TAMPA BAY CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY
HOW CRIMINAL CASES MOVE FORWARD IN TAMPA BAY
If you or someone you love has been accused of a crime in Tampa Bay Florida immediate and compelling intervention on your behalf by Robert Hambrick increases your prospects that Prosecutors or the Judge will agree to reduce or dismiss criminal charges early in the process.
As you learn how criminal cases move forward, you’ll understand that timing is always crucial to Robert Hambrick’s primary goal of always finding the Best Possible Results by giving you the choices you’ll need to make the best decisions for your future.
Robert tells you about Tampa Bay’s Criminal Justice including investigation, arrest, arraignment, pretrial, motions, pleas, trial & verdict.
Criminal Procedure in the Tampa Bay Criminal Justice System:
- In the Tampa Bay and Pinellas cases are typically investigated by Tampa Bay law enforcement after an allegation of harm from the victim. The harm a victim suffers may come in many forms, but typically it’s a violation of his home, vehicle, boat or office has been broken into resulting in either a trespass or a felony burglary OR the victim tells law enforcement of a battery from a bodily injury, unwanted touching, or assault caused by the Defendant OR in a victimless crime the arresting officer may have stopped a vehicle for drugs or DUI or observed other misconduct. (See areas of practice for complete definitions of each crime and for possible defenses.) There are also crimes in which there is no actual victim because the victim is deemed to be the State of Florida, for example many drug charges are known as victimless crimes, but they are no less significant than other crimes.
- If there is sufficient probable cause for Tampa Bay law enforcement to believe that a criminal act has taken place in Tampa Bay or Pinellas an arrest is usually made. If for some reason no arrest can be made by law enforcement then the case is moved forward to the state attorney’s office for an arrest warrant which a Judge will sign based on a witness affidavit from an officer. Lately, many of these warrants have come under attack by the defense based on the dishonesty of the underlying facts as presented in the warrant, see my blog for the latest information on marijuana grow house cases in which Pinellas County Deputies placed false information in witness affidavits signed by judges.
- Law Enforcement Officers bring the case to the attention of the Pinellas or Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office for review .
- Case Review by the SAO (the State Attorney’s Office): This is a crucial point within the framework of the chain of events leading to criminal prosecution, because Florida law requires that the State Attorney’s Office actually seek justice, meaning that if the facts do not constitute a crime the SAO should not charge the Defendant with criminal conduct and if law enforcement failed to bring an appropriate charge the SAO should find the appropriate criminal charge even if it is a lessor included charge or a misdemeanor rather than a felony.
- By Florida law the prosecutor from the SAO assigned to the case must take oral testimony before the State Attorney’s Office will formally file felony criminal charges. Testimony from Tampa Bay officers or deputies as to the facts and circumstances of the case will be sufficient to move the case forward if the victim is unavailable to testify.
- The Tampa or PInellas State Attorney’s Office makes a filing decision based on the facts presented which may include evidence of unlawful entry to a dwelling, boat or vehicle for burglary or trespass; evidence of an unlawful taking for grand theft or theft and evidence of an unlawful taking coupled with force if a robber or computer evidence in a child pornography case, evidence of check in an embezzlement case or whatever evidence is brought forward of unlawful activity.
- This evidence as observed by the State Attorney’s Office is in essence completely untested. The only evidence available – of potentially great or little weight – is evidence given to the Prosecutors by the Police. This evidence needs to be tested by an attorney but instead the evidence, uncontested, is presented at what is known as an ‘invest’ which is actually conducted at the police headquarters of the investigating Tampa Bay police department or sheriff’s office.
- Therefore as you can see the process is tainted and meant to be unfair, because the issue is not necessarily guilt or innocence at this point. The issue is probable cause – is there enough evidence to believe that the Defendant likely committed the criminal act?
- The Tampa Bay prosecutor assigned the case writes a review of the facts and circumstances of the case what is known as a ‘green sheet’ which tells his supervisors the predicted attributes, strengths and weaknesses of a potential case, potential witnesses, the victim and the quality of the police investigation and police reports which were presented at the time of the invest.
- Normally the green sheet is protected as attorney work product by the courts; however occasionally a successful motion can be made to obtain a copy where an important witness to the case such as the victim has changed testimony.
- In Pinellas County the prosecutor assigned the case by the Pinellas State Attorney’s Office who filed the charge stays with the case during the entire proceeding and will try the charge at Jury Trial or handle the plea.
- While in Hillsborough County the State Attorney’s Office has a filing intake division which will determine whether to file the charges as felonies or to reduce the charges to simple trespass or simple theft or not to file any charges whatsoever.
- An effective Pinellas Criminal Defense Attorney will already know the attributes of the prosecutor assigned to the case or learn them quickly thru the legal community, know the prosecutor’s strengths and weaknesses, and the defense lawyer by using his knowledge about the way the system works will marshal all of the facts and evidence at his disposal thru a defense investigation to seek to have the charges reduced or not filed in the initial decision.
