What Do You Do if You Are On Trial For a Crime in Florida?
In the U.S State of Florida, the criminal procedure is established by the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure and adhered to by circuit and county courts of the Florida Judiciary System. Generally, a case goes to trial when an accused party pleads "not guilty," and the charges are not dismissed or reduced, or a plea bargain negotiated before the trial date. An individual who is on trial for a crime in Florida is expected to have qualified legal counsel. In cases where the individual is unable to afford one, the judge of the presiding court may assign them a public defender. At some point in the criminal process, the accused party will be expected to enter a guilty or not-guilty plea, appear before the court on the trial date, and post bail or request a bond hearing. As a rule, it is advisable to have an understanding of the criminal process in Florida in order to make informed decisions.
Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:
- The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
- The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.
Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.
What Percentage of Criminal Cases go to Trial in Florida?
The Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA) collates and publishes statewide court statistics reports. These compiled reports may be viewed by year on the Trial Courts Statistical Reference Guide page of the Florida courts website, or by searching specific court statistics within a time frame using the Trial Court Statistics Search. Among statistics that can be viewed are court filings and dispositions of criminal cases handled or tried by the circuit and civil courts and their divisions.
According to the 2018-2019 report, there were 177,642 filings and 170,137 dispositions in the circuit courts. Only 2,882 (1.7%) cases went to trial. Of this percentage, 1.4% were jury trials and 0.3% non-jury trials. County courts recorded 571,774 filings and 759,952 dispositions. 18,168 (2.4%) cases went to trial. Of this percentage, 0.3% were jury and 2.1% non-jury trials. Between 2014-2015 and 2017-2018, the percentages of criminal cases that went to trial in the 2 courts are as follows:
- 2014-2015: 1.9% of 172,946 dispositions; 1.8% jury and 0.1% non-jury trials
- 2015-2016: 1.9% of 167,009 dispositions; 1.8% jury and 0.1% non-jury trials
- 2016-2017: 1.7% of 169,428 dispositions; 1.6% jury and 0.1% non-jury trials
- 2017-2018: 2.9% of 164,820 dispositions; 1.6% jury and 1.3% non-jury trials
- 2014-2015: 2.7% of 624,656 dispositions; 0.5% jury and 2.2% non-jury trials
- 2015-2016: 4.4% of 605,647 dispositions; 1.6% jury and 2.8% non-jury trials
- 2016-2017: 4.0% of 584,915 dispositions; 1.7% jury and 2.3% non-jury trials
- 2017-2018: 3.7% of 587,090 dispositions; 0.4% jury and 3.3% non-jury trials
This data, drawn from a 5-year trend, reveals that in Florida, the likelihood of criminal cases going to trial in the circuit or county courts is significantly low. In the circuit courts, only 2.0% of criminal cases actually go to trial, and out of that percentage, 1.6% are jury trials. In the county courts, 3.4% of criminal cases go to trial, and 0.9% are jury trials.
When does a Criminal Defendant Have the Right to a Trial?
Under Rule 3.191 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, every accused party in a criminal case has the right to a speedy and public trial, except when they waive that right. A defendant also has the right to demand a trial and one must commence within 50 days of filing the demand. Failing that, the defendant has the right to seek appropriate remedies. However, this rule is void when defendants waive their right to trial. Usually, this occurs when the expiration of the speedy trial period is due to the actions of the defendant or their attorney. Such actions may include:
- Requests for extensions
- Misconduct resulting in delays
- The need for more investigation
- Failures to appear or unavailability for trial
- Setting a trial date after the speedy trial period
- Additional time for negotiation or preparation for trial
What are the Stages of a Criminal Trial in Florida?
In the State of Florida, there are two types of trials: non-jury (bench) trials and jury trials. Non-jury trials are held over minor offenses and the final decision rests on the presiding judge. In jury trials, the final decision rests on the 6 jurors and a judge oversees. These trials generally proceed in the following format:
- Jury selection
- Opening statements
- Presentation of the prosecution's case
- Cross-examination of the prosecution's case by the defense
- Presentation of the defense's case
- Cross-examination of the defense's case by the prosecution
- Closing arguments
- Jury instructions
How Long Does it Take For a Case to Go to Trial in Florida?
In Florida, the nature or severity of crime does not impact the time it takes for a case to go to trial. As given by the Speedy Trial law, misdemeanor trials generally occur within 90 days from the time of arrest or notice to appear. While felony trials occur within 175 days of arrest or notice to appear. The only exception to this rule is if the defendant demands the right to a speedy trial. In such cases, the trial occurs within 50 days of the filing.
What Happens When a Court Case Goes to Trial in Florida?
