What We Do
In misdemeanor and criminal traffic cases, the court often does not appoint the Public Defender to represent you even if you are indigent. If the court files an “order of no imprisonment” in your misdemeanor or criminal traffic case, it does not have to appoint the Public Defender. This means that if you cannot pay for your own lawyer, you will not have an attorney representing you.
Under limited circumstances, the Public Defender can assist you on a limited basis prior to being appointed by the court. This occurs if you have been arrested, are in custody, and you have not been able to retain an attorney.
If you have been arrested and booked into jail, you will appear before a judge within 24 hours of your arrest. The judge will advise you of the charge(s) for which you have been arrested. The judge then will decide if the police had probable cause to arrest you. You should not make statements about the facts of your case at this hearing. The judge will ask you if you wish to be represented by an attorney and, if so, whether you intend to hire private counsel. If you wish to have an attorney but are financially unable to hire your own lawyer, you will need to complete an application form which includes a financial affidavit. The court will charge a $50 PD Application Fee. The $50 application fee should be paid within 7 days of the date you signed the application form, and those funds go to the Public Defender’s Office to support its operation. If the clerk or court determines that you do not qualify for the services of the Public Defender, you can ask the judge to review that decision.
Only the court can appoint the Public Defender’s Office to represent you after the clerk or the court has made a determination that you are indigent. Unless you are acquitted or your charges are all dismissed, the services of the Public Defender are not free. If you are sentenced, the court will make payment of a separate attorney’s fee part of your sentence.
Bail is intended to guarantee that you will appear for your scheduled court appearance. You have a very limited right to bail in capital cases and cases carrying a life sentence. Cases with limited right to bond may include murder, sexual battery, kidnapping, burglary or robbery. To set your bail, or to lower the amount of your bail, the judge must be convinced you will be in court when notified to be there and that you pose no threat to the alleged victim or the community at large. The court may ask you several questions, such as how long you have lived in the area, whether you have family in the area, whether you are working, whether you have been allowed out on bail before and appeared in court when required, and whether or not you have a criminal record.
If the court finds you are not a threat to public safety if released, that you will appear when required in court, or that you have a responsible person in the community who will guarantee your appearance in court, the judge has the option of releasing you without bail. This is called release on your own recognizance (ROR). Some jurisdictions also have pre-trial release programs which allow you to be released but require that you report in to a counselor and may require you to participate in drug tests, alcohol checks, or counseling while your case is pending. Talk to your attorney about the pre-trial release options in your area.
If you cannot make the original bail, your Assistant Public Defender is allowed to file a motion for reduction of bail if your bail seems too high in view of the charge or if the evidence against you is weak. Remember, you do not have a right to multiple bond hearings unless there are significant changes in circumstances. Not being able to make the previously set bond can be considered, but is usually not viewed as a significant change in circumstances.
Preparing your Case
Once appointed, our office will interview you and get a copy of the charges against you. Each case we handle is different. Complicated cases often take longer to prepare than other cases. Allowing the office enough time to prepare your case properly usually results in a better outcome on your case. Teamwork between you and your attorney is essential to the proper handling of your case. Attorneys must be thoroughly prepared before they can go into court for you. If you do not understand why your case is taking so long to prepare, talk with your attorney. Your attorney will explain the reasons to you.
Your attorney may file discovery motions to get witness lists, police reports, witnesses’ statements, reports of experts and all other important facts in your case. Discovery depositions and other statements given under oath may be taken from witnesses. You are encouraged to assist in the preparation of your defense. One of the most significant ways you can assist in your defense is by providing your lawyer with a full and detailed account of what you know about the case. Providing the names and addresses of witnesses who can testify to circumstances that may prove you are not guilty or help show that the crime was not as serious as the State contends. You and your family should not contact the alleged victim or witnesses listed by the State. It is the attorney’s job to contact the alleged victim and State witnesses.
Your attorney also may talk with the prosecutor to get some idea of the prosecutors’ intentions in your case. The prosecutor may decide to offer a “plea bargain,” meaning that they may agree to drop a charge, reduce a charge or lower a sentence in exchange for a plea of guilty or nolo contendere (no contest). If the prosecutor offers you a plea bargain, your attorney is required to tell you about it even if you have said you want a trial. Your attorney telling you what the prosecutor offered does not mean your attorney agrees with the prosecutor.
If you are unhappy with the way your case is being handled, you should talk to your attorney first. If you are still not satisfied, state your complaint specifically in writing and mail it to the Public Defender. ALL LETTERS TO YOUR ATTORNEY SHOULD BE MARKED “CONFIDENTIAL ATTORNEY-CLIENT COMMUNICATION.”
Communications between You and your Attorney are Confidential
Without your permission, information you provide to your attorney or our staff is confidential and covered by Attorney/Client privilege—it cannot be revealed to the prosecutor or anyone else, including your friends and family.
