So you or a family member got arrested. What should you do? How do you get out of jail? What’s the next thing that’s going happen? What are the most important things that you should do?
I’m going to answer all of those questions and more. But first, here’s a list of the criminal justice process in chronological order:
- First Appearance/Bond Hearing
- Sounding/Plea Date
What Should You Do?
The most important action you can take for your case is to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney. Obviously, I recommend my firm, Cornish, Hernandez, & Gonzalez PLLC. But whatever attorney you choose should be knowledgeable, experienced, and aggressive enough to take your case to trial. After all, you already got arrested, so the prosecution has already started on the offensive. You want to be able to respond decisively.
A lawyer unwilling to go to trial is like an attack dog with no teeth. A toothless attack dog isn’t much of a threat. Likewise, no prosecutor or judge will consider a toothless attorney a threat.
An arrest is the event that typically begins a criminal case and sets the wheels of the criminal justice system in motion.
The police officer believes you committed a crime. So he wraps a pair of handcuffs around your wrists and takes you to jail. You sit in jail until you can get out (that could be 12 hours or 12 months). So, what are the most important things that you or your family members can do for you?
- The most important thing to do is GET OUT OF JAIL!
If you’re arrested, you have to stay in jail until a judge decides to release you or until you pay your bond. From the moment you’re arrested, there’s a set amount of money that you have to pay to get out of jail (unless you’re charged with a non-bondable offense – then there’s no amount of money you can pay to get out of jail, at first). The amount you have to pay is decided by the crimes you’re charged with. Your family or friends can find out the amount of your bond by calling the jail you’re in and asking or calling a bail bondsman.
It’s best to pay that amount as soon as possible because the judge at the First Appearance Hearing has the power to raise the amount you have to pay to get out of jail (that judge can lower the amount as well, but it’s better not to take an unnecessary risk). In order to pay the bond, it’s best to contact a bondsman; they typically charge you only 10% of the total bond amount. A quick Internet search for Miami Bondsman will reveal a host of options.
- The second most important thing is to GET A LAWYER!
Whether you got arrested, or are pending arrest, immediately hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer is critical for you and your case. He or she can assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case, gather helpful evidence that is quickly destroyed (like store surveillance), help you get out of jail, and generally maneuver the system with the ease born of experience. Also, it’s a sad fact that many judges and prosecutors don’t take an accused person as seriously as they would his lawyer. If you want a judge to take your argument or position seriously, you need a lawyer who knows what he’s doing to represent you.
The First Appearance is also known as a “Bond Hearing.” Every person in Florida who’s arrested and is still in jail is legally required to see a judge within 24 hours of his or her arrest. Fla. R. Crim. Pro. 3.130. At that hearing, the judge does two things:
- Decide if there is Probable Cause and if there is,
- Sets a bond, the amount of money a defendant has to pay to get out of jail.
The judge may only hold you on bond if there is probable cause for your arrest. Essentially, the judge reads the arrest form that the police officer wrote and checks to see if there’s some proof for every element of the law he or she is accusing you of breaking. If the judge decides that there is no probable cause for any crime, she must release you. This will not change the fact that you got arrested, or get rid of your criminal case, but at least you’ll go home without having to pay a bond.
If the judge decides that there is probable cause for a crime, she must then set a bond.
Setting a Bond
The judge has the power to (1) raise the bond, (2) leave the bond the same amount that was issued to you when you got arrested, (3) lower the bond, or (4) release somebody for free can leave the standard bond as it is but she also has the power to lower the amount of bond, release people for free (rarely done), or increase the amount of their bond. Remember, every defendant
So, what are the most important things for you to do if you or your family member has a first appearance hearing coming up?
- GET A LAWYER!
I cannot stress this point enough, the most important thing to do for your criminal case is to get an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An experienced lawyer has the best chance to lower your bond and then facilitate your release as soon as possible. He also knows how to coordinate with the Department of Corrections if there are any release conditions (like GPS monitoring or House Arrest) that need to be arranged.
- HAVE FAMILY MEMBERS ATTEND THE FIRST APPEARANCE
Judges are people. People who handle hundreds of cases every day. To them, each defendant is nothing more than an arrest form. To them, you are not different than all the other people that got arrested. And it’s hard for a person to feel emotion for and want to help a piece of paper. The best way to shake judges out of that attitude is to have your family there to show the judge that the person in front of them is a human being who has people that love him. That alone, goes a long way to persuading judges to release you or your family member from jail.
TO BE CONTINUED…
There’s three more steps in the life of a criminal case: (1) Arraignment, (2) Sounding or Plea Date, and (3) Trial. I’ll explain those in the next blog post.
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