Florida Criminal Process

In Florida, the criminal process starts with an allegation that a crime occurred. An arrest can occur after a warrant is issued, the officers make an arrest at the scene of the crime or a grand jury returns an indictment. 

That suspect’s liberty is on the line. The decision to prosecute that person could start a long, expensive process that could result in that person being sent to prison and living the rest of his or her life with a criminal record. However, that person has a right to an attorney, who can guide and advise him or her throughout this process.

The Criminal Justice System in West Palm Beach, Florida

If you have been or believe you will be introduced into the Florida criminal justice system as a suspect of any crime, your best bet is have experienced legal counsel on your side. You can have a skilled West Palm Beach defense lawyer by contacting Meltzer & Bell, P.A..

We have more than 20 years of combined experience working within the Florida criminal justice system in the area, including in Palm Beach County, Miami-Dade County and Broward County. Our experience has been both on the prosecution side and defense side.

Call us today at (561) 283-3259 to schedule a free consultation. Our clients come from all over the South Florida area, including West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens, Boynton Beach, Jupiter, Juno Beach, Belle Glade, Wellington, Lake Worth and Greenacres.


Overview of the Florida Criminal Process


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Investigation Into Potential Crime

When police or other law enforcement officer become aware of or suspect criminal activity, they investigate. An investigation can take as little as a minute — for example, if West Palm Beach police suspect a person of drunk driving and ask for a DUI test — to years, for complex criminal actions like white collar crimes or drug trafficking.

If you know you are being investigated, it’s important to acquire the services of a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to advise you. You have a right, under the Fifth Amendment, to not give evidence against yourself. Your attorney can help you determine when to be silent and when to give information.

Never speak to police unless you are represented by an attorney.


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Probable Cause For An Arrest

To arrest a person, police must have probable cause. Probable cause is defined as having sufficient evidence so that a reasonable person would believe that a crime had likely been committed.

In many cases, a warrant is required for police to arrest. Prosecutors will present evidence showing probable cause to a judge, who will determine whether or not to sign a warrant. A warrant gives police the power to arrest a person wherever they find him or her.

A judge may also sign a warrant if a person has been commanded to appear in court for any type of hearing or proceeding and skips it. This is often called a “failure to appear.”

If you have any kind of warrant out, your defense attorney may be able to help you handle it without being arrested.


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Filing Criminal Charges and First Appearance

After the person is arrested, they will appear in court for a first appearance. At the first appearance, the person will be informed of the charges against him or her, and of his or her rights. The charges may be either a felony or a misdemeanor:

  • Felony: A felony is a charge where the potential punishment is more than a year in prison. A felony can be of the third, second or first degree, a capital felony or a life felony.
  • Misdemeanor: Misdemeanor charges carry the potential of a year or less in jail. They can be of the first or second degree.

At the first appearance, bail is also set. By paying a bail bond, you may be set free until sentencing, under certain conditions. For certain serious crimes, or if the defendant is judged to be a flight risk, bail may be denied.

Your lawyer can argue for bail, and for the bail to not be excessive.


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Other Pretrial Procedures

In the weeks and months leading up to trial, there are several matters that must be dealt with, and many opportunities to change the outcome of the proceeding. There may be pretrial hearings on evidence where the judge may hear whether certain evidence should be excluded. If critical evidence is thrown out, it may result in charges being dropped.

Your attorney may also discuss possible plea bargains. Under a plea bargain, the defendant may plead guilty to reduced charges. An attorney from Meltzer & Bell, P.A. will never make an agreement without your consent, and will fully and honestly inform you of every potential option.


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Trial in Palm Beach County Courts

Prior to the trial, there will be jury selection. Your attorney and the State Attorney will interview potential jurors to attempt to have a fair jury.

At the trial, the prosecutor must prove his or her case to the jury beyond reasonable doubt. Your defense attorney will show the holes in the prosecution’s case. Trials can last hours, days or months.

If the jury finds the defendant “not guilty,” he or she is free to walk out of the courtroom. If “guilty,” the court proceeds to sentencing, where it will hear evidence for how severe or less severe the punishment should be.


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Appealing the West Palm Beach Court’s Decision

If the verdict is unfavorable, it is not always the last word. During the proceedings, the judge will make many decisions on the law.

Those decisions could be critical to the outcome of the case. Unfavorable decisions can be appealed to the appropriate court.


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Resources for Florida Criminal Process

Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure: Hosted by the website for the Florida Bar, these are the rules setting procedure for criminal cases, including pleadings, jury selection, sentencing and more.

Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals: This court hears appeals coming out of trial courts in Palm Beach County and Broward County.

1525 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd.
West Palm Beach, FL 33401-2399
(561) 242-2000

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Finding a Defense Attorney to Help You Through Florida Criminal Procedures

The criminal process is convoluted and difficult to understand, and its outcome has a profound effect on the rest of your life. If you are being investigated for a crime or have been charged, you can have an experienced West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer on your side, advising you on the process. Call Meltzer & Bell, P.A. at (561) 283-3259 today to set up a consultation.

We can represent you at every stage of the criminal case from the initial investigation through trial and appeal. 


This article was last updated on Friday, September 9, 2016.

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