The term “misdemeanor” in Florida means any criminal offense that is punishable under the laws of this state by a term of imprisonment in a county correctional facility, not to exceed one year.
What Courts Handle?
Misdemeanors are handled in County Courts (unless charged in combination with a felony).
Types of Misdemeanors
Misdemeanors are broken down into two categories:
- Second Degree: These crimes are punishable by a maximum of sixty days in the county jail.
- First Degree: These crimes are punishable by a maximum of one year in the county jail.
For misdemeanors a person may be accused of a criminal violation in two different ways.
- First: A person may be given a “Notice to Appear” which is a written order from a law enforcement officer informing a person that they have been accused of committing a crime, and they shall appear in court on a specific day and time.
- Second: A person may be arrested by law enforcement officer and brought into custody pending a hearing.
The following is a general overview of the court process.
Note: Every courtroom is different; therefore it is important that you consult your attorney to answer questions for your particular case.
1. First Appearance
When a defendant is arrested and brought into custody, he or she must appear before a Judge within 24 hours of arrest. A Judge will inform the accused of the charges and that he or she is entitled to counsel.
Then three outcomes may occur.
- The accused may be released on their own recognizance (ROR), in which the Court releases the accused based on their promise to appear at the next court hearing.
- The Judge sets a bond in which they order the accused to post a monetary bond in exchange for their release.
- The Judge may order that the accused may NOT be released before trial and held in custody.
The Judge may consider these factors:
- Severity of the crime;
- Flight risk and attachment to their community;
- Whether the accused is a danger to the community.
In Florida there is a presumption of pretrial release except in very serious crimes.
A defendant appears before a Judge where formal charges are brought. A defendant may enter 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) 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.
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 present evidence to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If found guilty, the next step is sentencing.
Sentencing may occur after trial or on a separate date depending if specific circumstances warrant it. The accused may receive:
- A fine
- Jail time
A sentence may be a combination of the above. For example: Three months in jail followed by six months of probation. Sentencing may include other criteria which the Court finds necessary. For example: A drug treatment facility for drug offenses.