Know Your Rights
FACTS & RIGHTS
FACTS & Your Rights
IMPORTANT FACTS & RIGHTS YOU SHOULD KNOW REGARDING YOUR CRIMINAL CASE
Please read the following carefully. If you have any questions, then please ask your lawyer for assistance.
You never have to answer any questions that are asked by law enforcement. You never have to testify in court (except under certain circumstances in violation of probation hearings). However, you should speak openly and frankly with your attorney and anything you tell a Public Defender’s investigator or interviewer, just as anything you tell your attorney, is confidential.
DO NOT DISCUSS YOUR CASE WITH ANYONE ELSE, INCLUDING YOUR FAMILY, FRIENDS, CELLMATES, NEWS REPORTER, PROBATION OFFICER, OR POLICE OFFICERS UNLESS YOUR ATTORNEY ADVISES YOU TO DO SO, SINCE ALL OF THESE PEOPLE CAN BE COMPELLED TO TESTIFY AGAINST YOU.
You have the right to be represented by an attorney at every stage of your criminal case.
- Discuss Your Case With Your Lawyer
Everything you tell your attorney in confidence (except your intent to commit a future crime or fraud) is privileged and confidential – protected by the “Attorney-Client Privilege.”
- Satisfaction With Your Attorney
Overall, you should feel that your attorney has represented you to the best of his/her ability and be satisfied with this representation, but this does not require, and does not mean that you will be happy with the ultimate outcome of your case.
- Assist In Your Defense By Cooperating With Your Attorney
Your cooperation with your lawyer is extremely important in preparing your defense. You should be open and honest with your lawyer at all times. You have a continuing obligation to be involved in your defense and to stay in contact with your lawyer. Your lawyer is not required to search for you because you have failed to keep in contact with him/her or failed to provide new address and phone information.
You have the right to be represented by an attorney at every stage of your criminal case.
Bail is intended to guarantee that you will appear for your scheduled court appearance. You do not have the right to bail if you are charged with a crime that carries a penalty of either life imprisonment or death. If the Court finds that you are not charged with a serious crime, 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, then the judge may release you without bail or low bail.
- Bail Reduction
Your lawyer may file a motion for reduction of bail if the bail in your case seems high in view of the charge or if the evidence against you is slight; however, if you intend to plea to the charges, then it may be better in some circumstances for you to remain in jail and receive credit against your possible jail/prison sentence.
- Pulling Your Bond
If you make bail on your initial charges and then are subsequently arrested on another charge, and cannot afford bail or do not want to bail out on the later charge, then make sure that you contact your bail bondsman to withdraw, i.e. “pull,” your bond. This way you will receive credit on all of your charges.
You have a constitutional right to trial and an attorney’s help at that trial.
- Jury Trial vs. Bench (Judge Only) Trial
It is your decision to have your case heard by a jury (when applicable) or a judge. There are, however, some minor criminal cases in which you are only entitled to a bench (judge only) trial.
- Jury Trial – usually 6 People Decide Your Case
If you choose to exercise your trial right (when applicable), then your case will be decided usually by six (6) people from the county where your case is being heard.
- Jury Selection Process
Before the trial begins, you will be present in the courtroom while your lawyer questions a group of potential jurors, known as the “jury selection” process. Both you and your attorney will have the chance to discuss your impressions of the jurors and try to select those whom you both believe are best for your jury. Both sides – the defense and the State – will try to eliminate jurors whom each feel is not favorable to their side and ask the Court to strike certain jurors. The first 6 remaining jurors, i.e. those who have not been stricken, will make up the jury.
- Beyond Every Reasonable Doubt
The prosecution’s burden in a criminal case is, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The State Attorney’s Office will seek to introduce evidence against you. Your attorney will question prosecution witnesses and evidence, and if applicable, introduce evidence on your behalf, as well as have the option of providing an opening statement and closing argument to argue about the sufficiency of the State’s case, the evidence, and the law – all in an effort to establish reasonable doubt in the prosecution’s case.
- Right To Subpoena And Question Witnesses
Through your attorney, you have the right to subpoena the attendance of witnesses on your behalf at trial. If you have any witnesses who you believe will support your case, then provide their information to your lawyer as soon as possible. You should discuss all potential witnesses (both prosecution and defense), and what their respective testimony could be at trial, with your attorney.
- Right To Cross-Examine Witnesses Against You
At trial, your attorney can cross-examine witnesses against you. You may provide suggestions which are requested and appreciated; however, it is in the discretion of your attorney in which questions he/she asks witnesses and is not required to ask questions of your choosing.