Anything you tell a Public Defender’s employee or intern, or anything you tell your attorney, is confidential. However, conversations you have with other people are NOT confidential. These people include your spouse, family, friends, other inmates, news reporters, probation officers, or police officers. You should not talk to these people about your case or about anything your attorney tells you. DO NOT TALK ON THE JAIL PHONES ABOUT YOUR CASE. YOUR CALLS ARE BEING RECORDED AND PROVIDED TO THE STATE ATTORNEY. The State Attorney DOES listen to the calls and WILL use anything you say against you.
After your arrest, the first person from the Public Defender’s Office you may see will be an Assistant Public Defender, a witness interviewer, an investigator, or a legal intern. Even though the interviewer may not be an attorney, the information you give is CONFIDENTIAL and will be given to your attorney. You will be asked a number of questions. It is important to cooperate fully and answer all questions truthfully.
If you are released from jail before you have been interviewed, call the Public Defender’s Office in the county of your arrest and schedule an appointment at the Public Defender’s office as soon as possible. Remember, it is your duty to call and schedule an appointment so your attorney can begin working on your case.
Attorney Jail Visits
The attorneys of the Public Defender’s staff make regular visits to the jail. They also meet with clients using our secure Polycom video system. Your attorney will meet with you when necessary, but cannot meet with you every time he or she is at the jail. You should request a jail visit only or Polycom visit only when it is important that you and your attorney meet. Do not discuss the facts of your case or other confidential matters on the phone unless you are calling on a secure phone line. Certain offices may also use video conferencing to make contact with you at the jail. REMEMBER, DO NOT DISCUSS THE FACTS OF YOUR CASE WITH ANYONE ON THE TELEPHONE WHERE OTHER PEOPLE CAN HEAR YOU.
Investigating your Case
It is important that you cooperate with your attorney and with your attorney’s investigator. Your attorney and the investigator must know the truth even if the truth makes you look guilty, makes you think you are guilty, or if in fact you may be guilty. If you are honest with your attorney, he or she will not be caught off guard and will be able to better represent you.
You can help the investigation of your case by providing the names and addresses of witnesses. If you are out of jail, you can help your case by finding witnesses and notifying your attorney by sending a letter, calling in, or coming to the office with the names and addresses of those witnesses. If you are in jail, try to have your family and friends find witnesses. A witness may be anyone who can testify to any circumstances which may show you are not guilty or which may tend to show that the crime was not as serious as the prosecutor claims. Our investigator may interview the witnesses against you and try to locate defense witnesses. Accurate names, addresses and phone numbers are helpful. You should not, however, contact witnesses for the prosecution, the alleged victim, or send other people to talk to the witnesses or the victim for you. If you do, you may be charged with a new crime of tampering with witnesses.
As your case is being investigated, your attorney will update you on the facts they have found, and explain available defenses as well as your legal options. Your attorney will also explain possible sentence you are facing if you plead guilty or are found guilty at trial.
Filing Formal Charges
RULE 3.133(b) provides that “defendant who is not charged in an information or indictment within 21 days from the date of arrest or service of the capias on him or her shall have a right to an adversary preliminary hearing on any felony charge then pending against the defendant.” If the State has not made a filing decision on your case within 21-days of your arrest, you are entitled to this additional bond hearing unless you have agrees to waive it for tactical reasons.
Rule 3.134 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that if you are in jail, the prosecutor has 33 days from the date you are arrested to file formal charges against you. If formal charges are not filed within 33 days, your attorney may file a motion to have you released from custody. The court, on the 33rd day and with notice to the State Attorney, may order that you be released on your own recognizance on that 33rd day. The State may petition the court for an extension of time to file formal charges if they can show good cause for doing so. The extension can be for no more than 40 days from the date of your arrest. Failure to file the charges within 40 days does not mean the charges against you will be dropped. It only means that you should be released from custody if no formal charges have been filed by the 40th day. Whether to file a Rule 3.134 motion is a decision that you and your attorney should make, based on the local practices of your jurisdiction.
The State Attorney’s office has the sole discretion whether to file formal charges against you. Even if witnesses don’t want to testify against you or want to “drop the charges,” the State Attorney may still file the charges. The law of the State of Florida gives the State Attorney this type of discretion. The State Attorney also has subpoena power to make witnesses come to court and to hold them in contempt if they fail to respond to a validly served subpoena.
