While no two cases are the same, the legal process for every criminal case in St. Petersburg is. This article has been written as a guide for navigating the criminal justice system in St. Petersburg. It will address what you can expect regardless of whether your charge is a misdemeanor or a felony. If you or a loved one is in the Pinellas County Jail or has just been released, this is the information you will need to understand the system. Whether this is the first time that you are in trouble, or have had prior run-ins with the law, this article will help.
Ways You Can be Arrested
There are two ways that you can be arrested for a criminal charge in St. Petersburg– probable cause or by a warrant. An arrest based on probable cause is by far the most common. It simply means that based on the law enforcement officer’s education, training, and experience, he believes that you have committed a crime and has taken you to the Pinellas County Jail. I estimate that 90% of all arrests are done in this manner. Whether it is DUI, domestic battery, or anything else, once the officer established probable cause, you are going to jail.
The second way that you can be arrested is through a warrant or capias. In this situation, the case has already been sent to a prosecutor by the police and they have determined that you should be charged with a crime. A warrant could happen because the police couldn’t find you to arrest you, so they took it to the prosecutor. Cases that involve the sale of drugs also normally end up this way because the police don’t want to “burn” an informant or undercover officer. Warrant arrests are also common with financial crimes and unlicensed contracting. These types of cases require more investigation and thus will normally be completed with the assistance of a prosecutor prior to the warrant being issued.
The main difference between a probable cause arrest and a warrant arrest is whether you have been formally charged. In the case of a warrant arrest, you have already been formally charged with a crime and you are going to have to go to court. In the case of most probable cause arrests, you have not been formally charged. The exception is for traffic crimes such as DUIs.
After a DUI arrest, the citation serves as the formal charging document, so you will have to go to court. But for the majority of all probable cause arrests, you have only been arrested for a crime, not charged with a crime. There is a big difference. This is a big advantage for you because there is a chance that with the help of a criminal defense attorney, you can get the charge dismissed.
Getting Out of Jail
Getting out of jail as quickly and as cheaply as possible should be your biggest concern. The Pinellas County Jail is a dump and the staff that run it simply do not care about you or your well-being. They are so overcrowded that they don’t even have enough beds for each person. Do you know that once the beds are filled up, they give people plastic bins (they call them boats) to sleep on? It is unreal to see in person.
Options to get out of jail- Every person is entitled to see a judge within 24 hours of the arrest. This is called a first appearance hearing or advisory hearing. All advisories are heard at the Pinellas County Justice Center. Defendants appear via a closed circuit television feed, while the judge, lawyers, and witnesses are all in a designated courtroom. On weekends, all advisories are heard at 8:30AM. During the week, misdemeanor advisories are at 8:30AM and felony advisories are at 1:30PM. Domestic battery misdemeanor advisories are heard at 11:00AM.
For almost all cases, a bond will be set for you by the jail as soon as you get there. The amount of the bond is determined by an administrative order. If you have been charged with a VOP or an act of domestic violence, you must be held with no bond until you see a judge. But, for almost all other charges, you are free to post bond and be released. If you cannot get a bond posted in time, or do not have the money to do so, a judge can reduce your bond at advisory. But, going to an advisory is not always a good thing. The judges in Pinellas County have fallen in love with the idea that most people arrested for an alcohol related crime (like DUI) should be released with an ankle monitor called Continuous Alcohol Monitoring (CAM). This monitor detects the presence of alcohol in the body and reports it back to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Not only does it cost $10/day, it is very inaccurate, and full of glitches and false positives.
For crimes that involve a victim, the advisory judges have fallen in love with ordering a GPS ankle monitor that keeps you at least 500 feet away from certain areas. This is another ridiculous and unnecessary penalty that has become standard. Also, if you have a prior record, you can be certain that the prosecutor will bring up every arrest to the judge at the advisory in an effort to increase the penalty to you. Thus, staying in jail long enough to see a judge carries risk.
While in Jail
While you are in jail, I have one main piece of advice. Stay off the phone. Every call that you make to someone other than an attorney is recorded and listened to. I cannot tell you how many times statements that my clients make come back to bite them. It is fine to talk about what they have accused you of, but never talk about the facts of the case. My office phone number (727) 381-2300 is on the list of exempt and non-recordable numbers and you can even call collect. When in doubt, call a lawyer.
My second piece of advice is that if you are still in jail and have no contact condition with a victim, don’t call that person. It is a violation of your bond and an additional crime. They always find out too, so don’t be stupid. Your lawyer can contact the victim legally, just be patient and get someone hired.
When Will I Have to go to Court?
The goal is to never have to go to court after an arrest. But, that cannot always be prevented. As mentioned in the above, if you have been arrested based on probable cause, your case then gets referred to an Assistant State Attorney for investigation. It is during this investigation window that you have the best chance to get your charges dropped. When I am hired during this window (it usually lasts 2-3 weeks), I am able to get in the ear of the prosecutor and tell my client’s side of the story. This works quite often, the charges get dropped and my client is free.
But, if we are not successful in getting all of the charges dropped, if you have a DUI citation with a court date on the ticket, or if you have been charged by a Direct Information and been picked up on a warrant, then you will have to go to court. Make sure that the address that the Pinellas County Clerk of Court has is accurate and that you are checking your mail. The Clerk is only obligated to mail you a court notice to the address listed in their records, so if it is wrong, if you moved without telling them, or you don’t check your mail, you might miss your court date. When I am hired, I always get a copy of the notice and tell my clients about whether they have to go to court. But, help your lawyer out and just make sure the address is correct so you don’t have a problem.
What Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Do to Help?
I realize that getting arrested in St. Petersburg has big consequences on your life. My goals are to keep your record clean, avoid jail, and minimize the penalties. I pride myself on preparing my clients unlike anyone else. My philosophy is to make you different from the tens of thousands of other people that come through the Pinellas County criminal justice system every year. You do not get a better deal simply because you have the money to hire a private defense lawyer. You get the better deal because an excellent lawyer like me identifies what you need to do to fix your problem. If your criminal trouble was the result of drugs or alcohol, you need to get clean, sober, and get into treatment. If your crime was the result of losing your temper, then you need to get into anger management. When you go into court with me by your side, the judges and the prosecutors know that you have been correctly prepared to gain leniency. My strategies work.
Being in the criminal justice system is not a good place to be. But, if you find yourself in this position, please contact me for a free consultation. I will work hard to get the case over with and get your life back on track.