- You Have The Right To Testify Or To Not Testify At Trial
At trial, you have the right to take the stand and testify in your own defense or to not take the stand and remain silent. In Florida, if you have ever been convicted of a felony or a crime involving dishonesty or false statement, then the fact that you have such a conviction can be brought to the jury’s attention if you take the stand to testify. You should discuss these options with your attorney before making your decision.
- The Outcome Of Every Trial Is Unpredictable
No attorney is allowed to make you any promises or guarantees regarding a successful outcome at trial – and none will be made to you at any time during your case.
You have entered a plea of “not guilty” to the charge(s). You have the right to change this plea to “guilty” or “no contest” which should be made only after you have discussed your case with your attorney. Only you have the right to change your plea.
- Waiver Of Right To Trial
If you plead “guilty” or “no contest,” then you waive, i.e. “give up”, your right to trial. A plea of guilty (admit guilt to charge) and no contest (do not contest facts as written by the police and feel that plea is in your best interest) are viewed as identical under the law. If you waive your right to trial, you will be giving up the right to have motions filed, witnesses interviewed, and the right to present any defenses you may have to the charges.
- Admitting A Factual Bases For The Charge(s)
If you decide to change your plea from “not guilty” to guilty/no contest, then you will be admitting that there is a factual valid basis for the charges to which you are pleading. The Court must also announce in Court that a factual basis exists for the charges against you.
- Waiver Of Appeal Rights
If you plead “guilty” or “no contest”, then unless you expressly reserve the right to appeal prior to rulings of the Court (i.e. such as a motion that was defined), you give up the right to appeal all matters relating to the Court’s judgement, including your guilt or innocence.
- Judge May Ask You Questions About The Charges
If you plead guilty/no contest, then the judge may ask you questions about facts supporting the charges. If you answer such questions under oath, on the record, and in the presence of your lawyer, then those answers could be used in any later prosecution for perjury.
- You Will Know Your Sentence In A Negotiated Plea Deal
If a plea deal is negotiated, and you agree to its terms, then you will know in advance the parameters of your sentence except: The Department of Corrections (DOC) or Sheriff’s Office (SSO) is responsible for awarding gain time or any type of early release. DOC or SSO also calculates your jail credit.
- Your Plea Must Be Voluntary
No one can force or threaten you to enter a plea or take your case to trial – these decisions are yours and must be made of your own free will.
You have the right to appeal the judge and sentence of the Court within thirty (30) days from the date of sentencing. If you wish to make an appeal and cannot afford an attorney to help in your appeal, then the Court will appoint an attorney to represent you for that purpose. You usually have no right to appeal from a plea of guilty or no contest if the sentence you receive is a legal one. 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.
If you are to be sentenced, then you will have an opportunity to speak with the judge at the sentencing hearing. The judge will give your attorney and any other interested persons a chance to speak on your behalf but let your attorney know in advance the names and addresses of people you want to speak at your sentencing.
Once the judge has sentenced you, the sentence will not be reduced or changed unless important information (which changes the judge’s mind) unknown at sentencing, is submitted to the judge within sixty (60) days. Do not compare your case to other cases because each is different.
- No Promises Regarding Gain Time, Etc.
If a plea deal is negotiated, and you agree to its terms, then you will know in advance the parameters of your sentence except:
- The DOC or SSO is responsible for awarding gain time or any type of early release. DOC or SSO also calculates your jail credit;
- Any time you spend in residential treatment is not considered jail time, and therefore will not be counted against any jail sentence;
- Any information you receive regarding gain time, early release and jail credit from your attorney is strictly an estimate and is not part of any plea agreement.
- Consecutive, Concurrent, And Coterminous Sentences
Under Florida law, you must receive a separate sentence for each individual charge. Sentences can run:
- Concurrent: each sentence runs at the same time; however, this does not mean that the sentences end at the same time. The end date for each sentence depends on how much jail credit exists for each charge.
- Coterminous: each sentence runs and ends at the same time, regardless of the amount of credit in for each charge. This type of sentence is extremely rare.
- Consecutive: when one sentence ends, the other begins (i.e. back-to-back).
- Public Defender Lien
The Court may impose a lien for attorney fees and costs associated with your case, at the conclusion of your case. If you cannot afford to pay the lien, then it may be reduced to a civil judgement. If you enter a plea of guilty/no contest, then you give up your right to contest the assessment. If you do contest the lien, then the Court will set the matter for a hearing.
