Tag: criminal trial

Trial can be a very nerve-wracking experience for people accused of a crime.  It helps to feel more comfortable if you know exactly what to expect.

The first thing that happens on your trial day is that the State and the Defense attorneys will both tell the Judge that they are ready to try the case.  In response the Judge will place the case in the trial order.  That means that your case will be one of many cases that are set to be tried that trial week.  Usually only one or two cases at most are tried on a given trial week so depending on where your case lands on the trial order you may or may not be going to trial that week.  Eventually your case will be number one in the trial order.  This means that your case is the one that will be tried that week.

The first step in any criminal jury trial is voir dire or jury selection.  During voir dire the Judge and both parties will get to ask questions of the potential jurors.  The point of this process is to eliminate jurors that are likely to be against the parties and to select a jury that can fairly decide the case.  Once jury selection is over the parties will have 6 or 12 jurors depending on what kind of case it is, plus some alternates.  Alternates are jurors that will hear all the evidence but will not deliberate unless one of the other jurors falls ill or has to withdraw from jury service for some reason.

Once a jury is selected the next step is opening statement.  During opening statements both sides will tell the jury what they expect to prove.  The point of opening statement is to persuade the jury to see the case the way each party wants them to see the case.  The opening statement should be backed up by the actual evidence in the case.

After opening statement the State will have an opportunity to put on witnesses and exhibits.  The Defense attorney will have a chance to question the State witnesses to elicit facts favorable to the defense.  When the State has no more witnesses or evidence to present the State will rest.  At this point the Defense has an opportunity to petition the court for a motion for judgment of acquittal if there are any grounds for a judgment of acquittal to be granted.  Judgment of acquittal is only granted in very rare instances. If judgment of acquittal is not granted the case moves forward and the Defense has an opportunity to present any witnesses or evidence that the Defense would like to present. After the Defense rests the Defense has another opportunity to petition the court for a judgment of acquittal.

If the State’s case survives a second motion for judgment of acquittal the case has to be submitted to the jury.  Before the case is submitted to the jury must courts will have a charge conference.  A charge conference is where the State and the Defense get to propose to the court what law applies to the case.  The court determines what law applies to the case based on the evidence and submits prepares a final copy of the instructions to be given to the jury.  These are the instructions that will guide the jury during deliberations.

After the charge conference but before the case is submitted to the jury the parties have an opportunity to perform a closing argument.  Closing argument is the parties’ opportunity to argue to the jury what the evidence means and to try to persuade the jury to return a verdict in the parties’ favor.   The State can split its closing argument in two parts, closing and rebuttal, while the Defense only gets one chance to speak to the jury during closing argument.  After both parties conclude their closing argument the case is given to the jury and the jury deliberates until they reach a verdict or until they are unable to reach a verdict.  A jury’s inability to reach a verdict is called a hung jury.  A hung jury results in a mistrial and the matter having to be tried again if the State chooses to retry it.

If you or a family member are contemplating the prospect of having to take your case to a jury feel free to give us a call, we would love to help.

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Knowing the tools you have available to you is important, but those tools are useless if you don’t know how to use them. The State of Florida is one of the few states that actually provides criminal defendants a statutory speedy trial; a formidable tool in the right hands. Just ask those jailed in Rikers anywhere between 16 and 18 months awaiting their day in court for a simple misdemeanor.  In New York the phrase “speedy trial” is nothing but an empty promise. In Florida, however, it has some teeth…and luckily, those teeth can leave a nice mark if they’re in the mouth of a diligent defense attorney.

Florida mandates those accused of misdemeanors to be brought to trial within ninety (90) days and for those accused of felonies, one hundred seventy  five (175) days.  While one day in a Florida jail is long enough for anyone locked-up away from their families, their friends, their job, and their life, the Florida speedy trial serves as a reminder to prosecutors that they cannot just sit back and do nothing while someone’s freedom hangs in the balance.

Provided you have not waived your right to a speedy trial by requesting a defense continuance, or rendering yourself unavailable for trial, your speedy trial rights will stay intact. And if you did happen to waive speedies, even then, all is not lost. In addition to your natural speedy trial clock, which begins the moment you are arrested, you can make a demand to have a speedy trial anytime after arrest; provided you are ready for trial.