- It’s important to assert, defend, attack or portray all defense friendly facts immediately or soon as possible so that a filing decision in a Tampa Bay criminal case is not made until the Defense has pushed its own version of the facts. Sometimes as in a game of cards where the prosecutor is known to be immovable or set in stone then of course this is not the best move as it will only tip off the State as to possible defenses.
- Once the initial filing decision has been made the case moves forward thru the Criminal Justice System proceeds to a Pinellas or Hillsborough Courtroom. If it is a felony a Circuit Court Judge will handle the case, if it is a misdemeanor then a County Court Judge will handle the proceedings.
- The First hearing is known as an Arraignment in which the Judge will make certain that the Defendant has an attorney, understands the nature of the criminal charges against him and enters a plea.
- At an arraignment the Defendant will be asked if he has representation, then asked how he pleads. The Defendant must acknowledge the charges against him by either pleading guilty, not guilty or no contest.
- If you have hired a Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer you will not have to attend the arraignment nor speak in open court. Timely paperwork filed by your attorney lets the Judge, the prosecutor and the clerk of court know that you are pleading not guilty for the time being at least until you and your attorney have had ample opportunity to view all of the discovery, police reports, witness statement and other evidence in your case.
- When the notice of appearance is timely filed by your attorney not only will you not have to attend the arraignment, but the paperwork will also demand timely discovery be delivered from the prosecution.
- The defendant may be reminded if he is not in custody to have no contact with the victim as this will revoke or rescind his bond and he will be sent to jail to await either his trial or some other resolution of the criminal case.
- NOTE – It’s vitally important for every defendant charged with any criminal misconduct not to make any statements at any judicial hearing including the arraignment about the offense.
- At the arraignment and at every other hearing in front of the Court anything you say can be used against you and is being recorded. At any time in the future the prosecution can use any statements made as an admission or knowledge of guilt. For example, it’s not unusual to see a Defendant unrepresented by counsel to make an apology to the Judge about the incident.
- There will be plenty of time for apologies if you’re found guilty and sentenced, but until then you are only hurting your chances of a fair resolution of the criminal charges if you make any kind of an admission even an apology.
- MOTIONS TO DISMISS: Upon request from your lawyer the presiding Judge with the help of the Clerk of Court will then calender the case for all pending motions such as a Motion to Dismiss, see MOTION TO DISMISS BASED ON YOUTHFUL OFFENDER, for an example of a Motion to Dismiss. A Motion to Dismiss makes a written argument that the law that applies to the case must lead to dismissal of the criminal charges or a reduction to simple counts if they’ve been mistakenly filed as greater counts under the facts and circumstances of your case.
- MOTIONS TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE: A Motion to Suppress Evidence when timely filed by a defense advocate argues that for legal cause some or all of the evidence ‘from the poisoned tree’ of law enforcement’s investigation into the facts and circumstances of your case must be excluded because of police impropriety in collecting, procuring or safe keeping of the evidence. see, Motion to Suppress Miranda Statement, filed by Robert Hambrick in a cocaine trafficking and conspiracy case.
- TRAVERSE: It’s not unusual for the state to file what is known as a Traverse to a Defense Motion to Dismiss if the facts are in dispute and if the state does file a Traverse, then the facts will need to be determined by a jury before the judge can dismiss or reduce the charges to misdemeanors (see charged offense page for a discussion of lesser included counts and possible defenses to your charge).
- When the proper motions are disposed of, the Pinellas or Hillsborough Court will calender what is known as a Pretrial at which time the Defendant must choose to either plea or go forward with a Trial.
- Once the case is set for Trial your attorney and the Prosecution will be required by the presiding Judge to be ready to proceed with the Trial by Jury on the day given by the Judge. Many important documents and motions must be filed at least ten days before Trial. Both the defense and the state of Florida must disclose all witnesses before the ten day time limit. Also, if the Prosecutor wants to establish motive, opportunity or modus oporandi thru the use of similar fact evidence of other crimes or uncharged misconduct committed by the Defendant, known in Florida as Williams Rule, the notice must be submitted within ten days before the trial.
- This process may take a few months to six months or longer to complete as the case length depends upon the complexity of the case, the number of witnesses, the Judge’s calendar and the strategy and tactics being employed by the Defense and the State of Florida.
- For federal investigations, grand jury hearings, and indictments see YOUR GUIDE TO FEDERAL CASES IN THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA an area that which includes all of Tampa Bay.
If Robert Hambrick is hired as your attorney he will immediately demand discovery from the prosecution. Discovery not only includes all of the police reports but includes expert testimony, victim statements and other evidence relied upon by the prosecution to file charges against the defendant. Robert Hambrick will conduct exhaustive depositions of the witnesses including the victim in an effort to support defenses to the charges and to establish that the victim’s testimony in inconsistent with what actually occurred.
You need an advocate whose a sharp, skilled, smart and aggressive negotiator and litigator to anticipate the strategies and tactics of the prosecution. Someone who knows how their minds work. Someone who can find and exploit every weakness in specific charges. As a seasoned Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer and as a former prosecutor in Pinellas county, Robert Hambrick knows both sides of the criminal defense system with a keen understanding of how law enfocement and prosecutors think.