Criminal Litigation Hearings
Bail is a process through which you are permitted to pay money in exchange for your release from police custody, usually after booking or sometimes after the arraignment if the Judge demands that you be taken into custody. As a condition of release, you must promise to appear in court for all scheduled court dates – including arraignment, pre-trial hearings, readiness hearings, motions, and the trial itself. Your criminal lawyer should keep you informed about all hearing which your attendance is required.
If you are not allowed to post bail at the police station immediately after booking, a judge may decide later, at a separate hearing or the arraignment, whether to allow release on bail. The bail amount may be predetermined, through a “bail schedule,” or the judge may set a monetary figure based on:
Your criminal history;
Seriousness of the offense, in terms of injury or loss to others;
Your ties to family, community, and employment.
Your criminal lawyer should always argue any facts that could result in a reduced bond amount.
If bail is imposed you or your friends and family may put up the full bail amount as set by the court, or a “bond” may be posted in lieu of the full amount. A bond is a written guarantee that the full bail amount will be paid if you fail to appear as promised. Bonds are usually obtained through a bail bond agency that charges a fee for posting of the bond (usually about 10 percent of the bail amount). Bail bond agencies may also demand additional collateral before posting the bond, since the agency will be responsible for paying the full bail amount if the suspect “jumps bail” and fails to appear as promised.
If you are arrested, booked, and granted release on your own “personal recognizance,” no bail money needs to be paid to the court, and no bond is posted. You are then released after promising, in writing, to appear in court for all upcoming proceedings. Most criminal courts impose certain conditions on personal recognizance release, which include not driving unless you are properly licensed and insured, not consuming alcohol or illegal drugs, and not refusing a breath test if lawfully requested.
If you are released on your own “personal recognizance” and subsequently fail to appear in criminal court as scheduled, you will be subject to immediate arrest. Should you ever be arrested contact a criminal lawyer immediately.Arraignment
Your criminal lawyer may choose to file paperwork obviating the need for you to attend your arraignment. The arraignment is your first appearance in court and typically occurs the next available court date after your arrest, or very soon thereafter if you have been charged. In instances when you are not immediately charged after the arrest, you will be notified in the mail (summons) when your arraignment is. The arraignment is mandatory. The first appearance is primarily for the advisement of rights and your opportunity to declare “not guilty.” If you have an attorney, he will advise you of the proper procedures. You should always ask for a jury trial in order to keep all of your options open until you have retained a attorney. You should also always plead not guilty.
At the conclusion of the arraignment, the Judge will decide whether any conditions should be imposed on you. Attorney’s Note: A recent Appeals Court decision restricts the ability of courts to impose conditions of release such as alcohol evaluations and AA meetings.
It is important to note that there is a risk that you will be taken into custody during your arraignment, particularly if you are a repeat offender. Hence, having a attorney present will help your cause tremendously. After the arraignment you will be given notice to appear for a pre-trial hearing.Pre-trial Hearing
Your criminal defense lawyer will explain that the pre-trial hearing is typically the second scheduled court date and is scheduled at your arraignment and is usually set 4 to 8 weeks after your arraignment, depending on the court. The pre-trial is intended to provide an opportunity for your attorney and the prosecutor to discuss the case (pros and cons), explore plea bargaining options, and to determine whether the parties have exchanged all information required by court rules.
Continuances of the pre-trial hearing are not uncommon. Typically, pre-trials are continued because the defense needs to:
- Obtain court ordered information, such as police radio tapes, toxicology reports, documents relating to the breath test, accident reconstruction reports, missing pages from police reports, etc.;
- Complete witness interviews;
- Complete independent investigations;
- Retain an expert witness;
- Locate missing witnesses;
- Obtain alcohol evaluations; and/or
- Conduct additional negotiations with the prosecutor.
