Orlando is known for its magical places: The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hogwarts … and the Orange County Courthouse? Being charged with a crime in Orlando is no walk in the theme park. If you or your loved one is facing criminal charges, you may feel powerless and overwhelmed. The criminal justice system is complex, but this guide to the basics of your Orlando criminal case will help give you an idea of what you're facing. For more general information about the ins and outs of criminal cases, check out FindLaw's Criminal Law section.
Criminal Classifications in Orlando
So you've been charged with a crime: but what kind? Crimes are put into two categories, misdemeanors and felonies.
Misdemeanor crimes are those punishable by less than one year imprisonment. Examples of common misdemeanors in Orlando are battery, domestic violence, driving under the influence (DUI), marijuana possession, petty theft and resisting an officer without violence. Many of these misdemeanor crimes can also be classified as felonies under certain circumstances, such as repeat offenses. First degree misdemeanors are considered more serious than second degree misdemeanors.
Felony crimes are those punishable by imprisonment in a state penitentiary or death. Examples of common felonies in Orlando are possession of drugs with intent to sell, aggravated assault, robbery, auto theft, burglary, kidnapping and rape. There are several categories of felony under the state laws of Florida. Capital and life felonies are considered the most serious and can result in the death penalty or life in prison. Felonies also can be classified as first, second or third degree. Third degree felonies are the most common type of felony and the least serious.
When You're Arrested in Orlando
If a law enforcement officer arrests you, it will be under one of the following circumstances: the officer has observed you commit a crime, the officer has probable cause to believe that you've committed a crime, or the officer has a warrant for your arrest issued by a judge. The officer is required to make it clear that he or she is arresting you and must read you your rights. Check out FindLaw's section on criminal rights for more helpful information.
The officer will then most likely take you to the Orange County Booking and Release Center. You'll be "booked," meaning you'll be fingerprinted, photographed, and your information will be entered into the system. You then have the right to make three free local phone calls if you're being detained. If you've been arrested for a non-dangerous crime, you might be entitled to pre-trial release. However, if the court finds that you're a flight risk, you may have to post bail in order to be released pending your trial.
After You're Arrested in Orlando
Preliminary Hearing: Usually within 48 hours of your arrest, a judge will hold a preliminary hearing to decide whether there is enough evidence to support the charge against you. If the judge finds that there is "probable cause" for the charges -- enough evidence that a reasonable jury could be convinced that you committed the crime -- then the judge will schedule an arraignment.
Arraignment: Shortly after the preliminary hearing, you will be arraigned. The judge will inform you of the charges against you. At this stage, if you don't have your own attorney, a public defender may be appointed to you by the court. The judge will ask you what you plead to the charge: guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendre, meaning that you agree to accept the penalty for the crime as charged, but you do not officially admit guilt.
Pre-trial Conference: The pre-trial conference is an opportunity for your attorney to meet with the prosecution to advocate on your behalf and possibly negotiate a plea bargain that may reduce the charges against you.
Pre-trial Motions: Your attorney may want make certain pre-trial motions regarding the evidence in your case. Examples include motions to compel the prosecution to supply evidence, motions to suppress certain evidence, or even a motion to dismiss the charges against you.
Trial: If you're charged with a crime that carries a penalty of more than six months imprisonment, you're entitled to trial by a jury of your peers. At your criminal trial, each side will make an opening statement, present evidence, call witnesses, cross-examine witnesses called by the opposing side, and make a closing statement. If the jury finds you guilty of any of the charges against you, the judge will then sentence you.
Sentencing: If you're convicted of a crime, your sentence, or penalty, will depend on the crime and the discretion of the judge presiding over your trial. Examples of penalties you might receive include:
- Imprisonment -- In county jail for a period of less than one year for misdemeanors and in a state penitentiary for a felony
- Fines -- Fines for misdemeanors may reach $1,000. Fines for felonies vary depending on the degree of felony: for a third degree felony, the fine may be up to $5,000. For a life felony, the fine may be up to $15,000.
- Mandatory community service
- Mandatory participation in an approved substance abuse program for crimes involving drugs or alcohol
Appeal: If you're convicted of a crime, you're entitled to appeal your case to a higher court. For example, if you were convicted of a misdemeanor by the Orange County Criminal Court you could appeal that conviction to the Ninth Circuit Criminal Court of Florida.
The Arrest of a Loved One in Orlando
If you think your loved one has been arrested in Orlando and would like more information, contact the Orlando Police Department. For answers to all kinds of questions about criminal cases and the criminal justice system, be sure to visit FindLaw.