Everyone who is facing criminal charges in Florida wants to know what is going to happen.
“How will my criminal case be resolved?”
The answer for each client depends on the specific circumstances of their case. Many variables influence the outcome of a criminal prosecution, each one of them factoring differently into each defendant’s life circumstances.
Before we look at those many factors that bear on the way a criminal case proceeds, let’s look at the four primary avenues a criminal case can travel in the Florida criminal justice system:
- Participation in a Pretrial Diversion Program
- Negotiating an Agreed Plea
- Active Pretrial Motion Practice (suppressing evidence, motions to dismiss, etc.)
- Jury Trial or Jury Waived Trial by a Judge
Each of these avenues is available in most criminal prosecutions. The option that’s right for you and your case can only be determined following a thorough, detailed, honest discussion with your criminal defense attorney.
At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law in Tampa, we take pride in the intensity of the attention we pay to each client, their family, and the details of their case. No two cases are alike because no two clients are alike. What may be the most advisable and most advantageous defense approach in one client’s case may be absolutely inappropriate in another case.
There are three different diversion programs available to defendants who meet the admission criteria. The key to each of the programs is that successful completion of the program results in the dismissal of the charges which brought you before the court. The case is literally “diverted” from the criminal calendar. While no defendant is required to engage in these programs, the odds of obtaining a dismissal of your charges are higher in this context than by other strategies.
Pretrial Diversion — The Pretrial Diversion Program is operated entirely by the authority of the State’s Attorney Office. Only the attorney general’s staff can grant a defendant admission into the program. The candidate must be a nonviolent first offender. The program requires participants to attend regular meetings with program supervisors, random drug testing, counseling sessions, and perform community service. Failure to abide by these conditions or becoming involved in other criminal activity will result in dismissal from the program and a transfer of your criminal case back to the normal court schedule.
Drug Court — This program is designed for defendants who are suffering from severe drug addiction (better referred to as substance use disorder (SUD)), even if they are repeat offenders. The program insists on a long-term commitment to treatment, counseling, drug testing, and a genuine commitment to recovering from the illness. While the idea that “relapse is part of recovery” is a component of all drug programs, repeated failure to comply with the program will lead to ejection from the program and continued prosecution.
Pretrial Intervention — Similar to the Pretrial Diversion program but open to repeat offenders. The program requires the performance of community service, drug testing, and counseling if indicated. Beware any criminal defense lawyer who is not aware of how to seek your admission into the program. While not every judge or prosecutor favors the program, strong advocacy by your criminal defense lawyer can often overcome resistance by the prosecution and the court.
Negotiating a Plea
After you have discussed every facet of your case with your criminal defense lawyer, and the attorney has investigated, reviewed the prosecution’s evidence, and considered all available legal defenses, it may be appropriate to consider seeking a negotiated plea agreement with the government to bring your case to a favorable close.
Prosecution evidence may be very strong, and legal defenses may be difficult given the nature of the offense, and the amount and quality of the evidence. A defendant’s prior criminal record may also be an important factor, especially considering what sentence might follow a conviction. However, prosecutors cannot bring every case to trial and an experiences criminal defense attorney can highlight all of the weaknesses in the state’s case, emphasize the positive aspects of your life, and propose a compromise in which the prosecutor may close the case by reducing the charge to a lesser offense, minimizing the penalty, and encouraging the defendant’s rehabilitation.
This is especially valuable in cases where the prosecutor has overcharged the case and cannot make the case given the available admissible evidence. In such circumstances, a negotiated plea can produce valuable concessions from the government in the client’s favor.
Active Pretrial Motion Practice
No matter how hard well-intended law enforcement officers may try to remain within the rules, human nature invites mistakes, oversights, and in some cases, intentional malice. The best criminal defense lawyers know the law, all the law. That means that when a procedural requirement is violated, when a defendant’s constitutional rights are not observed, when evidence is collected improperly, or unreliably, or any number of other mishaps occur, the best lawyers pounce on the opportunity and actively file pretrial motions to vigorously litigate every issue in a prosecutor’s case before trial.
More often than not, this kind of aggressive motion practice produces useful exculpatory information, damaging admissions by police, and favorable rulings by the pretrial hearing judge. Sometimes, the result is the outright dismissal of the charges before trial. In other cases, the prosecutor loses confidence in their ability to win a conviction at trial, causing them to offer a very favorable compromised plea to dispose of the case.
Trial by Jury or by Judge
Finally, every client accused of a crime has the right to a trial either before a jury or before a judge sitting without a jury. The trial provides a long list of guaranteed opportunities, including the right to confront and cross-examine prosecution witnesses, the right to compel defense witnesses to testify for the client, and the right to be presumed innocent throughout the trial. The client has the privilege against self-incrimination, meaning they do not have to testify, and the jury may not consider their choosing not to testify against them. They also have the absolute right to testify in their own defense if they decide to. And, of course, they have the right to the assistance of effective legal counsel and the right to appeal any incorrect ruling or an unjust verdict.
But trials are risky. No one knows how a trial will end; not guilty, guilty, mixed verdict, hung jury, or mistrial. Expert criminal defense lawyers with years of trial experience and finely honed courtroom skills offer their client’s the best possible chance of success at trial. And only wise and caring defense counsel would usually encourage a client to take a case to trial.
Some clients insist they will accept nothing less than an acquittal at trial because they are innocent. Other clients may opt for a trial because the prosecutor’s pretrial plea offer was outrageously unfair. Every single client’s case is different.
Florida Criminal Defense
If you have been accused of a crime in Florida, you can trust our experienced criminal defense lawyers at Stechschulte Nell to fight on your behalf. We are on your side, always. Call 813-280-1244 for a case review today.