When a court case goes to trial in Florida, it commences with the jury selection. The prosecution (State) and defense go through a selection process where they strive to excuse prospective jurors who they believe are biased until both parties agree on a jury. Under Rule 3.270 of Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, there can only be 12 jurors for capital crimes and 6 jurors for all other criminal cases. Under Rule 3.133 b(3), before the trial begins, either party may request that their witnesses be sequestered outside the courtroom. This is to prevent the undue influence of their testimonies as a result of the events of the trial.
After the selection, both sides deliver their opening statements to the jury detailing what they hope to prove or disprove with the trial. The prosecution presents its case first using evidence and witnesses. Then, the defense has the option to cross-examine the witness to reveal gaps in knowledge, errors, or inconsistencies in the testimonies of the witnesses. Afterward, the defense presents its case. As the burden of proof lies with the State, the defense is not required to present a witness. However, any witnesses presented must corroborate the defense's theory. The defendant has the right to choose or decline to testify. After the defense rests, the prosecution may cross-examine the defense's witnesses or call another witness to rebut a point made.
Both sides may, then, deliver their closing arguments to convince the jury to convict or acquit the defendant. The prosecution goes first before the defense and can rebut the defense's arguments. After the arguments, the judge instructs the jury on the applicable laws during deliberation. Following the deliberation, the judge reviews the jury's verdict, which is read to the court by the Clerk of Court. Defendants who are found "not guilty" are granted immediate leave of court. Defendants found "guilty" may be sentenced immediately according to sentencing guidelines established under Rule 3.701 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. However, in most cases, the judge sets a sentencing date 2 weeks to 90 days from the trial date and orders a pre-sentence investigation. In cases where the jury cannot agree on a verdict, a mistrial is announced and a new trial date is scheduled.
Can you be Put on Trial Twice for the Same Crime in Florida?
No. A defendant cannot be put on trial twice for the same crime in Florida. The Fifth Amendment of the U.S Constitution and Article 1, Section 9 of the Florida Constitution protects accused individuals from being prosecuted for the same crime twice, whether that crime is a misdemeanor or felony. However, the Double Jeopardy Clause only applies to crimes committed within the State of Florida. Crimes that cross interstate lines can be prosecuted under federal and state laws, or twice under the laws of different states. Furthermore, this law does not apply to administrative or civil proceedings. Individuals who have been acquitted or had their charges dismissed in criminal court may be liable to administrative actions or sued for damages in a civil court for the same crime.
How Do I Lookup a Criminal Court Case in Florida?
Interested parties may lookup a criminal court case in Florida on the websites of the presiding Circuit Court division. It is possible to view court calendars and dockets of criminal cases, however, access methods may differ. This information may also be accessed through third-party sites such as CourtRecords.us.
How to Access Electronic Court Records in Florida
In the State of Florida, most Clerks of Circuit Court maintain comprehensive websites that provide electronic access to court records. Interested parties may search and obtain criminal court records from the applicable circuit court. Often, individuals will be required to provide the following information about the case:
- Subject's name
- Case number
- Citation number
- Case or filing type
Dockets from the Supreme and District Court may be viewed by entering a case number on the Florida Courts Online Public Docket portal.
Although court records are considered public records, under Rule 2.420(c) of the Florida Rules of Procedure and Chapter 119 of Florida Statutes certain records are exempt. These records are confidential and cannot be accessed unless the requesting party is authorized by law or court order. Some records under this law include:
- Copies of unexecuted arrest warrants, search, and supporting affidavits
- Identifying information of witnesses or victims
- Financial information of individuals
- Grand jury records
- Juvenile delinquency records
- Complete presentence investigation reports
How Do I Remove Public Court Records in Florida?
Under Chapter 119, Section 71 of Florida Statutes, eligible individuals can request to remove certain information from public court records. This may be done by application to the Clerk of Circuit Clerk's office in the county where the case was filed. Application methods may differ by the court but the process is similar:
- The applicant is required to submit a form titled "Public records exemption request". This title may vary by county. Usually, the application form is available to download on the clerk's website or obtain at the clerk's office
- Applicants must complete the form, indicating the information to be removed, and submit it through channels provided by the court. This differs by the applicable court but common submission methods include mail, email, or in-person.
After review of the request, the clerk has the responsibility to inform the requester within 5 days if the request for confidentiality is invalid under state laws. At which point, if the requester disagrees, he or she may file a Motion to Determine Confidentiality of Court Records.
Under Section 943.059 and Section 943.0585 of Florida Statutes, a criminal record can be sealed or expunged. Parties who want to seal or expunge their criminal records may begin the process by applying for a Certificate of Eligibility to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). However, under these laws, an individual can obtain a court-ordered sealing or expungement only once in a lifetime. The FDLE provides information about the process on its Sealing and Expungement webpage.