You do not have the right to probation. It is given as an alternative to jail/prison or can be offered/imposed in addition to reduced jail/prison time. Probation is generally offered to those individuals with no prior convictions or minimal criminal records, but always depends on the facts of each case. General conditions of probation that you must do (every case):
- You cannot violate any law;
- You cannot change your residence without consent of your probation officer;
- Pay monthly probation costs of supervision (unless waived by the Court);
- You must make monthly reports to your probation officer – usually in person;
- You cannot own any weapons or firearms without the consent of your probation officer;
- You cannot use alcohol or drugs;
- You must financially support your dependents;
- You must be truthful to and cooperate with our probation officer;
- You must allow your probation officer to visit you and search you at home or work;
- You must comply with all additional special conditions imposed by the Court.
- Typical special conditions of probation imposed by the Court include the following:
- Perform/complete public service work/community service;
- Obtain evaluation and/or treatment substance abuse, alcohol abuse and/or domestic/spouse abuse as ordered by the Court;
- Attend/complete DUI school or Advanced DUI school;
- Attend/complete Victim Impact Panel;
- Attend/complete counseling;
- Attend/complete Driver Improvement School or Advanced Driver Improvement School;
- Report to County Jail or Department of Corrections (if ordered to do so by the Court);
- Obtain residential or out-patient treatment;
- Attend/complete daily/weekly Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous meetings;
- Pay restitution (i.e. reimbursement of money for any damages you caused, as assessed by the Court);
- Reinstate your Driver’s License (if reinstatable, i.e. payment of fines, etc.);
- Pay all fines, court costs, and Public Defender fees;
- Attend/complete programs for life management, anger control, behavior modification, repeat offenders, and money management.
Failure to perform any one condition of probation imposed by the Court could result in a Violation of Probation proceeding (in which your rights are significantly curtailed). For more information about Probation please click here.
- If you are sentenced (whether after plea or trial), then the Court may adjudicate your guilty, or withhold adjudication. Please keep in mind you usually have no right to appeal from a plea of guilty or no contest if the sentence you receive is a legal one. 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 may 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. In rare circumstances, if your case is appealed the judge may allow your release on bail 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. In no event should you wait more than third (30) days before contacting your attorney.
- If you are sentenced (whether after plea or trial), and if you are not a U.S. citizen, then any conviction, whether by plea agreement or verdict at trial, may subject you to deportation pursuant the laws and regulations governing the United States Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS). In fact, you could be deported regardless of how long you have lived in the U.S. and whether or not your spouse or children are U.S. citizens. The Public Defender’s Office will not be able to assist you in any INS proceedings.
- If you are sentenced (whether after plea or trial), you may be required to register in the County and/or State where you reside (including outside of Florida) as a convicted felon;
- If you are sentenced (whether after plea or trial), a conviction may constitute admission of civil liability for money damages if lawsuit is filed in connection with your criminal case.
- If you are adjudicated guilty of any drug offense, then your driver’s license will be suspended for a minimum of six (6) months, even if you complete a drug evaluation, and up two (2) years unless and until you have undergone evaluation for, and if required, complete treatment for drug use/abuse. After six (6) months, you may petition the Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles for restoration of your driver’s license. Only a program approved or regulated by the Florida Department of Children and Family Services is valid for drug evaluation and treatment. If your driver’s license is already suspended (for another reason), then the suspension period will be two (2) years in addition to the current suspension, unless and until you complete a drug evaluation and treatment program.
- Similar to the drivers license suspension that results from drug conviction, as discussed above, if you are adjudicated guilty of any theft offense, then your drivers license will be suspended for a minimum of six (6) months and potentially more depending upon the degree of your charge and prior criminal history (if any).
- When deciding whether you will go to trial or change your plea from not guilty to guilty or no contest, you should seriously consider the possibility that if you are charged for the same type of offense in the future, the penalties will be significantly enhanced.
- If there is any sexual-related fact or element in the charge(s) against you, then there could be very serious negative consequences regarding sexual offenders/predators.
The following serious adverse effects could occur, in addition to every other potential negative outcome listed in this Important Facts & Rights Form. If you are convicted (whether by plea or trial) of such an offense:
- You must register with State and Local law enforcement (in Florida or possibly in any other State or community where you may move to in the future) as a sexual offender/predator;
- You could be committed to a mental institution for an indefinite period of time after imprisonment and/or probation;
- You could be labeled as a sex offender/predator with your name and address posed on the Internet;
- Your neighbors and community where you live (or move to in the future) will be notified of your presence and your status as a sex offender/predator.
- You could be restricted from living near schools, parks, and day care facilities.
For more information regarding collateral consequences of a sentence, please look here.