Florida Trial Procedure

Those who plead not guilty at their arraignment have their case sent to trial. The only way to avoid this is to alter the plea; defendants may also avoid trial if the prosecution chooses to dismiss the case. Criminal trials in Florida consist of jury trials and non-jury or bench trials. Non-jury trials mostly occur for minor cases; the prosecutor, defendant, and judge must all agree on this type of trial to pursue it. In a bench trial, the judge is the only person who decides whether a crime was committed and whether the defendant is criminally responsible. There is no jury to weigh in on the case.

Jury trials are more complicated than bench trials. Lawyers and judges select juries through the process of “voir dire.” They must choose a panel of six from a group of up to thirty potential jurors. The State and the defense receive the opportunity to question the selected jury members to identify bias or prejudice. Upon the completion of questioning, the State and the defense are allowed to strike members from a jury panel — each side has three strikes in misdemeanor trials and six strikes in felony trials. Jurors can also be removed if they state a fixed opinion that contradicts the law.

The sequestering of witnesses follows once the jury is selected. It is during this time that witnesses and jurors learn when to enter and exit the courtroom and that they may not discuss the case with each other or outside of the courtroom.

Opening Statements

The opening statements are not meant to be an argument but rather allows both sides to express to the jury what they think the evidence will ultimately show. The State has the burden of proof so they speak first. The defense follows.

Evidence Presentation

Upon the conclusion of opening statements, the State presents their case. The prosecution begins by calling witnesses to the stand. They may call these individuals in any order, but they all must be on the witness list. Once the State completes their direct examination, the defense can cross-examine all presented witnesses.

The goal of the defense is to strategically poke holes in the State’s arguments by highlighting mistakes, lack of information, and many other shortcomings of the direct examination.

Role of the Attorneys

Attorneys on both sides have the right to make objections for a number of reasons, which must be expressed at the time of the objection. The judge will rule on the objection directly or have the attorneys approach the bench to discuss the matter outside the presence of the jury. In some cases, the jury may even be removed from the courtroom to prevent them from hearing information that may sway their judgment.

Role of the Defendant

The defendant may not address the court directly but can address his or her attorney when the State presents misstatements or inconsistencies. The defense attorney is not required to act on every issue the defendant raises, as he or she has the final say as to what gets presented to the court.

Close of the State’s Case

When the State chooses to rest their case after presenting their arguments, the judge announces a court recess. The judge may also permit the defense to Motion for a Judgment of Acquittal (JOA) which means that the defense doesn’t believe that the State presented enough showing to send a particular charge to the jury to deliberate.

The Defense’s Case

The defense attorney’s goal is to use the State’s witnesses against them, which is why it is often unnecessary for the defense to present witnesses; however, the courts allow it. The same rules apply to the defense’s witnesses as the prosecution’s witnesses, allowing the State to cross-examine whoever is brought to the stand.

The defendant has the right to remain silent during court proceedings but also has the right to testify. The decision of whether to do so is between the defendant and his or her attorney and is often only pursued if the attorney believes that it could benefit the defense. Although this can be decided before the trial commences, it is often a decision made after the State closes their case.

State’s Rebuttal

The State may present a witness to rebut a particular point after the defense has rested their case. The witness must be on the witness list, and he or she must follow the same rules as all other witnesses. In rare circumstances, the defense may present a rebuttal witness to rebut the rebuttal. Although uncommon, it is permitted.

Closing Arguments

The closing arguments are presented at the conclusion of the case once all the evidence has been presented to the court. Attorneys on both sides use this time to bring together all of the aspects of their case and make their final addresses to the jury as to why the individual should be found guilty or innocent. The court provides both sides an equal amount of time to present their closing arguments.

For some, this time is used to highlight key points while others hone in on a specific exhibit to drive their point home. The State always has the right to the last argument which is called the “Sandwich”. The State goes first, the defense then goes and the State gets the last argument. It is unfair but basically the State gets two shots to convince the Jury.

Jury Decision

After closing arguments, the judge reminds the jury of the rules they must abide by, and the laws they may apply during their deliberation. The jury then retreats to the jury room where they deliberate and settle on a unanimous verdict of not guilty or guilty. If they cannot reach a unanimous verdict, the case is deemed a mistrial. At this point, the case returns to the jury selection phase.

If you are facing criminal prosecution in Central Florida, speak with the Orlando criminal defense lawyers at The Umansky Law Firm. We have the legal experience and knowledge necessary to provide zealous representation throughout the criminal trial process. Call 407-228-3838 for a free case evaluation or contact us online.

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