Ultimate Guide to Hiring Criminal Defense Lawyers in Orlando: From Arrest to Trial
The following ultimate guide to hiring criminal defense lawyers in Orlando is aimed at helping a person who was recently arrested for a criminal offense to understand the criminal justice system and to help navigate the criminal process in Orlando. From getting arrested, to bonding out of jail, to hiring your lawyer, this guide is aimed at showing you the way and what to expect.
Chapter 1: The Arrest
- Arrest Without Warrant: There are two primary types of arrest. The first type of arrest is when a crime is investigated and an arrest is made without a warrant being issued. This type of arrest occurs when the police officers are able to make a live arrest during their initial investigation. Consider the example of a person who is caught shoplifting and the officer is called to the scene. Once at the scene the officer can choose to make a formal arrest. In this scenario you are brought into custody without the issuance of an actual warrant.
- Arrest With a Warrant: In the second type of arrest, the police don’t actually arrest the person during the initial investigation. This often occurs when the alleged perpetrator is no longer at the scene or when the evidence isn’t quite strong enough at the moment of the crime to support probable cause needed for arrest. An example of an arrest warrant would be where the police show up to a burglary where a building was broken into and many things were stolen, but they aren’t sure who the culprit was. In this scenario, the police run DNA analysis of the scene and later discover DNA linking to a person who has no authority or reason for being at the scene. The police can submit their evidence to a judge who can sign off on an arrest warrant for the Burglary that had occurred weeks prior.
- Notice to Appear: In some lower end offenses, such as petit theft, the police officers may choose to issue a notice to appear instead of actually arresting the Defendant. This saves the officer countless hours driving down the Jail, filling out paperwork, etc. These types of interactions are less common in the criminal justice system. Many times people confuse these notices to appear as simply being a civil citation, but these actually are criminal charges and need the same attention as if you were actually arrested.
Chapter 2: Bonding Out of Jail
- What is a bond? A bond is an amount of money requiring a person to pay before they can be released from custody. When a person is brought into custody the bond amount is traditionally set at standard bond-schedule amounts set forth at standard amounts for a specified charges. Where a person is brought into custody on a warrant, the judge will often select a specific bond amount, that may or may not coincide with the bond schedule. In both scenarios the bond is usually a standard amount. However, police officers may ask for specifically higher amounts where the circumstances warrant, just like a judge may set specifically higher amounts if the circumstances appear to justify the amount.
- How does the bonding process work? Traditionally, you will go to a bond agent in your jurisdiction and ask them to post a bond for you. They will take a 10% fee for posting the bond on your behalf, and additionally will often ask for a collateral to further ensure that the person will appear for future court dates. If you forgo the bond process and pay the bond straight up as a cash bond, then you will be responsible for paying the entire bond amount. For example, if the bond is $2,500, a bond agent may charge you $250 for their 10% fee, and an additional $500 as collateral for posting the bond. Once your case is resolved you will get back $500, but the $250 remains with the bond agent, as their fee for posting your bond. In that same scenario, if you were to pay the entire $2,500 fee yourself, you would receive the entire $2,500 back upon the completion of the case. If you have the resources to pay the entire bond amount, then it usually advised that you pay the entire amount, so you can avoid paying the 10% fee.
- Other conditions of Release: In addition to monetary conditions of release, the Court will often set other requirements of release. For example, in a domestic violence case, the judge will often set the requirement that the Defendant is to have no contact with the victim in the case. In other examples, the Court may require the surrender of a passport, or a curfew, or random drug testing, or to have no contact with fellow co-defendants. The range of what a judge can require is quite large and is aimed at ensuring the Defendant appear at future Court appearances, to protect the community, and to preserve the integrity of the judicial system. If you violate these conditions of release, the Court can revoke your bond and hold you in jail until your case is resolved. Another traditional condition of release is that you don’t pick up any additional new criminal offenses while out on bond. If you were to pick up a new offense, the Court will revoke your bond in almost every single instance and getting a new bond will be next to impossible. Bond motions will always be allowed, but be advised that when you commit egregious violations of the conditions of relief, such as picking up new criminal offenses, then the chances of getting bond are very low. Hiring quality criminal defense representation in these instances is vital, so that a proper defense can be presented.