At your first appearance hearing, a tentative arraignment date will be scheduled. This date can be continued by the State Attorney’s Office if they have not made a filing decision. Arraignment is not a trial and not a time when evidence or witnesses can be presented. At most arraignments you are informed of the charges against you. If you do not have a lawyer, the judge will again inquire as to whether you qualify to have the Public Defender’s Office represent you. If a plea of not guilty is entered at your arraignment, your case will normally be scheduled for a pretrial date. It is seldom wise to enter a guilty or no contest plea at arraignment, because your attorney has not been able to engage in formal discovery of the facts of your case, and has not been able to do all the other things that are necessary to advise you properly. A plea of guilty or no contest can have serious consequences (employment, immigration, military, housing, driver license and college grants and loans) in your life. Before entering such a plea, make sure to discuss with your attorney the possible consequences of your plea. To make sure you know what you are doing, and that you are making an intelligent choice, you should consult with your attorney regularly in order to decide how to proceed with your case.
After investigating your case, your attorney may file motions to help your case. Your attorney is trained in what motions are good ones to file, and trained in strategy to know when to file them.
YOU SHOULD NOT FILE YOUR OWN MOTIONS! If you are represented by an attorney the law does not allow you to also file your own motions. In addition, you may put something in a motion that could hurt your case. Many clients do severe damage to their cases by following advice they get from other defendants about the filing of motion. If you have a motion you think should be filed, ask your attorney about it. If it’s a good idea, they will file the motion for you.
Pre-Trial Intervention and Specialty Courts
The Florida Department of Corrections operates a Pre-trial Intervention Program. This program, primarily for first-time non-violent offenders, offers an alternative to formal prosecution. The program is selective and cannot accept applicants without the approval of the victim, arresting officer, and prosecutor. If you have no significant prior record and are not charged with a violent crime, ask your attorney about the possibility of entry into the pre-trial intervention program.
Our Circuit also has three Specialty Courts which provide for the diversion of cases. We presently have Veterans Treatment Court, Drug Court, and Mental Health Treatment Court. Each of these courts have set criteria for admission, and try to assist defendants who have on-going problems in their lives that keep bringing them back into the criminal justice system. Ask your attorney about all diversion options in your area.
You must appear in court for all your court hearings–unless your attorney tells you not to be in court. If you change your address while waiting to come to trial, notify your attorney immediately. It is your responsibility to keep your address current with your attorney. It is best to arrive before the time scheduled in order to discuss the case with your attorney. IT IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT THAT YOU SHOW UP TO COURT ON TIME. If you cannot appear in court on time, notify your attorney immediately. If you do not show up in court or are late for court, the judge may issue a warrant for your arrest and your right to a speedy trial may be lost. Your bond may also be revoked. You could then be locked up until your case is completed.
WE STRONGLY SUGGEST that you go online and register to receive reminders about your court dates from Florida’s Court Event Notification System. You can register for that service at:
This service is FREE and will help remind you of court dates.
If you enter a plea of not guilty, you will have a trial unless the charges are dismissed or you change your plea prior to trial. You and your attorney must decide whether you want a jury trial or a non-jury trial. In a jury trial, a judge presides over the courtroom proceedings, and six or more citizens from the community are chosen to hear the evidence presented against you. These citizens determine whether a crime has been committed and whether you are criminally responsible for that crime.
If you wish to have a non-jury trial, the State Attorney must also agree to a non-jury trial. In a non-jury trial, the judge alone decides whether a crime has been committed, and whether you are criminally responsible for that crime. In juvenile court there are no jury trials.
Most trials involve using a jury to decide the facts of the case. Your attorney will question the prospective jurors, and try to select the best ones to hear your case with your assistance. After the jury is selected, the actual trial begins. Each side can make an opening statement telling the jury what the case is about. The prosecutor then presents his or her witnesses and evidence. Your attorney can cross-examine these witnesses and challenge any evidence. If the State’s witnesses do not appear in court for your trial, the judge may dismiss your case, or he/she can postpone it at the request of the State Attorney. This decision is up to the judge.
After the prosecution witnesses testify, your attorney makes a motion for judgment of acquittal. This motion is usually made in all cases to see if the prosecutor presented enough evidence to show you committed the crime for which you are charged. If this motion is denied, then your attorney may present defense witnesses and evidence after which the prosecutor may offer rebuttal evidence.
You have the right to testify in your trial, but you do not have to testify. Your attorney will advise you about whether to testify or not testify, but this decision is ultimately up to you. The decision as to how to best defend your case is complex and should be discussed in detail with your attorney.
After all the evidence is presented, each side makes its closing arguments to the jury. The judge then tells the jury the laws and rules applicable to your case which govern the jury’s deliberation. The jury then goes into a room to talk about the case until they reach a unanimous verdict. If the jury is unable to reach a unanimous verdict, meaning every juror does not agree to the same verdict, a mistrial is announced and the case will be reset for trial at a later date.
If you plead guilty, or nolo contendere, or are found guilty after a trial, the judge may postpone sentencing and order a pre-sentence investigation (PSI). The PSI informs the judge of your background and helps the judge decide your sentence. A probation officer will question you and may question members of your family, your friends, witnesses in the case and your attorney in order to make this report to the judge. The PSI includes the cause and circumstances of the crime, your prior criminal record, if any, your reputation in the community, and background about your family, education, employment and health. If you are a candidate for probation, the PSI will include information about your plans for the future.
