Plea to the charge at your First Appearance Hearing

Florida law requires that you must make a First Appearance before a judge within 24 hours of an arrest. It is at this time that the Judge may offer to resolve your case for a fine or for "time served." The natural inclination may be to take it and get out of jail. That may be a huge mistake. Depending on how the case gets resolved, you may not be able to seal or expunge that charge or any subsequent one for that matter. This could have an impact on your current or future employment. It could impact scholarships. It may seem like the path of least resistance at the time; but it could come back to haunt you. You may be pleading to a case that the State Attorney was not going to file at all. There may not be sufficient evidence to convict you for the charge. In other words, you may be doing the prosecutor a favor by pleading to the charge.


Plea and fail to pay the fine or complete your conditions of probation

So you decided to plea at the first appearance hearing. As I discussed above, that can be a mistake. However, don't compound it by failing to pay your fine or complete some condition of your sentence or probation. It is your responsibility to make sure you know how much your fine is and what conditions, if any, you have to complete as part of your sentence. If you get out of jail and fly back to your home out of state or out of town, don't think you can ignore your sentence. It WILL come back to haunt you. Eventually you'll have a warrant for your arrest for violating probation or your driver's license may get suspended. In the age of computers, they will ultimately find you.


Fail to Appear for Court

If you do bond out or simply get a criminal citation or Notice to Appear, do NOT ignore your court date. If you fail to appear (FTA), the Court will issue a warrant for your arrest and perhaps suspend your driver's license depending on the charge. Warrants will remain active for years. They will ultimately catch up with you.


Wait for the State to make a filing decision

Be proactive in this situation. Hire a local criminal defense attorney to address your charge as early as possible. Usually after the arrest, there is a period of time when the prosecutor will evaluate the case to determine what charges, if any, will be filed. This is the time you want an attorney working for you to get the best resolution possible.


Believe that you must return to Florida to resolve your case

If you have been charged with a misdemeanor crime, Florida law allows for you to resolve your case without having to actually appear in court. The process is called a Plea in Absentia. Your criminal defense attorney can appear in court on your behalf and file the Plea in Absentia while you remain in your home state. If your charge is a felony, your criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate a reduced charge with the State Attorney so that you can resolve your case with a Plea in Absentia.