Florida Criminal Case Timeline
If you or a loved one has been arrested in Florida, then the following will give you an idea of what to expect:
When a person is arrested, they are handcuffed behind their back and placed into a police vehicle. They are then driven to a jail facility. It is not uncommon to be taken first to a holding facility or substation before ultimately reaching a main jail facility.
2) At the Main Jail Facility
Once the arrestee reaches the main county jail facility, they will be strip searched, photographed and placed into a holding cell. The holding cell is usually small and holds numerous inmates who have also been recently arrested. There are usually two holding cells – one for persons charged with felonies and one for persons charged with misdemeanors. While in the holding cell, the Corrections Officers will begin creating a jail card that will include the arrestee’s personal information, charges and a photo. Arrestees are usually booked into the jail in the order that they arrive at the jail. This can sometimes take many hours depending on how many people have recently been arrested. After a long wait, the arrestee will be taken out of the holding cell and formally booked in. At this time, they will be fingerprinted and they will be allowed to make a phone call to a family member, friend or bondsman. The Corrections Officers will run a National Crime Information Center (NCIC) background check to determine if the person has any outstanding criminal warrants and they will also determine what the standard bond is for the charged offenses. The arrestee will then be returned back to their holding cell. The bond amount will be entered into the jail’s computer system and the bondsman will then be able to post a bond for their release assuming that there are no outstanding warrants. The arrestee will also be taken to the jail clinic where any medical needs may be addressed. After the clinic, the inmate will again return to the holding cell. If the arrestee has not bonded out by this time, the person will ultimately be transferred to a more permanent cell. This cell will be considerably larger and will often house 50+ inmates.
3) First Appearance
Within the first 24 hours after arrest, the arrestee will be brought before a judge. They will not always physically appear before the judge but may instead appear on a closed circuit video screen located in the courtroom. At this time, it will be determined by the court whether or not there is sufficient probable cause to detain the arrestee. If probable cause is found, then the arrestee’s bond status may be addressed. The standard bond may be lowered, raised or remain the same depending on the case situation and the arguments before the judge by the defense and the Assistant State Attorney. If posting a bond is not feasible, a person may be released to Pretrial Services if they qualify for such a release. This often requires that the person report to Pretrial Services at set intervals while their case remains open. There will be no first appearance for arrestees who are bonded out before this hearing. Domestic Violence cases require a first appearance before a judge before an arrestee is eligible for release.
The arraignment is usually set 21 days after the date of arrest. At this time, formal charges are filed and the arrestee will almost always enter a plea of not guilty and request that the Office of the State Attorney provide the defense with discovery. Often times, a plea offer will be extended and may be accepted. There are certain instances when the Office of the State Attorney will request that the arraignment be reset to the 30th day after arrest to allow them additional time to determine what, if any, charges to file. If the State is not ready on the 30th day then they may ask for one final reset to the 33rd day. If charges are not filed on the 33rd day then the arrestee will be released from custody on their own recognizance (ROR). If the person was out on bond or Pretrial Services, then any provisions of their bond or requirements of Pretrial would be eliminated.
5) Discovery Phase
During the discovery phase, the Office of the State Attorney is required to provide the defense with all evidence and paperwork regarding the case and the charges. This includes any exculpatory evidence that may lead to the defendant’s exoneration. During this time, the defense will be allowed to investigate evidence, take depositions in most felony cases and prepare the case for trial.
6) Sounding/Pretrial Conference/Calendar Call
The Sounding is usually scheduled approximately 10 days before the defendant’s trial date. The purpose of the Sounding is to determine whether or not both the State and the defense will be ready for trial on the scheduled trial date. A plea offer will usually be extended at this time. The idea behind the sounding is to clear out the cases that are not ready for trial on the scheduled trial date and to possibly close some cases with acceptable pleas.
The court will often have more than one case set for trial. On the morning of trial, the court will determine a trial order. The trial order is usually based first on speedy trial issues and then how old each particular case is. If the defendant is not the first case on the list, they will be placed on “standby" and will be required to be available (usually within 2 hours) should the cases ahead of them be closed or continued for any reason.