A demand for speedy trial is different from your natural speedy trial clock in that a demand for speedy trial does not begin the moment you are arrested. Rather, a demand for speedy trial is triggered the moment your defense attorney files it. Once filed, the demand tells the court and the prosecutors “I’m ready for trial, and I’m not waiting any longer to get my justice.” At that point, you must be brought to trial within fifty (50) days of filing the demand.

In all instances, whether your case is on natural speedies or on demand, the only way one’s speedy trial right is waived is if the defendant is deemed to have been “unavailable for trial,” which is where in lies the confusion. Applying Florida’s speedy trial rule properly typically turns on the understanding of the terms “delay”, “unavailability”, and “failure to attend.” Too often to count, judges and attorneys alike believe that if a criminal defendant somehow delays the case that defendant’s speedy trial right has been waived… NOT TRUE.  The following facts demonstrate as much:

On January 28, 2015, at approximately 2:30 p.m., a young man was arrested for a misdemeanor. Since that January day, he had been continuously available for trial, and on the morning of April 22, 2015, when the court began calling cases on its trial docket at approximately 9:30 a.m the young man was not present. The docket consisted of a combination of about 84 trial and report cases, and that is only including public defender cases.

The young man’s case was on the early part of the docket, and when his case was called, he was not in the courtroom. As a result, his attorney asked the court if it could pass the case further down the docket. The court, however, did not do so. Instead, the court issued a bench warrant for his arrest. Not long after defense counsel asked for the young man’s case to be passed and the bench warrant had been issued, the young man arrived.

He arrived at approximately 10 a.m., and his presence was announced on the record at approximately 10:24 a.m. The bench warrant was set aside, and at the time his presence was announced for the court record, the court’s calendar still had not ended. In actuality, the court’s calendar was so long that morning, the young man’s presence was announced just as the trial calendar was ending, and the report calendar was beginning. Notably, the court’s report calendar continued for approximately two and a half more hours, which made the earliest a jury panel could have been brought down for trial approximately 1 p.m, over two hours later.

Nevertheless, over defense objection and after defense counsel informed the court that the young man was still ready to proceed to trial, the court charged a defense continuance on April 22, 2015, stating that there was a delay attributable to the defense as a result of the young man’s tardiness.

Fast-forward one month, and the next date the young man’s case was before the court for trial was on May 20, 2015.  On that date, his case did not go to trial through no fault of his own, and the court charged a court continuance. On June 1, 2015, the young man’s defense counsel filed a notice of expiration (“NOE”) of speedy trial, and at the NOE hearing on June 5, 2015, the court ruled, over defense objection, that the NOE was not well-taken as a result of the continuance previously charged to the defense.

Defense counsel emphasized that 1) the defense continuance was erroneously charged to the young man, 2) that it was over defense objection, and 3) that he was ready for trial and did not have any intention of waiving his right to a speedy trial.  The court was not moved by defense counsel’s argument, and the young man’s case was not brought to trial within ten days of June 5, 2015 as required by Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure 3.191. By June 22, 2015, a date well after the expiration of the speedy trial recapture period, the young man’s case was still on the trial calendar. Accordingly, the young man’s defense counsel provided the court with one case, Hutchinson v. State, 133 So.3d 152 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014), a well-written motion, and some oral argument. Before the hearing was over and the day was done, the young man’s case was dismissed as a result of the State’s violation of his right to a speedy trial.

In Hutchinson, the court held that the mere fact a defendant arrived late to a proceeding is not evidence tending to show unavailability for purposes of the speedy trial rule, and thus the defendant was not unavailable for trial nor did he waive his speedy trial rights.  Hutchinson, 133 So. 3d at 155. Importantly, the court goes on to say that the state must show that the defendant’s tardiness was the functional equivalent of a failure to attend the proceeding, something that the state could not show due to the fact that Hutchinson arrived while the docket calendar was still ongoing. Id. Unlike the pretrial release and bond provisions of rule 3.131 and section 903.26, Florida’s speedy trial rule does not address a failure to appear at a specified time. Instead, for the purposes of the speedy trial rule, whether a defendant is unavailable for trial depends on that defendant’s failure to attend a proceeding.

A criminal case has real consequences on people’s lives, and knowing how to apply  Hutchinson on the day that young man’s case was dismissed made a real difference on his life and future. The State was held accountable for not upholding the rights of those whose freedom hangs in the balance, and Florida’s speedy trial rule made that happen. Know when to stand up to judges, and most importantly, know when to use the law that is placed in your hands. It could be the difference between your client going to jail or keeping his freedom.

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