Chapter 3: Understanding Your Charges
- The Arrest Charges v. The Formal Charges: When you are arrested for a criminal offense, there are the arrest allegations that the police officer puts down on the arrest affidavit. These charges placed on the arrest affidavit include the offenses that the police officer believes you committed. There will be a factual basis in the form of an affidavit from the police officer. This arrest affidavit contains facts about the offenses believed to have occurred. When you go before a first appearance court, the court will review the police officer’s affidavit and make a determination whether probable cause has been established. Probable cause is the requirement that is necessary to hold a person in jail on a specified charge. In some instances a first appearance judge will review an arrest affidavit and make the determination that there is not sufficient probable cause to support one or more of the charges. In some instances, the judge may find that none of the offenses are sufficiently stated, and release the Defendant on his own recognizance. This means that the person doesn’t post bond and is directly released from custody. This does not mean that more information doesn’t exist, and this does mean that formal charges won’t be filed. The formal charges are traditionally formally announced in Florida by the State Attorney’s Office filing a document called “An Information.” The Information states the specific offenses which the State Attorney believes they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt. This document may mirror what the original police officer stated in terms of allegations, it may contain less charges, it may contain more charges, or the state attorney may decide that the case is not suitable for prosecution and formally drop the charges against the Defendant. Hiring a criminal defense lawyer early on is advantageous, as it grants additional time for the Defense attorney to discuss the case with the State Attorney prior to formal charges being filed.
- The Elements of the Offense: Each offense will include elements that must be established by the State Attorneys Office beyond all reasonable doubt. In order to prove each offense, all of the elements of the offense must be proven. Let’s consider a case of Burglary of a Dwelling. For a Burglary of a Dwelling to be proven, the State Attorney’s Office must prove the following elements: (1) That you entered or remained in a house that wasn’t yours; (2) without permission; (3) with the intent to commit an unlawful/criminal act inside. That’s it. So if the State Attorney’s Office were to prove that you entered into a neighbors house, when they weren’t home, to take something out of their house, then the jury could come back and find you guilty of that specific offense. In some instances a person will be charged with multiple offenses, but the evidence may be lacking on some of the named offenses, and be stronger on the other offenses. You will need to discuss the elements of each offense with your Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyer. A thorough Criminal Defense Consultation is necessary so that you can understand the nuances of your criminal case, and the strengths and the weaknesses of the State Attorney’s case.
- Proving Your Case Beyond All Reasonable Doubt: When a Prosecutor moves forward with your case, understand that the prosecutor doesn’t just have to prove your case at a low level. They must prove each element and the offense as a whole at an incredibly high and stringent standard of Beyond all Reasonable Doubt. Too many defendants quickly take a plea without fully understanding their rights or understanding the high burden that the State is required to prove each case with. If you have a question about the Definition of Beyond all Reasonable Doubt, it’s important to consult with a criminal defense lawyer so that your case can be discussed in detail and so that you understand the difficult burden required.
Chapter 4: Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer
- Choosing the Right Lawyer: Make sure that you hire the right lawyer for the job. The right lawyer for the job is not someone who’s going to sugarcoat the situation just so you hire them. However, the right lawyer for the job does not set forth barriers to your own defense before the case even starts. For example, our firm has handled numerous cases where clients have told us that they are coming from another lawyer who told them that they were going to receive multiple years in prison and refused to offer mitigation to the prosecutor or even attempt to get the offer down. The thought was, “this is a good offer and you should be happy.” In many of these cases, our firm has been able to speak with the prosecutor with an open mind, offering previous mitigation that hadn’t been previously offered and have negotiated significantly reduced offers. This isn’t to say that any time you hire a lawyer that you are going to get a great deal or significantly reduced from the previous offer. This is to say that the lawyer you hire should truly understand your story and should truly want to present your story in a way that is favorable to the prosecution. Without a passionate defense you simply become another number. Make sure that the firm you hire is truly open to you, your story, and your expectations.
- Qualified Representation: Make sure that you hire a qualified criminal defense lawyer with significant trial and courtroom experience. Small errors can mean the difference between multiple years in prison and no prison. For example, we recently took on a case where the previous Defense lawyer had told the client that they had to sign for three years in prison for a minimum mandatory prison sentence. They had worked on the case for over one year and the client was about to sign. Before he signed he came to our firm and decided he needed to take one more chance at his freedom before he signed away three years of his life. Within less than two weeks on the case, our firm was able to convince the prosecutor that the case WASN’T A MINIMUM MANDATORY prison sentence. Consider that…the previous lawyer was on the case for a year and hadn’t even understood that he was dealing with an incorrect charging allegation. Just like that a mandatory prison sentence disappeared, and the client was no longer even facing a prison sentence at all. Make sure your lawyer knows the law, and make sure your lawyer has handled cases like yours before WITH SUCCESSFUL RESULTS. Don’t accept anything else, as you may find yourself being told to plea to a three year prison sentence when you shouldn’t even be receiving ANY prison.
