At St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney Sean McQuaid, I specialize in representing people charged with misdemeanors in Pinellas County. For my entire career, my criminal defense practice has been specialized in Pinellas County only. Being a local lawyer has enabled me to develop a strong reputation among the judiciary and develop strong relationships with the prosecutors in the Office of the State Attorney. Unlike lawyers from other cities or counties, I know what happens with your case and what will be expected of you.
There are two types of criminal cases in Pinellas County-misdemeanors and felonies. This article deals exclusively with misdemeanor charges in Pinellas County. If you are under investigation, have received a notice to appear, or have been arrested for a misdemeanor in Pinellas County, then I encourage you to read this guide to learn more about your situation.
What is a Misdemeanor?
Misdemeanors fall into two categories. A first degree misdemeanor is the more serious of the two. It is punishable by up to 1 year in the Pinellas County Jail and a fine of $1,000. A second degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to 60 days in the Pinellas County Jail and a $500 fine. You cannot be sentenced to the Department of Corrections State Prison for only a misdemeanor.
What are Common Misdemeanor Charges?
People often get confused about the type of charge they are facing. They get concerned that they are going to jail or get a conviction. But, usually misdemeanors charges do not warrant jail. And, only felony convictions normally have the type of devastating consequences to future employment that people are worried about. That does not mean that misdemeanors are not serious and carry harsh penalties. The State Attorney’s Office prosecutes misdemeanor cases similarly to how it prosecutes felony cases.
There are certain types of charges that are almost always misdemeanors. Some examples are First Time DUIs, Domestic Battery, Disorderly Conduct/Intoxication, Possession of Marijuana (under 20 grams), Driving While License Suspended, and Leaving the Scene of an Accident. This list is not exhaustive, but is a good starting point as a reference.
How do Misdemeanor Charges in Pinellas County Begin?
There are four ways that you can be charged with a misdemeanor crime in Pinellas County and throughout the State of Florida.
Direct Filing of the Charge
This is the least common situation, but can be the most surprising to unsuspecting defendants. In this situation, you would likely have been aware that the police were involved in investigating the allegation that you committed a crime. But, it is likely that you did not hear anything about the investigation for several months and probably thought the case had gone away. However, when you received a notice in the mail setting a misdemeanor charge for an Arraignment, you found out that this was not the case. In the situation of a direct filed charge, the police do not arrest or charge a defendant for any variety of reasons. Maybe the police did not know what to do or were unsure whether charges were warranted. Maybe they simply couldn’t find the defendant in order to arrest him or her. But, whatever the case, the police officer turned the case over to a prosecutor and asked them to make a decision. In a direct filed case, the prosecutor investigates the case and then files the charge directly without an arrest. The judge then sets the case for an Arraignment for you to come in and answer the charge. Again, this is the least common scenario, but can be the most surprising for people who think they are in the clear. The only way to protect yourself from a direct filed charge is to hire a lawyer once you realize you may be under investigation. A lawyer is the only one who will be able to track down the location of the case, find the prosecutor, and give your side of the story in an effort to prevent the charges being filed.
Notice to Appear
If you have received a notice to appear, consider yourself fortunate in light of the circumstances. While a notice to appear technically begins a criminal case, it avoids an arrest and signals to the court that the offense wasn’t that serious. In fact, Pinellas County has a mass Notice to Appear calendar specifically for these types of charges. Most of the cases that begin with a Notice to Appear get resolved with a lenient plea bargain on this Arraignment calendar.
A citation or traffic ticket to begin a criminal case is specifically for misdemeanor traffic offenses. Examples are Driving with a suspended license, leaving the scene of an accident, reckless driving, attaching a tag not assigned, etc. For these cases, you will be given a court date for an Arraignment on the actual citation or ticket. These cases are normally set in either North or South County Traffic Court. Again, while the penalties can still be harsh, the benefit is that you have avoided an arrest (except in the case of a DUI).
Being arrested for a misdemeanor offense is the most common way that a case is started. The vast majority of arrest cases are based on probable cause. This means that even though you have been arrested, you are not formally charged with a crime until the case is investigated by a prosecutor and formal charges are filed. It is during this investigation period that a criminal defense attorney can influence the decision about whether to file, what to file, or even dismiss it. There is one exception to probable cause arrests-DUIs. Even though you are arrested based on probable cause for DUI, unless you have other criminal charges along with it, the case does not go to the prosecutor for investigation. In the case of DUIs, you receive a traffic citation/ticket which serves as the formal charging document. So, the unfortunate side to DUIs are that not only do you get charged, but they require an arrest. While this may change at some point, the State Attorney’s Office has a strict zero tolerance policy about DUIs at this time.
Where Will My Case Be Assigned?
All misdemeanor cases are assigned either to North County Traffic Court on US 19 or the Third Floor of the Pinellas County Justice Center on 49th St. N. Both are considered to be county courts, which have specific jurisdiction over misdemeanor cases.
How Long Do Misdemeanor Cases Last?
According to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.191, a defendant has the right to go to a jury trial within 90 days from the date of the arrest. This rule is called speedy trial. However, it is unusual that this rule is actually invoked because it is rarely in the defendant’s favor to push a case to a jury trial within that time frame. Therefore, in most cases, speedy trial is waived. A normal misdemeanor case in Pinellas County will last a few months. If you are charged with DUI in either North or South County Traffic Court, your case will likely last even longer. The traffic courts are notorious for being slow due to high caseloads and slow response times by the prosecutors.
Are There Alternatives to Jail?
Unless your misdemeanor case is aggravated or you have a long list of priors, it is unlikely that you will do jail time. But, if you do fall into one of these categories and jail is being sought, you have options. There is one caveat, however. In certain cases, jail is mandatory. For example, if you have been arrested for a DUI within 5 years of the date of a previous DUI conviction, you are required to serve a minimum of 10 days in the Pinellas County Jail. But, for all other cases, a jail alternative is a Continuous Alcohol Monitor, or CAM. This device detects the presence of alcohol in the body. CAM monitors have become a favorite sentencing tool for the judges in Pinellas.
Contact a Misdemeanor Defense Attorney
At St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney Sean McQuaid, I have handled every type of misdemeanor charge successfully. Because I specialize in Pinellas County, I know every prosecutor and every judge in the county and am familiar with their preferences. A misdemeanor may not sound serious, but they are aggressively prosecuted in Pinellas County. There are often many hidden penalties that an unrepresented defendant is not aware about until it is too late. By hiring a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible, we will be able to devise a strategy for the defense of your case. I always come up with a “game plan” or “to do” list for every client facing a charge. Sometimes this list involves getting witness information or other evidence and sometimes it requires you to be proactive about fixing the situation. Whatever the defensive strategy, I can help your situation. If you or a loved one is facing a misdemeanor charge in Pinellas County and you have questions about the case, please contact me immediately for a consultation.