Your son was graduating from the University of Florida and you couldn't be prouder. You and your wife decided to spend the whole graduation week in Gainesville and make a little vacation out of it. You found a great cottage a few blocks away from campus on East University and were just getting ready to take advantage of the complimentary wine and cheese hour when you got a call from an unknown number. It was your son. He had been arrested at a party. What happens now? What can you expect? Here is some basic information to help you navigate a criminal case in Gainesville.
For a general overview, you may wish to first check out FindLaw's section on Criminal Law. Then you can return here for information specific to Alachua County.
Booking and Bail
After an arrest, the next step in a criminal case is generally "booking." This is the process by which information regarding the alleged crime and offender is entered into the system and photographs and fingerprints are taken.
Then, in order to be released from police custody, bail (money provided to ensure the accused will appear in court) is generally required. You may wish to hire a bail bond agent to handle this process, although in some cases the accused can be released on his "own recognizance" or written promise to return for court hearings.
Classification of Crimes
In Gainesville and the rest of Florida, criminal offenses are classified either as "felonies" (crimes which are punishable by death or imprisonment in a state penitentiary for more than 1 year) or "misdemeanors" (crimes which are punishable by imprisonment in a county correctional facility for 1 year or less).
Under Florida law felonies and misdemeanors are further subdivided as follows, in descending order of seriousness:
- Capital felony
- Life felony
- First degree felony
- Second degree felony
- Third degree felony
- First degree misdemeanor
- Second degree misdemeanor
How the criminal offense is classified impacts not only the associated punishment, but also the way the case proceeds. For more information, check out the FindLaw section on the Implications of a Crime's Classification.
Depending on the specifics of the case, one of the first court appearances will likely be the arraignment. Usually, during this hearing the official charges are read, the accused (now called the defendant) is advised of his right to an attorney and upcoming court dates, and is asked how he "pleads" (guilty, not guilty, no contest).
If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case may proceed to further pre-trial proceedings, including conferences, motion hearings, etc. The case may proceed to trial or it may be resolved by a plea bargain. If the defendant pleads guilty, no contest, or is convicted, he will be sentenced to his punishment which may include imprisonment, fines, probation, community service, etc.
There are several organizations and facilities you or your loved one will likely be dealing with during the course of a criminal case in Gainesville.
The first contact is usually an officer from the Gainesville Police Department or the Alachua County Sheriff's Department. Prosecution of the case will be by the Office of the State Attorney and depending on financial circumstances, defense may be by the Office of the Public Defender. The court hearings in the case will likely be in the Alachua County Criminal Justice Center and it is possible imprisonment could be in the Alachua County Jail or the Florida Department of Corrections.
Getting an Attorney
It is strongly recommended that you retain a defense attorney if you or your loved one has been charged with a crime. Criminal cases can be emotionally taxing and the consequences of conviction can be severe. Although the accused may represent himself, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help by explaining the process in understandable terms, negotiating the best plea bargain possible, presenting an effective defense by gathering evidence and testimony from witnesses and investigators, and much more.