Be truthful and courteous with the probation officer since all statements are verified and untruthful statements are reported to the judge. HOWEVER, you should not discuss your knowledge of the crime for which you are convicted or any other crimes without permission from your attorney. Also, the PSI will discuss things like your lifestyle, behavior pattern and general attitude. PSI’s often take several weeks to complete. Your attorney will obtain a copy of the PSI and review it with you.
If you are to be sentenced, you will have an opportunity to speak with the judge at the sentencing hearing. You should discuss with your attorney whether to speak with the judge and, if so, what to say. The judge will also give the state, your attorney, and any other interested party or witness a chance to speak. Let your attorney know in advance the names and addresses of people you want to speak at your sentencing. Do not compare the sentence in your case with those in other cases you have heard about because each case is different.
Probation is a privilege — not a right. If you are a first-time offender, this does not mean you will automatically receive probation. If you are placed on probation, the usual conditions include:
- Reporting regularly to your probation officer;
- Notifying and receiving permission from your probation officer before changing your address, changing your job, or leaving the county; and
- Leading a law-abiding life and not committing any other crimes.
If you violate any of these probation conditions, or any special conditions set by the judge, the judge may sentence you to jail or prison. If the violation of probation is a crime committed by you while on probation, the judge can revoke your probation without waiting until you are convicted of the new charge.
If you are sentenced after a trial or pursuant to a plea of guilty or no contest, the judge will impose an attorney fee for the services you receive from the Public Defender, court costs and any necessary restitution. A lien in the amount of the attorney’s fees may be imposed against any property you may own. Additionally, a judgment may be filed against you for the attorney’s fees, court costs and restitution.
If you are convicted and want to appeal your case, you must do so within 30 days after sentencing. Most appeals come after a jury trial which has been unsuccessful. You have no right to appeal if you entered a voluntary and intelligent plea, with or without a plea agreement, except for an illegal sentence. You cannot appeal just because a jury found you guilty. In order to appeal, some legal mistake must have been made in your case. For example, an appeal will only help you if the judge did not follow the law, or if you were prevented from properly exercising all your rights. You or your attorney must advise the Appellate Court exactly how the judge did not follow the law or what rights you were denied before the Appellate Court will reverse a conviction. If your case is appealed, the judge may allow your release on bail for some offenses until a final decision is reached. The judge will only do this if he or she believes you have a good reason for appealing and believes you will re-appear in court. However, you do not have an automatic right to bail when appealing. If you wish to appeal your case, you should discuss this matter with your attorney as soon as possible because the notice of appeal must be filed by the 30th day after your sentence. In no event should you wait more than 30 days before contacting your attorney.
If you are a juvenile (under 18 years of age), charged in the juvenile system (and have never been treated in the adult system), your first court hearing is called a detention hearing. At that time, the judge will decide whether you should be released from custody and may appoint an attorney from the Office of the Public Defender to represent you.
If you are under the age of 18, you may be tried as an adult under certain circumstances. Your prior record and the seriousness of the charge may be considered. Your attorney will explain these matters to you based on the facts of your case. If you are to be tried as a juvenile, you may be released from custody through a program called non-secure detention. Your attorney may ask for you to be interviewed for non-secure detention, and will ask the judge for your release.
Only the judge can place you in the non-secure program. Non-secure detention allows you to live at home while waiting for trial. A counselor will contact you periodically. You may be returned to custody if you do not follow all rules set by your counselor. After the detention hearing there will be an arraignment where you will be asked to enter your plea. The various pleas available to you and procedures to be followed in handing your case are similar to those for adults, except that you do not have the right to a jury trial (ask your attorney for details). Your case will be heard and decided by a judge assigned to the Juvenile Court. Your trial will be called an adjudicatory hearing. If you have been found not guilty by the judge or if your case has been dismissed, you will be released and there will be no further proceedings in your case. If you are found guilty at the adjudicatory hearing, you will have a dispositional hearing where the judge decides what will happen to you.
In order to determine the disposition of your case, the judge will look at the facts and your personal background including your prior record, if any. Your counselor will provide a report on your background. The judge can place you in a program supervised by Juvenile Justice or may place you under the supervision of the Department of Juvenile Justice. Do not compare the disposition of your case with other cases, because each case is different.
If the judge orders you to participate in community control, you may be required to work to repay the victim for any damages, or provide some kind of service working for your community. If you do not complete your responsibilities under community control, you may be brought back to court. Your attorney will represent you at this hearing and must explain why you did not complete the community control program. You may be committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice if the judge finds that you have not done what you were ordered to do.