Your husband had gone to meet his buddies at the St. Patrick's Day block party at Roxy's Pub. You were secretly relieved it was a "guys only" night. His friend, George, was going to be there and you were not a big fan. George always drank too much and then got obnoxious and pulled stupid pranks. So when your phone started ringing, you thought for sure it was your husband calling to tell you about George's latest shenanigans. Hearing that your husband had been arrested was something you never expected. What happens now? What do you do? To help you, we've pulled together some basic information about what you might expect in a criminal case in West Palm Beach.
Who Will You or Your Loved One Be Dealing With?
Typically the first folks involved in a criminal case in or around West Palm Beach are officers from the West Palm Beach Police Department, the Palm Beach County Sheriff, or the Florida Highway Patrol.
Check out this guide to courthouses in Palm Beach County for information about where the case may be heard. (Note that the County Criminal court handles misdemeanors, while the Circuit Criminal court handles felonies).
The Office of State Attorney for the 15th Judicial Circuit will generally prosecute the case, and, depending on financial circumstances, the Office of Public Defender, 15th Judicial Circuit may defend it.
It is possible that time may be spent at one of the Detention Centers (main, central, or west) operated by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, or even one of the facilities operated by the Florida Department of Corrections.
Types of Criminal Offenses
In West Palm Beach and the rest of the state crimes are classified as either misdemeanors or felonies. Misdemeanors are the less serious criminal offenses that are punishable by imprisonment up to 1 year in a county correctional facility. Felonies are more serious, punishable by imprisonment of more than 1 year in a state penitentiary or death.
Both misdemeanors and felonies are further subdivided into categories that reflect their severity. For misdemeanors there are first degree and second degree classifications. For example, disorderly intoxication is considered a second degree misdemeanor. Felonies are similarly subdivided into the following categories: capital, life, first degree, second degree, and third degree.
The way a crime is classified can have substantive and procedural consequences. Check out this FindLaw article on the Implications of a Crime's Classification for more information.
Both the Public Defender's Office (in its "What To Expect" guide) and the State Attorney's Office (in its "How the Criminal System Works" summary) offer useful overviews of the criminal process after a crime is believed to have been committed.
As the State Attorney explains in its guide, for a misdemeanor offense, the accused is typically booked into the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office Detention Center, released on a scheduled bond, and provided with a notice to appear in court. (Check here for information on how to bond someone out of that jail).
In other situations (depending on the offense), the accused must be seen by a judge within 24 hours after arrest at a "First Appearance," at which time bond will be set or denied after consideration of the accused's criminal history and facts of the case. In addition, it will typically be determined whether a public defender should be appointed, and a court date for the arraignment will be set.
At the arraignment, the official charges are read and a plea (guilty or not guilty) is entered. A guilty plea directs the case towards sentencing. A "not guilty" plea directs the case towards trial, although in many cases the case is resolved prior to trial by way of a plea bargain or possibly case dismissal.
A criminal case can be emotionally charged, not to mention confusing, and a criminal conviction can impact your life in many ways. It can help to have a lawyer on your side throughout the process. The FindLaw section on Using a Criminal Lawyer has information on criminal defense strategies, how an attorney can help, and more.