In the criminal justice system, every state has a key player responsible for prosecuting criminal offenses. In many states, this role is held by the district attorney or D.A. But the Sunshine State does things a bit differently. In Florida, this role is designated as the state attorney, often abbreviated as S.A.
The Office of the State Attorney leads a team of assistant state attorneys who work together to uphold Florida law. They are the prosecuting attorneys. State crimes are offenses against the state in the way federal crimes violate national law.
The state attorney works with law enforcement agencies and law enforcement officers to determine whether to bring criminal charges against individuals based on the evidence gathered by law enforcement. If the evidence is strong enough, it is the responsibility of the state attorney to file charges to prosecute violations of the state's criminal laws.
Each state attorney has a specific geographical jurisdiction. The state attorney can investigate and prosecute crimes committed in their judicial circuit. The state of Florida has 20 judicial circuits, and each circuit has its own elected state attorney.
Sometimes, the state attorney also convenes a grand jury to determine if the evidence is strong enough to file charges. Grand juries are often called for various reasons, including controversial or high-profile cases.
While the state attorney's primary focus is prosecuting crimes, they also ensure that the rights and needs of crime victims are addressed. The prosecutor's office has victim advocates who provide support and advocacy to victims and witnesses as their cases move through the criminal justice system.
The Public Defender
If you're accused of a crime, whether a felony or misdemeanor, but can't afford an attorney, you can ask for a public defender. In the state public defender system, 20 elected public defenders practice in 20 circuit courts and 67 county courts.
Public defenders provide legal representation to people who can't afford a private attorney. Defendants must pay a $50 fee and apply to the county court clerk. The clerk determines whether the defendant is eligible for public defender services. Defendants are generally eligible for a public defender if their income levels are equal to or below 200% of federal poverty guidelines.
If you qualify for a public defender, one will be appointed:
- When charged with an offense
- After an arrest
- At arraignment (which is your first appearance before a judge)
In the federal public defender system, federal public defenders represent people accused of federal crimes who can't afford a private defense attorney.
In addition to traditional legal representation, Florida offers alternative pathways for those accused of minor offenses through its diversion programs. The programs are an alternative to criminal penalties for people accused of minor offenses. Rather than serve time in jail, Florida residents can take classes and perform community service.
If you need help with a civil matter and can't afford an attorney, you can turn to Florida Legal Services for free and low-cost legal aid. They help indigent people and seniors with issues involving:
- Healthcare access
- Domestic violence survivors
The Florida Attorney General
The Florida Attorney General (A.G.) serves as the chief legal services officer for the state of Florida. Elected by the public, the A.G. has a broad range of responsibilities that include, but are not limited to:
- Civil defense: Represents and defends the state in civil cases
- Criminal appeals: Acts on behalf of the people of Florida in criminal appeal cases
- Consumer protection: Enforces the state's laws designed to protect consumers
- Statewide prosecutor: Monitors and prosecutes crimes that have a statewide impact, such as identity theft, gang activity, and illicit drug trafficking
The A.G. ensures the rights and interests of the state and its citizens are upheld and defended in various legal arenas.
Florida's Judicial Districts: The Basics
The Sunshine State has 20 judicial districts, each representing between one and seven counties. For example, the 11th Circuit represents Miami-Dade County.
Florida also has county attorneys. They represent the county in civil lawsuits and administrative proceedings. They do not handle criminal matters.
Florida State Attorneys: Directory
The chart below provides helpful links to Florida's state and county attorneys by district.
Note: Although we strive to provide the most current contact and website information available for the D.A. offices in this state, this information is subject to change. If you have found contact or website information that is not current, please contact us.
Get Professional Legal Help With Your Florida Criminal Matter
Whether you're about to plead in your arraignment, need some guidance on diversion programs, or want to understand more about felony or misdemeanor charges, a Florida criminal defense lawyer can help. There's no substitute for professional legal advice. Get started today and contact a Florida criminal defense attorney near you.