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How the Case Is Filed and Processed

Misdemeanor Offenses

Misdemeanor cases are filed by the police agency with the District Attorney's Office. If the District Attorney's Office decides to prosecute the case, a document is created called information. (The information is a written statement filed and presented on behalf of the State of Florida by the district attorney, charging the defendant with an offense.) It provides the defendant with notice as to the offense for which he stands charged.

Final Announcement Setting

At this setting, it is determined whether or not the person accused wishes to reach a plea bargain agreement with the Assistant District Attorney or to have a trial. In many courts, once a case is set for a trial of any kind, any plea bargain offer is considered rejected and may not be offered again.

Plea Setting

If a defendant chooses not to have a jury or bench trial, then the case is set for a plea. At the plea setting, a person enters a plea of either guilty or nolo contendre to the charges. (A plea of nolo contendre means that a person is not pleading guilty, but chooses to "not contest" the charges brought against him. It has the same legal effect as pleading guilty to the charge.) A person who pleads to the charge may accept either the plea bargain offered by the State or he may enter an open plea. An open plea means that the defendant has rejected the plea bargain and asks the judge to set punishment.

Trial Setting

Every person charged with a criminal offense has an absolute right to plead not guilty to the charge and have a trial by jury or a trial before a judge (bench trial). In either case, the State of Florida, through an Assistant District Attorney, must prove a person guilty of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt.

In a misdemeanor trial, there are six jurors who hear the evidence presented in the trial. At the felony level, there are 12 jurors. There are three possible phases to each jury trial. They are: voir dire (jury selection phase); guilt/ innocence phase (the time during the trial when evidence is presented); and, if the person is determined to be guilty, the punishment phase.

A jury's decision with regard to guilt or innocence must be unanimous (this means that all six or 12 people must reach the same conclusion as to the guilt or innocence of the person on trial). If the jury does not reach a unanimous verdict, the judge may declare a mistrial ( also known as a "hung jury") and the case may be retried.

A defendant who has been found guilty of an offense may choose whether the jury or the judge will_ set his or her punishment.

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