The Process of a Criminal Case in Florida

At the Morris Law Firm, we guide clients through Florida’s criminal justice system, while providing strong defense representation. From arrest to sentencing, here’s an overview of the criminal process.
From Arrest to Sentencing – Steps in the Criminal Process

    1. Observation or reporting of a crime – Police officers may obtain information about criminal activity from their own observations or other sources, such as eyewitnesses or victims.
    2. Pre-arrest investigation – An investigation is conducted in order to determine whether a crime was committed and whether there is sufficient evidence that points to a person’s guilt. For example, if a driver is suspected of DUI, he or she may be asked to take a breathalyzer test.
    3. Arrest – When a police officer acquires sufficient information to establish “probable cause” that a person committed a crime, then the officer is entitled to make a formal “custodial” arrest of that person. The arresting officer is entitled to a limited search of an arrested person and seize any weapons, contraband, or evidence related to the alleged crime.
    4. Booking – After an arrest, the arrestee in custody is taken to jail and subjected to the booking process. He or she is photographed or fingerprinted, and asked to provide identifying information.
    5. Bail & First Appearance – An arrestee is taken before a judge for his or her first appearance within 24 hours of arrest and booking. During first appearance, an arrestee—now the defendant—is served with his or her charges, and the judge determines bail as well as other conditions for pre-trial release. A defendant doesn’t have to say anything during first appearance.
    6. Preliminary Hearing – During the preliminary hearing, the prosecution must prove sufficient evidence for probable cause. If the prosecution is unable to show probable cause for an arrest, a case may be dismissed.
    7. Plea Bargaining – Once a preliminary hearing is set, the defendant and prosecuting attorney may initiate plea bargaining. This process usually involves the prosecution offering a concession to the defendant if he or she pleads guilty. Whether plea bargaining is a good idea depends on the unique facts of each case.
    8. Arraignment – A defendant is formally asked to enter a plea—guilty or not guilty—during the arraignment hearing. If a defendant pleads guilty, the next step is sentencing, and if a defendant pleads not guilty, the next step is trial.
    9. Trial – If a defendant pleads not guilty to criminal charges, he or she will go to trial before a judge or jury. Once the trial begins, the process generally proceeds in this order:
      • Opening statements
      • Prosecution’s case is presented
      • Defense cross-examines prosecution’s case
      • Defense’s case is presented
      • Prosecution cross-examines defense’s case
      • Closing arguments
      • Verdict

If a defendant is found not guilty, he or she is free to go. If the judge or jury reaches a guilty verdict, the defendant will receive sentencing.

10. Sentencing – Sentencing usually occurs two weeks to 90 days after a verdict is reached. The judge hears arguments from the prosecutor and the defense attorney, and decides sentencing based on these arguments and the trial. A sentence may include any combination of fines, jail time, probation, or community service.

Contact the Morris Law Firm after an Arrest in Panama City

If you or a loved one has been arrested in Panama City Beach, please contact the Morris Law Firm for guidance and representation. We can discuss your charges during a free initial consultation.