If no continuance is needed and no acceptable plea bargain has been offered, your attorney may note various legal motions, if applicable, schedule a hearing for them to be heard and schedule a trial date. Additionally, you will be required to sign a “speedy trial waiver” which extends your right to a trial. If you are not in custody, you have the right to a trial within 90 days of your court appearance, if you are in custody you have the right to a trial within 60 days. A speedy trial waiver extends this time period. None of your substantive rights are waived, it simply gives everyone a little more time to help get the case resolved. For more details contact a William Moore Criminal Defense.Motion Hearings
The motion (or suppression) hearing can be the most important hearing in your defense, because it is at the motions hearing that the judge will hear legal challenges to the admissibility of the State/City’s evidence, and a ruling in your favor can result in evidence being suppressed (excluded) from your trial, including evidence of a blood or breath test, the results of some or all of the field sobriety 1tests, or any adverse statements you may have made. Successful pre-trial motions often compel the prosecutor to make an advantageous plea bargain offer, or on occasion, result in the dismissal of the charge!
Most courts schedule the motions hearing for a date well in advance of the trial. Some courts, however, schedule most motions for the morning of trial. Most Judges will rule on most motions immediately.Calendar Call
Your Broward County criminal lawyer will tell you that the Court will schedule a calander call or readiness hearing and it will be held shortly before the date your case is scheduled to go to trial. You generally have the following options at a calander call:
- Continue the case if there is a valid reason to do so (unavailable witness, failure of one side to have provided information to the other side as required by a previous order of the court, conflict in scheduling, the parties agree to continue to work on a plea agreement, etc.);
- Plead guilty as charged;
- Accept a negotiated plea offer;
- File a petition for deferred prosecution; or
- Set the case for trial.
Criminal lawyer will explain the estimated length of your trial, however, the length of a jury trial is typically two days. It may be as short as a day if there is no blood or breath test, and if there are few witnesses, but rarely does it last three days or more.
The Court will first hear preliminary matters (motions in limine) which are followed by the jury selection (called voir dire). This is the process whereby both sides ask the potential jurors questions to determine their biases, views on police, etc., and to enable each to excuse up to three jurors.
Once the jury is selected both your attorney and the prosecuting attorney give opening statements where they outline for the jury what they expect the evidence to show. The defense attorney may choose to give his or her opening statement after the prosecutor has rested his or her case.
The prosecutor then presents his or her witnesses which typically include:
Investigating police officers; Civilian witnesses or hospital personnel that may be available and favorable to the prosecution;
“Expert witnesses” from the State Patrol breath test department or the state’s toxicology lab, both of whom will testify that the breath testing device was operated and maintained in accordance with all required state statutes and regulations governing breath testing; or
In a blood draw case, the person who drew the blood and the toxicology lab technician who analyzed the blood will be called.
At the conclusion of the prosecutor’s case, the defense may, but is not required to present evidence. In most cases, much of the defense has already been presented through the defense attorney’s vigorous cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses.
Typical defense witnesses include:
- People you were with prior to being stopped by the police who can testify to the amount you had to drink, your apparent state of sobriety, unimpaired coordination, speech and appearance;
- Passengers in your car who can testify to the above plus your driving and performance of the roadside tests;
- People you may have called from your car after the stop or from the police station who can testify to your speech;
- The public defender or other attorney you called from the station who can testify to your speech, the appropriateness of your questions and your ability to understand and follow instructions;
- Anyone you called or who saw you after release who can testify to your sobriety, coordination, speech and appearance;
- Any experts retained to challenge the accuracy/reliability of the breath or blood test;
- Defense investigators who have interviewed prosecution witnesses, including the arresting officer, photographed or videotaped the road traveled and the scene of the field sobriety tests, or who is an expert on the limitations of “field sobriety testing;” and
- The defendant does have the option to testify, but cannot be required to. Most juries want to hear from the defendant personally, but there may be sound reasons your attorney will recommend against testifying. While the decision rests with the defendant, the defense attorney’s advice should be considered very carefully.
After all the evidence is presented, the judge instructs the jury as to what the law is that they are expected to apply to the facts of the case. Then both attorneys present closing arguments.
Following the closing argument, the jury will have the opportunity to discuss the case (deliberate) and this can last anywhere from 15 minutes to one or more days. Only three outcomes are possible at this juncture:
- All six jurors can vote to acquit and the case will be over and the matter dismissed;
- All six jurors can vote to convict and the defendant will be found guilty; or
- The jurors can deadlock without reaching a unanimous verdict. This is called a “hung” jury and the judge will declare a mistrial. The prosecutor then has the option of re-trying the case at a future date, offering a plea bargain to a reduced charge, or dismissing the case.