What to Expect at Trial
July 26, 2023
Regardless of what type of criminal offenses you have been charged with, the legal process from arrest through verdict is the same. It can be overwhelming and frightening to be arrested for a crime, whether you committed it or not. What will happen and how may feel like a mystery, but you don’t have to go into it completely in the dark.
A surgeon will explain to a patient what their diagnosis is, what will occur during surgery, and what they can expect afterward. A good defense lawyer will do the same for a client charged with a crime, including the process employed by Florida’s criminal courts. Understanding surgery makes you a better-prepared patient. Understanding the court makes you a better-prepared defendant.
At DaytonaDefense.com, our team believes in partnering with the clients we represent. We are in this fight for your freedom together, so understanding how the process works is important. If you have been charged with a crime in Daytona Beach, Palm Coast, Port Orange, Smyrna Beach, DeLand, Volusia County, and Flagler County, Florida, we can help you fight the good fight.
What Is Involved in Florida’s Criminal Trial Process?
There are six key steps in the criminal trial process in Florida. Each one is intended to protect your right to the assumption that you are innocent until proven guilty, balanced with the court’s concern for public safety.
1. First Court Appearance
Within hours or a few days of your arrest, you will make your first appearance in court. The judge will confirm there is enough reason to hold you the charges brought against you. If there is not, charges will be dismissed. If they are not, the judge will set the amount and terms of your bail and you will be released from custody upon posting it. The judge will advise you of your right to legal representation and your right to the appointment of a public defender if you cannot afford an attorney.
Next, you will be arraigned. During the arraignment, the judge will formally read the charges brought against you and allow you to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
If bail is set, you may need to post it using a bond, which is a percentage of the total amount of bail set by the judge. If the charges against you are later dropped, if the case is dismissed, or if you are found not guilty, the bond will be reimbursed to you. Posting the bond helps guarantee that you will appear in court for your preliminary hearing and trial.
4. Preliminary Hearing
At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution will provide additional evidence in support of the charges against you. This gives your attorney the opportunity to dispute the evidence and the charges related to it. If the charges hold up, dates will be set for any pre-trial motions to be heard by the court or for trial.
5. Trial by Jury or Bench Trial
You have a constitutional right to trial by a jury of your peers, although you can waive that right and opt for a bench trial, in which the judge determines your fate, or plead guilty and move on to the sentencing stage. The burden of proof of guilt rests solely on the prosecution, which must provide clear and convincing evidence that you committed the crime you are charged with. The jury verdict in criminal trials must be unanimous, so your attorney will attempt to refute, counter, and challenge the prosecution’s evidence.
If you are found guilty or the judge accepts your guilty plea, the final step in the court process is the sentencing stage. For lesser crimes, the judge may sentence you immediately after you are found guilty. For more serious crimes, it is likely that the judge will set another court date for sentencing. You will learn your fate at the sentencing hearing.
What Should I Do Before My Trial?
Although knowing these steps will help you anticipate what may occur, the wisest decision you will make is choosing a criminal defense attorney to represent you. There is a reason why the judge will advise you regarding your right to legal counsel at your very first court appearance. You should consult an attorney as soon as possible after your arrest. Your criminal defense lawyer will help ensure that your rights are protected and that you don’t do anything that could harm your case later. Moreover, your attorney will begin investigating the charges against you and negotiating with the prosecuting attorney. Under the right circumstances, you could avoid a trial altogether if charges are dropped or minimized.
However, if you are sent to trial, preparing for it is vital to your defense, regardless of guilt or innocence. The pre-trial steps will demand your cooperation with your defense attorney. At Daytona.Defense.com, our team spends time with you to talk about the charges and evidence against you so we can build a strong defense.
Discuss the law enforcement report of the crime and witness statements. Your attorney can depose witnesses and question other potential witnesses not included in the report.
Review the evidence the prosecution has against you as part of the discovery process during which the parties are required to share evidence so you have an opportunity to defend against it.
Avoid talking to witnesses or to others involved with the charges brought against you.
Avoid being on social media or otherwise interacting with those involved in your case.
The investment in time with your attorney is what makes a difference in trial verdicts and in sentencing.
What Should I Expect at Trial?
The trial will begin with the process of seating a jury, known as “voir dire.” Potential jurors will be questioned by your attorney and the prosecutor, who both have the right to exclude certain individuals based on their responses.
Once the jury is seated, the prosecuting attorney and your lawyer will deliver opening statements to the judge and jury. The prosecutor will attempt to set up the evidence it will present against you while your criminal defense lawyer will begin to make the jury doubt that evidence.
The prosecution will then begin calling its witnesses to present and clarify the evidence it is using against you. Your attorney has the right to cross-examine all witnesses for the prosecution in an attempt to shed doubt on their testimony. Once the prosecution has completed the presentation of its evidence, your lawyer will call witnesses to contradict and challenge prosecutorial evidence. If you testify on your own behalf, the prosecution will be allowed to cross-examine you, which is why defense attorneys often discourage defendants from testifying.
Once all the evidence is presented by each side, both will deliver closing arguments to the jury, summarizing the strength or weaknesses of the other side’s case. The judge will give the jury instructions and send them off to discuss a verdict. Once the verdict is read, the judge will either release you if found not guilty or sentence you then or at a later date.
What Should I Do After My Trial?
Post-trial steps, of course, depend on the verdict. If you are found not guilty, you can then begin to rebuild your life. Employment and personal relationships are usually damaged by criminal charges.
If you are found guilty, you and your attorney can discuss options for appeal of the verdict. Appeals must be based on specific grounds, so an appeal is not always an option. If you do not appeal a verdict, you will need to put your affairs in order before a potential sentencing involving incarceration.
You Need an Experienced Attorney in Your Corner
The unknown is always frightening. That is why it is important that you face criminal charges with your eyes wide open. You don’t have to do that alone, though. Rely on the experience of an aggressive criminal defense attorney willing to help you fight a conviction.
If you are facing criminal charges, call Daytona.Defense.com in Daytona Beach, Florida right away. Let us help you understand the criminal trial process and begin fighting for your freedom today.