Some Frequently Asked Questions
1. I've been arrested. What should I do?
If you are under investigation by the police, or believe that you may be facing criminal charges, consult with an attorney immediately. You should not make any statement whatsoever without competent legal advice. Family and friends may mean well, but an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you avoid an irreversible misstep. Early consultation allows for more time to investigate the charges and to research legal options.
2. What rights do I have after being arrested?
It is very important to know and understand your constitutionally protected rights once you’ve been arrested. Some of them are: Right to remain silent. You cannot be compelled to speak with anyone unless and until you choose to do so after consulting with an attorney. Right to an attorney. You must be permitted to privately consult with an attorney of your choosing before making any fundamental decisions in your case. Right to a jury trial. You have the right to a jury of your peers who will listen to the evidence and fairly apply the law to your case. Right to cross-examine and confront witnesses testifying against you. You are entitled to question the prosecution’s witnesses and test the evidence they are presenting to the jury. Right to testify. You have the right to tell your side of the story and call forth your own witnesses. You may present any and all legal defenses. Right to be presumed innocent. Just because you have been arrested or accused of a crime, you are still, by law, presumed to be innocent. The burden is on the prosecution to prove your guilt beyond and to the exclusion of any reasonable doubt.
3. Should I answer the questions I’m asked?
If you are arrested in Florida, think carefully before answering any questions posed by police. Oral and written statements can be used as evidence against you in court – and almost always are. EXERCISE YOUR RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT! Nothing good can come from an uncounseled interview with the police. It is extraordinarily unlikely that the police would ever “un-arrest” you because you told them something they didn’t already know. Speak with an attorney before surrendering any of your rights.
4. Should I sign paperwork?
You may be required to sign official documentation upon your arrest. However, do not sign anything in exchange for a promise of leniency or a reduced sentence. Contact an attorney or the senior official in charge if you feel you are being threatened or forced to sign a document.
5. What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?
A misdemeanor is a less serious crime than a felony and is generally punishable by less than a year in county jail. Misdemeanor charges include disorderly conduct, shoplifting, trespassing, and traffic offenses, including most DUIs. A felony charge is punishable by a year or more in state prison. Felonies include murder, rape, kidnapping, and burglary. In either case, your liberty is at stake and you have the right to an attorney.
6. What is an arraignment?
If charges are filed against you after an arrest, you will be required to attend a brief hearing called an arraignment. It is largely administrative in nature. During this hearing, a judge will read charges to you and require you to plead guilty or not guilty. A guilty plea will result in a waiver of nearly all your rights and a possible sentence of incarceration. If you plead not guilty, the judge will set a trial date to provide both sides time to prepare for trial. You may attend an arraignment alone or have an attorney present.
7. Will I have a trial?
If you plead not guilty during the arraignment, you will be given a trial date at court. During the trial, a jury will listen to both sides of your case and decide whether you are guilty or not guilty. The jury delivers a verdict to the judge, and if you are found guilty, the judge will then decide the appropriate sentence. Many cases, however, are resolved by compromise. Aggressive investigation and trial preparation will often times result in a favorable disposition without the inherent risks of going to trial.
8. What is sentencing?
If you enter a guilty/no contest plea or are found guilty after trial, your case will then proceed to sentencing. During the sentencing hearing, the judge will determine your punishment. Witnesses are allowed to speak and you may make a statement to the court yourself. A sentencing memorandum may be submitted to the court along with character witness letters and/or testimony.
9. And if I'm found Not Guilty? What then?
If the charges are dismissed or you are found not guilty after trial, then you will be discharged and owe no further duty to the court. If you posted a cash bond it will be refunded. If you used a surety (bail bondsman) the promissory note he or she posted will be released. Under some circumstances we can petition the court to have the record sealed or expunged.
Mr. Couch limits his practice to defending those accused of crimes and helping them get through the associated tough times. A seasoned criminal defense lawyer, Mr. Couch has conducted more than 200 jury trials to verdict in state and federal courts. He has successfully represented clients charged with all manner of offenses ranging from minor misdemeanors to capital felonies. Call today for a free in-office consultation.
Clinton A. Couch, P.A.
Attorney at Law
317 North Spring Street
Pensacola, Florida 32501-4827