Help, I was charged with…

Domestic Battery:  If you were charged with domestic battery, it is important to get an attorney BEFORE formal charges are filed in your case.  Contact can be made with the State Attorney’s Office before the alleged victim is ever set to give testimony and you can offer some information that may make a difference on the charges that are eventually filed in the matter.  In addition, domestic battery cases often include service on you for an injunction hearing and/or divorce or other legal proceedings.  Domestic battery can also carry with it a mandatory 5 day jail sentence and several other sanctions that may be avoided should you have an ally who knows the legal system to fight for you.

A Firearm Offense:  I should start by saying that firearm offenses are among the most serious of cases handled in the criminal justice system and as such, they have some mandatory penalties associated with them.  While you can be charged with assault by threatening someone with your fists, if you threaten someone with a firearm, your charge carries with it a mandatory 3 year prison sentence that must be served day for day.  It’s crucial to argue for lesser charges and to offer evidence or mitigation on your behalf to the State Attorney for the possibility of changing the charges.  If a case has mandatory penalties, this means that the judge in your case can not sentence to less.  Many people have heard of the 10-20-life law in Florida but don’t know what that actually means.  It requires that if you were charged with an offense other than assault with a firearm and a firearm was used in the commission, you face a minimum of 10 years; if the firearm was fired, you face 20 years; and if the bullet hit a person (even a co-defendant) you will face a life sentence.

A Sex Offense:  These charges are the most damaging to someone.  It’s not only an ugly charge but it can affect someone’s reputation forever and most people have heard of sex offender laws.  It is important when hiring an attorney that they are familiar with the sex offender statutes and that they also have experience with understanding Jimmy Ryce Hearings.  While most attorneys have not actually conducted a Jimmy Ryce hearing, it is important that they understand how the statute works and that they can advise you if your charges will expose you to this hearing.  In a Ryce hearing, the State is seeking to find that a person is a sexually violent offender and that they may offend again and remain dangerous.  This can allow them to keep someone confined to a “hospital” for the rest of their natural life with periodic review.   Even if this is unlikely in your situation, your case may also have implications for the Florida Sexual Predators Act which mandates reporting and conditions of where you may live and with whom you can associate and even whether you would be able to use the internet.  It is most important to understand your charges and to have a patient attorney willing to explain as many of the future effects of your case as possible.  An offer in your case may not just be “probation.”  It may have an effect on you for the rest of your life.

Driving under the Influence:  This is among the most complicated of misdemeanor offenses.  It requires that the State have followed several statutes and administrative rules before they can establish that you were driving while you were impaired.   One of the most important things you must know is you have 10 days from the date of your arrest to request a formal review hearing with  the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV).  Although you may not think there is any value in attending a hearing before they suspend your license, your attorney may not agree.  First, there are several requirements that had to be followed before your license may be suspended for DUI and second, it is free “discovery.”  When attorneys speak of “discovery,” they are referring to the exchange of information between the State and the defense in a case so that the parties know what evidence each side intends to present at a trial.  The more discovery the defense can obtain ahead of your trial, the better prepared they are to handle it.  In misdemeanor cases, defendants are not entitled to take a deposition of witnesses under oath.  The Court may grant a deposition after determination that it is necessary to the case but the Court has discretion to deny it.  A deposition is simply asking questions of a witness under oath, generally in a criminal case to find out information.  A formal review hearing offers an opportunity to bypass the Court to speak with witnesses under oath.  It can offer pertinent information very early in the case which can lead to defenses.   Obtaining an attorney early in your case to attend your formal review hearing can sometimes be the difference between a conviction and a dismissal.

Driving with a suspended license:  If you were charged with driving with a suspended license, it is important to know whether it is with knowledge or without knowledge.  If it is without knowledge, you are in a different courtroom in a civil matter and that’s a good thing.  If your driver’s license record says that you were mailed a notice, it could be that you are charged with driving and having knowledge of the suspension.  Unfortunately, Florida law says that you have a burden to produce information that shows you didn’t know your license was suspended and then the State Attorney has the right to rebut that information.  You also need to know that if you are presumed to have knowledge, you are likely in criminal court and your charge can carry up to one year in jail as a first degree misdemeanor.  It is unlikely for a first offense, you would face any jail time but you do need to know that this is what is called a “predicate offense.”  That means that the more of these charges you get, the higher the potential sentence.  Your third charge can subject you to a felony offense if you have any charges in your history that could be violent.  Even if you stay in misdemeanor court, the Court can find that multiple offenses should land you a jail sentence.  In addition, if you get three of these in 5 years, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will suspend your license for 5 years and you will have to wait one full year without driving to be eligible to obtain hardship.  Expect to pay a lot of money to get it restored.  It could be worth it to hire an attorney to review your case to see if you may have issues for an illegal stop, or if the attorney would be able to work out a plea agreement that could keep your license.