidence in the proceedings if the case is to go to trial. "Excluded evidence" is the same as if the evidence never existed. A successful motion to suppress hearing can even cause the case to be completely dismissed.
This is an opportunity for the prosecutor and your criminal defense attorney to quickly discuss the case. In many counties, Pinellas included, the courtroom is packed with many other people awaiting their own pretrial hearing. In this situation, plea offers may be discussed, accepted or refused. A busy court room can be a good opportunity to get educated on what type of deals are routinely offered for certain types of crimes. As a defendant, it may be a good idea to sit through additional of pretrial hearings so you have a better idea of what to expect.
Often the judge will schedule another pretrial date, a month or two in the future. It is possible to have multiple pretrial hearings but at some point, the judge will insist on setting the final trial date.
A plea deal can be offered/accepted at any time during a criminal case but is often conducted/decided during a pretrial hearing where both attorneys are present. At this point in the process, he prosecutor has not extensively prepared for the case and has the motivation to cut the case short. Experienced judges have been known to strongly hint when they think there should be a plea settlement. Most judges encourage deals during pretrial hearings because their calendar is overloaded. If you can get a favorable deal, your case could be finalized at the pretrial.
If you decline to accept any offered settlement, or if no settlement has been offered, you will ultimately go to trial. A deposition is an opportunity for your attorney to find out exactly how someone intends to answer questions in a trial setting, without a judge or jury hearing the results. Those answers can be challenged, expanded upon, and tested for weaknesses. The primary purpose of a deposition is to uncover weak parts of the case against you.
Sometimes you have to go to trial to present your story and get a fair outcome. In most situations, trial is a last resort. It is a costly, stressful, and high-stakes situation that most defendents should hope to avoid. At trial, you must influence the thoughts of a jury of your peers. Once you decide to go to trial the chances of the prosecutor offering a "deal" (commonly for reduced sentencing) greatly diminish.
As the charged defendant, you basically face one of two possibilities: a not-guilty or guilty verdict. The guilty verdict will come with consequences usually more severe than an early plea settlement will bring. On rare occasions, it can be a good idea to take a case to trial. At a trial, your attorney and the prosecutor will present a sequence of witnesses, documents, and physical evidence. You will not necessarily be required to testify unless you choose to – as is your constitutional right. You will normally know the verdict soon after the trial ends.
How long will the process take?
As a defendant in a criminal case, you have right to a speedy trial, within 180 days (six months) of the time you were arrested and/or charged by information or indictment. Within this period of time, you, as the defendant, must be arraigned, the process of discovery must be conducted (the process whereby the defendant, through his or her attorney examines evidence and witnesses the State will present at trial), pretrial motions must be heard, plea negotiations will be held, and a trial or plea and sentencing will begin. You also have the right to waive speedy trial if you needs more time to prepare the case. Therefore, some cases may take more than 180 days to resolve.
According to the United States Constitution, victims also have a right to a speedy trial, but only to the extent that this right does not interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused. During the time the case is pending, the prosecuting attorney's office (state or otherwise) will keep you informed of all court dates as well as any delays in reaching the resolution of the case.
What do do if you're being charged in a criminal case
Competent and experienced legal representation is highly recommended if you have been charged with in a criminal case. If you require criminal defense attorney services, you can call the office of Scott and Fenderson at 727.321.0099 to discuss your options.