Chapter 5: The Criminal Justice Process
- First Appearance: First Appearance is the Court date that occurs within 24 hours after arrest. There are two primary purposes of first appearance, determining probable cause and setting a bond with release conditions. At first appearance the judge will review the police officer’s arrest affidavit and determine whether or not the four corners of the arrest affidavit reach the level of probable cause for the offense alleged. This is a very low threshold and the judge will find probable in most cases. However, this is not an appearance that should be mailed in. In many cases this is a great chance for your criminal Defense lawyer to make preliminary arguments regarding bond and release conditions. For people who have no bond or unreasonable bond conditions, getting a case onto the docket for a bond often takes upwards of two weeks. When you go into the courtroom for a bond hearing you have a judge who will likely scrutinize the case to a much higher point, and the actual state attorney who will be handling the case, who will likely be a much fiercer advocate. Getting into the courtroom quickly and efficiently is often critical in getting a release, or at least a fair release. Therefore, make sure that you consider hiring your criminal defense lawyer the moment the arrest occurs.
- Arraignment: Arraignment is the next step in the criminal process. An arraignment is basically just a short court appearance where a criminal defense lawyer enters a plea of guilty or not guilty on your behalf. However, don’t sleep on the arraignment. Arraignment truly is worth considering, as in some cases the very best offer will be given. Consider a recent case that we witnessed advance. At arraignment the offer was a misdemeanor time served. That was rejected. The next offer was misdemeanor and probation. The prosecutor then upfield the case to a felony with felony probation. This is an example where an experienced criminal defense lawyer would have stepped in at arraignment, with knowledge of the facts of the case, and strongly encouraged the client to take the misdemeanor time served. Having an experienced criminal defense lawyer is critical in these early stages, as they can tell you “this is a great deal, or this is a terrible deal.” Criminal Defense often requires fighting for the resolution you want and being ready to quickly jump on it when it presents itself. In some instances, the arraignment offer will be mediocre or even terrible, and in those instances your criminal lawyer can properly advise you that the plea would be unadvisable. But having a lawyer by your side at this early stage allows you to at least be armed with the knowledge to accept or reject the offers as they come.
- Pretrial: Pretrial is the next stage of the criminal process and involves telling the judge where you and the prosecutor are officially at. Whether it is setting the case for a plea or setting the case for a trial, or even continuing the case to a subsequent pretrial period. The importance of being prepared for pretrial cannot be overstated. Good Criminal Defense Lawyers will have already scheduled appropriate hearings, talked with the State, scheduled potential depositions, and negotiated your case. These are critical steps that your lawyer needs to take in order to ensure you get your continuance if you need it, and to make sure that you have the best possible resolution for your case. Judges cannot stand criminal defense lawyers wasting their time and neither can prosecutors. Be prepared.
- Trial: Trial is the ultimate culmination of the criminal justice process. After all of your motions are filed, after all of the continuances have occurred, after all the negotiations have taken place, the trial is what occurs when a deal cannot be reached. A trial involves the State Attorney calling witnesses, including police officers, experts, laypersons, and/or anybody who may have something to say about the facts of your case. Your Criminal Defense Lawyer should have plenty of criminal trial experience. The process can be complex and nuanced even for trial attorneys with some trial experience under their belt. Make sure your criminal defense lawyer has considerable trial experience, with experience in all areas of criminal law. Each case presents it’s own challenges, from impeaching witnesses, to introducing evidence, to knowing how to properly object during the trial. An inexperienced criminal defense attorney can let in considerably more information than should be allowed, will fail to object (essentially surrendering all appeals to that issue), will fail to properly impeach witnesses, and can flat out not understand how to present evidence. Make sure you hire a lawyer who is prepared to take your case to trial.
Chapter 6: Pretrial Motions
- What types of pretrial motions: Before you go to trial, your attorney will file pretrial motions depending on what your specific case calls for. These motions can range from motions to suppress evidence, to motions in limine to exclude, to motions to sever offenses. The list of pretrial motions are quite extensive and are often case specific. These motions are filed and heard during the preliminary stages of a case before it goes the distance. They are aimed at preventing certain evidence from coming in, to asking for further clarity on the offenses, to almost anything you can think of.