Felony Case Process

In Florida a felony is defined as any criminal offense that is punishable by imprisonment in a state correctional facility.

What courts handle felonies?

Felonies are handled exclusively in the circuit courts.

Types of Felonies:

Felonies are broken down into the following categories:

  • Third Degree:  Punishable by a maximum of five years in state prison.
  • Second Degree:  Punishable by a maximum of fifteen years in state prison.
  • First Degree:  Punishable by a maximum of thirty years in state prison.
  • Life Felony:  Punishable by life in prison.
  • Capital Felony:  Punishable by death

NOTE:  There are many statutory aggravators and enhancements which can result in higher maximums.


The following is a general overview of the court process.

Note:  Different hearings and scenarios may occur; therefore it is important that you consult your attorney to answer questions for your particular case.

1. First Appearance
When a defendant is taken into custody, he or she will appear before a Judge within 24 hours of his/her arrest.  At first appearance, a Judge will inform the accused of the charges, determine probable cause, appoint counsel and set bond.  A Judge will determine if the accused is released from custody.

Three outcomes may happen:

  • First, the court releases the accused based on their promise to appear at the next court hearing.
  • Second, the Judge sets a bond in which a bond must be posted in exchange for their release.
  • Third, the Judge may order that the accused may not be released before trial and is held in custody.

In Florida there is a presumption of pretrial release except with a capital offense or an offense punishable by life imprisonment and the proof of guilt is evident or the presumption of guilt is great.

2. Arraignment
A defendant appears before a judge where he or she enters a plea of either not guilty, nolo contendere (not contesting the charges) or guilty.  In some instances, counsel may have the arraignment waived in writing to the court.  If the accused enters a plea of not guilty, he or she is given adequate time to prepare for trial.

3. Docket Sounding (Case Management or Pre-Trial in some jurisdictions)
Most jurisdictions will hold a pre-trial proceeding (often known as a docket sounding, case management or pre-trial) to determine the status of a case, take a plea, or set a case for trial.  In some instances, a continuance, or another proceeding is allowed so that either side may further prepare or investigate the case.

4. Trial
In Florida, the accused is granted the right to a trial by jury if a potential punishment is incarceration.  During a trial, the State Attorney must prove its case against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt.  The Judge will decide issues of law that may or may not be presented to the jury.  The jury is then charged with deliberating (discussing among themselves) whether the State has proved its case.

5. Sentencing
Sentencing may occur after trial or on a separate date depending if specific circumstances warrant it.  The accused may either have:

  • A fine imposed
  • Probation
  • County Jail
  • State Prison

A sentence may be a combination of the above.  For example:  two years prison time, followed by one year of probation.  Sentencing may include other criteria which the court finds necessary.  For example:  A drug treatment facility for drug offenses.