We can only imagine how terrifying and stressful it must be to be accused of a crime. Everything you have worked for, including your family, your career, and your freedom, is on the line.

The criminal process in Florida is intimidating and confusing for someone who is unfamiliar with it. This confusion can lead to making uninformed legal decisions that could drastically affect your case and your future.

My name is Tim Flaherty. I have been a criminal defense attorney in Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa County since 2001. My partner, Brandy Merrifield, has worked with me since 2007. Call us at (850) 243-6097 and let us help guide you through this process. In the meantime, this page has information that will hopefully answer some of your questions.

Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa County Criminal Court Process

The links below will give you information about a wide variety of topics that might be helpful for you.

Information Center on the Criminal Process in Florida

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Arrest or Notice to Appear in Court in Florida

Florida’s criminal process begins when an alleged offender is either given notice to appear in court, or is arrested by a law enforcement officer. If the individual is given a notice to appear, he or she will be notified of the time and date at which he or she is scheduled to make a first appearance in court.

To arrest a person, police must have probable cause that the person being arrested committed a crime. If a warrant is already active, police are allowed to arrest you wherever they find you.

If the defendant is arrested, he or she will be transported to the county jail to be “booked”. During the booking process your picture will be taken, your clothing and personal property will be taken into police custody, you will be fingerprinted, and the booking officer will check to see if you have any other warrants.

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First Appearance in Court

After an individual is arrested, he or she will usually make a first appearance within 48 hours after the arrest. During the first appearance, the defendant will appear before a judge to be informed of the charges against him or her. At this time, the defendant will be advised of his or her rights, and pretrial release conditions will be determined.

The most common form of pretrial release is bail. If the defendant is granted bail, he or she will be given the option of paying to be released from custody until the case has been decided at trial. If the alleged offender is denied bail, he or she will remain incarcerated until the conclusion of the trial.

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Plea Bargaining

If the prosecution shows that there is enough evidence for the defendant to stand trial for the charges against him or her, the defendant can be formally charged and scheduled for trial. At this time, either the prosecution or defense can initiate plea bargain negotiations. The objective of each side is to come to an agreement on what penalties the defendant will face in exchange for a guilty or no contest plea.

In many cases, a knowledgeable defense attorney is able to get the prosecution to agree to lesser penalties. This works for both sides because the prosecution does not have to risk losing at trial, and the defendant does not have to risk being sentenced to harsher penalties at trial.

The defense attorney will advise the defendant on his or her options, and make sure he or she has a clear understanding of the ramifications of each decision. However, the defendant has the final say in whether or not he or she will accept a plea agreement.

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At the arraignment, the defendant is officially presented with his or her charges. During this time, he or she will be asked to enter a formal plea of guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere (no contest). If the defendant pleads guilty or no contest, the case will move into the sentencing phase. If the defendant pleads not guilty, he or she will stand trial will be scheduled for further court appearances that could eventually lead to a trial, if the defendant so chooses.

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Pre-Trial Motions and Hearings

In the weeks and months leading up to trial, we can file motions to exclude evidence and motions to dismiss the charges.

In order for prosecutors to present evidence against you, that evidence must be admissible. Evidence found as the result of an illegal search and seizure is not admissible.

The Fourth Amendment gives everyone the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. If police are going to go into a place where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy, especially your home, then, most of the time, they must get a search warrant first.

If they fail to get a search warrant when they would need one, we can file a motion to suppress that evidence. Without that critical evidence, the prosecutor may have no case against you.

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Trial and Sentencing Phase in Okaloosa County

If the case goes to trial, the defendant will have the option of choosing between a trial by judge, and a trial by jury. If the alleged offender chooses a trial by judge, both the prosecution and defense will present their cases in front of a judge, and the judge will make a final decision on the guilt or innocence of the individual on trial.

If the defendant elects to have a trial by jury, both sides will present their cases to a jury. After both sides have presented their case, the jury will attempt to reach a unanimous decision on whether or not the defendant is guilty or not guilty. If they are unable to come to a unanimous decision, the case can be retried with a different set of jurors.

If a unanimous decision is made, and the jury decides the individual is not guilty, he or she will be released from custody immediately. If the jury reaches a guilty verdict, the defendant will be taken into custody and a sentencing hearing will take place between 14 and 90 days from the conclusion of trial.

During the sentencing hearing, the prosecution and defense will be able to present arguments to support their sentencing requests or recommendations. At this time, a judge will access penalties based on the recommendations of each side, along with the guidelines of the sentencing statutes in Florida.

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Florida Criminal Process Resources

First Judicial Circuit

The First Judicial Circuit covers the northwest corner of Florida, and includes Okaloosa County. There is an annex courthouse in Fort Walton Beach.

Fort Walton Beach Courthouse Annex
1940 Lewis Turner Blvd.
Fort Walton Beach, FL 32547

State Attorney, First Judicial Circuit, Shalimar Office

The State Attorney prosecutes offenses in the First Circuit.

Office of the State Attorney, 1st Judicial Circuit
1B Ninth Avenue
Shalimar, FL 32579

Crestview Courthouse

601 E James Lee Blvd B
Crestview, FL 32536

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Contact an Okaloosa County Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one have been charged with a crime in Okaloosa County, call Flaherty & Merrifield today at (850) 243-6097 for a free consultation.

Tim Flaherty
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Florida Criminal Defense Attorney