Your case will be prosecuted by an Assistant State Attorney. Please feel free to call your prosecutor should you have any questions.
General Prefiling Information
After a defendant is arrested, an Assistant State Attorney will decide to take one of three actions: file a No Information in the case, file a Misdemeanor charge, or a file a Felony charge.
This is an announcement made in court by the State Attorney’s Office that it will not prosecute a case because there is not sufficient evidence, or the State lacks a material witness. Hiring a lawyer swiftly enhances your chances of getting your side of the case heard before the State Attorney decides what to charge you with.
Misdemeanor or Felony
If the State Attorney’s Office has sufficient evidence to file a misdemeanor charge, the case will be heard in County Court. As a general rule, these cases move through the court system more rapidly than felonies. If a felony charge is filed, the case will be heard in Circuit Court. You may receive a subpoena for a deposition or for trial if you are a witness or have information on the case either party can use. (see the section on Subpoenas and Depositions).
Whether the case is filed as a misdemeanor or filed as a felony, an arraignment will take place. At this hearing, the State will declare its intent and the defendant will have the opportunity to plead guilty, no contest, or not guilty to the charges.
If the defendant pleads guilty or no contest, the judge may sentence him immediately or set a future date for sentencing. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case is set for trial.
If you are charged and hire an attorney, you are not required to attend the arraignment; However, you have a right to be present if you desire.
A subpoena is a Court Order directing you to be present at the time and place stated. Read your subpoena carefully. It may be a Standby Subpoena asking you to call immediately so that Witness Management can tell you the exact day and time your testimony will be needed. You will then be spared unnecessary trips to court since your case may not be heard at the time indicated on the subpoena. On the other hand, it may be a subpoena which requires your appearance on that specific date and time since the case is expected to be heard then. In either event, you should call the number indicated on the subpoena as soon as you receive it
Depositions for Victims and Witnesses
Florida Law gives the attorney for the defendant the right to interview all witnesses in a case sometime after formal charges have been brought against the defendant but before the trial In this interview, which is called a “deposition,” the defendant’s lawyer takes your statement of what you know about the case. The statement is recorded under oath. If you are needed for a deposition, the defense attorney will subpoena you. Time and place will be noted on the subpoena.
If you fail to appear at the required time and place, you may be held in contempt of court and the case may be continued. If you wish to have a representative of the State Attorney’s Office present when you give your statement to the defense attorney, contact the prosecutor or Victim Advocate when you receive your subpoena. They will make every effort to have someone there from their office; however, this is not always possible due to court schedules. If you are kept waiting for an unreasonable amount of time before your deposition is taken, or if the defense attorney attempts to reschedule your deposition after your arrival, contact your Assistant State Attorney or Victim Advocate immediately so that your deposition may be taken without further delay.
Be as prepared for your deposition as you will be for court. Your testimony given at deposition can be used against you if you testify in court, so your statement concerning what you know about the case must be truthful and consistent from deposition on to trial. Remember that unless you are subpoenaed for deposition, you do not have to talk to the defendant, his lawyer or his representative.
You may be called back for other depositions if there is more than one defendant or if the defendant obtains a new attorney.
Lawyers will often ask the judge to make legal decisions in criminal case prior to the actual trial. These requests are mad by documents filed with the court, called “motions.” For example, the defense attorney may file a motion to suppress evidence on the grounds it was illegally seized. Occasionally, a witness, such as yourself, will be subpoenaed to testify at such a motion. If you wish to be present at the hearing on a motion, please contact your Assistant State Attorney or Victim Advocate.
Cases may be continued for various reasons. A participant on either side may be out of town or ill; the court may not be able to complete a previous trial on time; or one of the attorneys may be in trial in another court. We try to prevent continuances whenever possible, but we cannot control all the circumstances that lead to the case being continued from one trial date to another.
If your case is continued, you may not receive another subpoena. Witness Management will advise you that the date to appear has been changed. You will be expected to be available to appear on the new date and time.
The prosecutors may agree to reduce charges or to recommend to the court that the defendant receive a certain sentence in return lot a plea of guilty. In felony cases, the State Attorney requires that the victim be notified of’ any such plea agreement and be fully apprised of the reasons for such an agreement.
Frequently, victims/witnesses who have already given oral or written statements before the trial are called to testify. You may wonder why you should be inconvenienced by going to court when your statement could be used in lieu of your appearance. Under our adversary form of trial, the judge would not allow the statement into evidence, because the law requires the witness to appear in court, tell his story under oath and be subject to questioning by all parties. Therefore, even though you have previously given a statement about the facts of the case, your presence at trial may still be required.
If the defendant goes to trial, you may be required to testify in court. Please stay in contact with Witness Management or your Victim Advocate after you receive the subpoena for trial to keep informed of the exact status of the case. We try to do everything possible to avoid victim/witnesses having to wait unnecessarily. Sometimes the matter is beyond our control and you may have to wait. For that reason, we suggest you bring reading material or something else to occupy your time.
Statewide sentencing guidelines became effective on October 1,1983. The guidelines provide a range of recommended sentences in most felony cases. The court must sentence according to these guidelines unless the court states clear and convincing reasons why it chooses to sentence differently. Usually, a prosecutor will be able to indicate to you the sentence that will be recommended by the guidelines unless some of the information needed to calculate the sentence has not been received or is subject to change.
The Judge may sentence the defendant to: l) prison; 2) the county jail; 3) prison followed by probation; 4) probation and county jail; 5) community control; or 6) probation and/or community service. He may also order a fine. Restitution may be ordered as a condition of sentencing.
If you have suffered direct or indirect damages, the court may order restitution for certain losses. If you desire restitution, itemize and document your losses on the Victim Impact Statement and present the itemization and documentation to this office as soon as possible. You must be precise. If you have questions about the form or what constitutes damages, call your Victim Advocate.
Your prosecutor will ask the court to order restitution, if appropriate, but the court must issue the order. If the defendant obtains employment while he is incarcerated, the Department of Corrections has the authority to order restitution. You have the right, as a victim of a crime, to contact the Department of Corrections to determine the employment status of the inmate. If the court does order restitution, a Probation Officer will usually be assigned to the case.