The vast majority of criminal cases in Florida resolve prior to trial.
Trial remains a hopeful prospect for many facing criminal charges who want to avoid a conviction. Meticulous preparation is critical for trial. Your first step should be to discuss your case in detail with a Florida criminal trial attorney who can help you determine if trial is your best option. In the meantime, here are some essential steps to help you prepare for your criminal trial.
Explore your options
As mentioned above, your first step should always be to consult with a Florida criminal trial attorney. Due to the cost, time and risk involved in a trial, you should thoroughly discuss the steps leading up to trial before you embark on that journey. Importantly, a trial might not be your best — or only — option. For example, some defendants facing felony charges might be eligible to participate in the Pre-trial Intervention Program (PTI) through the Florida Department of Corrections. This is a diversion program designed to provide certain offenders with an alternative to formal prosecution. In the PTI program, the defendant must waive his or her right to a jury trial and is subject to specific conditions under supervision, much like probation or community control. After successful completion of the intervention program, the court dismisses the charge(s).
Misdemeanor defendants should inquire about the Misdemeanor Pre-trial Diversion Program, which is a similar program that places defendants under supervision for six to 12 months, after which the court will drop the charge(s) if the defendant met all requirements. If after speaking with a criminal trial attorney you both agree trial is your best course of action, you can proceed to the next step.
Prepare your defense
Preparing your defense involves gathering and analyzing evidence and crafting a strong argument for your case.
The process through which you gather and review evidence to be submitted at trial is called discovery. Discovery affords your attorney the chance to request records, conduct depositions and obtain testimony, investigate the elements of your case, go over the prosecution’s evidence and file motions to potentially limit what is admissible at trial. For example, your attorney can file a motion to have unlawfully seized evidence suppressed, so it would be excluded from trial.
Discovery can be a painstaking process in which you examine evidence, speak with witnesses and assess the odds you are up against. But it’s a crucial planning point in the pre-trial phase, as this is when your attorney will prepare a persuasive defense on your behalf. Remember, the prosecution must prove every element of your case beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the burden of proof in criminal trials and a rigorous legal standard. Preparing a successful defense involves crafting an argument and presenting evidence that would cause the jury to develop reasonable doubt.
Attend pre-trial hearings
You may have to attend one or more pre-trial hearings or conferences. These hearings are necessary to ensure timely case progress and can also be held to file motions, request continuances, address evidentiary matters, discuss early resolution options or select jurors. Your conduct at these hearings is important. Talk to your attorney about what is acceptable attire and behavior. Your attorney might want to do the talking for you, but it’s nevertheless important for you to attend the hearing and demonstrate your concern about — and investment in — your future.
Consider resolving your case
Again, many criminal cases resolve well before or even immediately prior to trial. During the pre-trial phase, you might be extended an opportunity to strike a “deal” or agreement with the prosecution. These deals, also called plea bargains, typically involve the defendant exchanging a guilty plea for a lesser charge or dropped charges. This saves both sides time and money. Not all deals are worth taking, however, and you will likely incur a criminal record if you accept one. Likewise, being acquitted at trial might be your only chance to avoid a conviction.
At this point, you should consider what type of outcome you are hoping for. An attorney can help you do this by explaining the consequences of a conviction and your options for sealing or expunging your criminal record thereafter. For some, accepting a plea deal for a lesser charge is ideal. They can resolve their case, save the costs and uncertainty of trial and take steps to move on with their life. For others, pleading guilty might not be an option, especially if their job or career is on the line.
Call an attorney
Preparing for your trial may involve additional steps depending on the facts and circumstances of your case. Because every criminal case is unique, it’s wise to work closely with a Florida criminal defense attorney if you are facing any type of criminal charges. Whether it’s a first-time domestic violence charge or a second DUI offense, an attorney can help you understand the potential benefits and drawbacks of trial, so you can make an informed decision about how to proceed.
Shiobhan Olivero was born and raised in Plant City. Her law office can be reached at (813) 534-0393 or by email at [email protected].