Being charged with a felony is scary enough. It’s even scarier if you don’t know what to expect. Maybe you have a court date coming up, and you have no idea what is going to happen. Maybe you are under investigation and you aren’t sure whether you should talk to the police. Or maybe your loved one is in jail and you have no idea when they’re getting out.
Hopefully this page will answer some of your questions and relieve some of the stress of dealing with the criminal court process.
My name is Tim Flaherty. I’ve been a practicing criminal defense lawyer here in Okaloosa County since 2001. My partner’s name is Brandy Merrifield. I am going to explain each stage of the felony court process in Okaloosa County step by step. After reading this, call us at (850) 243-6097 if you have any questions.
Here are the procedural steps for a criminal case in Okaloosa County:
- Investigation stage, Pre-arrest
- First Appearance
- Bond Hearing
- Plea Day/Arraignment
- Calendar Status/Pretrial Conference
- Docket Day
- Jury Trial
The police are supposed to investigate a possible crime before arresting anyone. It is common in felony cases for the investigation to take several weeks or even months before the police decide whether to pursue an arrest, or close the investigation.
During the investigation, the officer will be talking to witnesses, analyzing physical evidence, and reviewing the case with prosecutors to decide if there has been a crime committed, and if so, whether they can identify who committed it.
If the police decide to move forward with an arrest, and the State Attorney agrees with the recommendation to arrest, it will be sent to the judge. The judge will decide whether to sign an arrest warrant.
On the arrest warrant, the judge has the choice to either put a bond on the warrant, or Order that the person be held without bond until a hearing called First Appearance.
Once the arrest warrant is active, it is far better to turn yourself in rather than try to run, or make the police come get you at home or at your job. If there is a bond on the warrant, all you have to do is show up at the police department, let them serve the warrant on you, post bond, and be on your way. You will be given a date and time to appear for your first court date.
If there is not a bond on the warrant, you will have to spend the night in jail and see the judge in the morning for First Appearance.
You can read more about First Appearance here, but to summarize, First Appearance is a hearing before the judge, usually the morning after you were taken into custody.
In Okaloosa County, the judges hold these hearings via video link with the jail. If you have an attorney representing you at First Appearance, they will be in the room with the judge, not at the jail. You will be able to hear your attorney, but probably won’t be able to see them.
In most cases, the judge will set a bond at First Appearance. If not, your attorney will need to schedule a bond hearing for you.
If bond was denied at First Appearance, the next step is to set a Bond Hearing. At that hearing, your attorney can argue to the court that you should be released on bond. In order to do that, your attorney will need to convince the judge that you are not a flight risk or a danger to the community. For more information about Bond Hearings in Okaloosa County, click here.
This is your first court appearance. There are three things that will happen at your arraignment:
- A not guilty plea will be entered on your behalf;
- You will be advised of the charges against you; and
- The judge will ask whether you intend to hire a private attorney or if you would prefer to have the public defender represent you.
If you hire a criminal defense lawyer before your plea day, you will not have to appear at this court date. Your attorney can file a Written Plea of Not Guilty and Waiver of Arraignment. This should excuse you from court. It is always a good idea to verify this with your attorney’s office so that there is no chance of you getting a Failure to Appear (FTA).
This court date will happen 1-2 months after your plea day. At the Pretrial Conference, the judge wants to talk with your attorney and the prosecutor and make sure that both sides are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. If depositions are being scheduled, that will be discussed at this hearing. If there are issues with the State not turning over discovery, that will be addressed here.
If you are wondering if you will have to attend this hearing, it depends. Some of the felony judges in Okaloosa County require you to be present, and some do not. Once we know which judge is assigned to your case, we can let you know either way.
This is the last court date before a case gets scheduled for Jury Trial. You will be required to attend this hearing. This is where we announce to the judge what is going to happen with your case. There are really only three things that could happen:
- Your case is set for trial;
- Your case is continued to the next month; or
- Your case is resolved with a plea agreement
Before we go to Docket Day, we will have extensive conversations about your case, your options, and our plan. That way, we aren’t scrambling at the last minute at the courthouse.
In every felony criminal case in Okaloosa County and throughout the State of Florida, you have the right to have your case decided by a jury. At your trial, the State will have the burden of proof, and must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt before you can be found guilty.
If the jury finds you not guilty, the case is over. If the jury finds you guilty, they are excused and you will most likely be taken into custody. A few weeks after the guilty verdict, the judge will impose your sentence at a sentencing hearing. At that hearing, you can present evidence to the judge arguing for a lesser sentence.
Call an Okaloosa County Criminal Defense Attorney and Get the Help You Need
I hope the information on this page has been helpful. If we meet about your case, we’ll be glad to explain each step in more detail.
If you are facing a felony charge in Fort Walton Beach, call Flaherty & Merrifield at (850) 243-6097 for a free, confidential case review.