Florida Criminal Trial Procedure
If you have been charged with a crime in Florida, you face the prospect of going to trial, which means you need a criminal defense lawyer to protect your rights. You don’t just need any attorney, but rather a well-schooled trial lawyer who is prepared to fight for your freedom in court. You also need a legal tactician who knows the ins and outs of Florida criminal trial procedure.
Valiente, Carollo, and McElligott PLLC designs innovative criminal defense strategies for clients throughout South Florida with an emphasis on trying cases in state and federal court. Our trial attorneys have a proven history of achieving successful outcomes — case dismissals, acquittals, no contests — in a wide range of misdemeanor and felony cases.
Knowing that you may have no experience with the judicial system, we will stand by you every step of the way, fighting to protect your rights. With our criminal defense attorneys in your corner, you will have powerful representation when you need it most.
The Criminal Trial Process in Florida
At Valiente, Carollo, and McElligott PLLC, we believe that an educated client is our best client, which is why we are providing this overview of the criminal trial process in Florida. When you enter a plea of not guilty, you will have a trial unless the charges are dismissed or you decide to later change your plea.
There are two types of trials in the state — Non-jury Trial (Bench Trial) and Jury Trial:
- Bench Trial — Since there is no jury, a judge decides whether a crime has been committed, and whether the defendant is criminally responsible for it. A non-jury trial can only be conducted by mutual agreement of the prosecutor, the defendant, and the judge, however. Bench trials are typically reserved for minor offenses and cases in which the primary issue is a legal argument, not a matter of fact or evidence.
- Jury Trial — A judge oversees a jury trial, a proceeding in which 6 jurors (or 12 in federal court) will hear the evidence to determine whether a crime has been committed and whether the defendant is criminally responsible for it.
Before a trial commences, both the prosecution and defense participate in selecting 6 or more jurors from a panel of about 30-50 citizens in a process known as “voir dire.”
An Overview of the Criminal Trial
Most criminal trials in Florida follow a basic procedural format:
- Opening statements — Lawyers for both parties present the jury with an interpretation of what the evidence and testimony presented during the trial will show. Because the state has the burden of proof, the state addresses the jury first, followed by the defense.
- Presentation of evidence — The state presents its case first through evidence and witness testimony. Once the state concludes its direct examination of the witnesses, the defense attorney has the option to cross-examine them to reveal inconsistencies, mistakes, lack of knowledge, and potential bias.
- Objections — The attorneys may raise legal objections to any witness testimony and are sometimes asked to approach the bench to make legal arguments; the judge may even remove the jury from the courtroom to prevent then from drawing improper conclusions.
- Close of the state’s case — Once the state has presented all the evidence it believes proves the legal elements of the crime, it rests its case and recess is taken.
- The Defense’s case — Although the defense is not required to call witnesses, any witnesses called must be able to support the defense’s narrative in a coherent and credible manner. The defendant has the right to remain silent or testify, which depends on factors such as the complexity of the case and the strength of the state’s evidence.
- State’s Rebuttal — Once the defense rests its case, the state is allowed to call witnesses to rebut a specific point raised by a defense witness.
- Closing arguments — After all the evidence is presented, each side is allotted equal time to make its closing arguments. The prosecution goes first, followed by the defense, and the prosecution may or my not rebut the defense’s closing argument. In any event, the goal for each camp is to pull all the evidence and testimony together and argue whether or not the charges have been proven. Above all, closing arguments must be factual, to the point, and persuasive.
- Jury Instructions — The judge will provide instructions to the jury about the laws and rules to be applied during its deliberation.
- Deliberation — The jury weighs the evidence and testimony and deliberates until they reach a unanimous verdict, either guilty or not guilty. Depending on the circumstances, the jury may find a defendant guilty of lesser charges.
- Verdict — The jury’s verdict will be reviewed by the judge and then read aloud by the clerk of the court.
What is the defendant’s role during a criminal trial?
As a defendant, you can play a critical role during the trial by carefully listening to the testimony and pointing out any inconsistencies or misstatements, which may serve as the basis for raising a legal objection. At Valiente, Carollo, and McElligott PLLC, we encourage you to fully participate in your defense and understand what’s at stake — your freedom and your future.
Contact Our Miami Criminal Defense Attorney
Being arrested and charged with a crime is a frightening experience, and a conviction could be life-altering. The best way to protect your rights and your freedom is to consult the dedicated legal team at Valiente, Carollo, and McElligott PLLC. Please contact our office today for a free evaluation of your case. Also, please feel free to browse our criminal trial case results.