I Want to Get this Case over With, What Can I Do?

Guilty and No Contest Pleas

A client can change his plea of not guilty to either “guilty” or “no contest” at any time. A guilty or no contest plea can also be negotiated between the prosecutor, the defense attorney and the client. In exchange for the client’s acceptance of the negotiated plea, the prosecutor may drop or reduce charges, or agree to a lesser sentence. If the prosecutor makes a plea offer, the defense attorney has an ethical duty to tell the client about the plea offer, even if the client has previously told the attorney that he wants to go to trial. Before accepting the guilty or no contest plea, the judge will question the client to make sure that he understands his rights; there was no improper pressure to accept the plea; the client knows what he is doing; he voluntarily agrees to the plea, and evidence in the case supports a finding of guilt. The client has the right to accept or reject a plea offer. If the judge accepts the plea, the judge will then proceed to sentence the client. When the client pleads guilty or no contest, the client gives up significant rights and may face serious consequences. For a more detailed listing of other consequences of a conviction, you may download the document by clicking here.
 

Consequences of a Guilty or No Contest Plea

When a client enters a guilty or no contest plea, he relinquishes certain rights, such as the right to:

  • Investigate the case further
  • Proceed to trial
  • Be tried by a jury
  • Have an attorney represent him at trial
  • Compel the attendance of witnesses at trial
  • Confront witnesses who testify against him
  • Testify at trial
  • Remain silent at trial
  • Appeal

Non-U.S. citizens may face deportation as a result of being found guilty of committing a crime. Felony and misdemeanor convictions, and under some circumstances juvenile adjudications, can be used to enhance state and federal sentences. Everyone convicted of a felony in Florida has to submit their DNA for it to be included in the state’s DNA database. A conviction could impact a person's ability to work, live in public housing or rent an apartment, and obtain college grants or scholarships.

Additionally, convicted felons lose access to certain federal benefits, the right to vote, serve in the military, own or possess a firearm, hold public office, serve on a jury and may have a difficult time obtaining a job because in Florida criminal court records are public records. In most cases, a convicted felon can apply to have his civil rights restored through the clemency process after completing the sentence.

For additional information on how to apply for clemency (restore civil rights), click here.
 

Probation

Probation is an alternative to being sentenced to jail or prison, and as such carries significant limitations on the client’s liberties. The judge, using the sentencing guidelines (also referred to as the punishment code), may sentence a client to probation or community control (house arrest) instead of — or in addition to — serving time in jail or prison. A felony probationer is under the supervision of the Florida Department of Corrections and must abide by its rules until the sentence is completed. Probation may take the form of community control, an intensely supervised and restrictive program in which a probation officer makes regular unannounced visits to the probationer’s home and may electronically monitor the probationer’s movements. In addition to the visits, the probationer will regularly report to a probation officer, receive permission from his probation officer before changing addresses or jobs or leaving the county, and must not commit any new crimes or abuse drugs or alcohol while on probation or community control. If the probation officer believes that the probationer has violated any of the conditions of the probation, the officer can file an affidavit alleging the specific violations and may ask the judge to hold a hearing to determine if the probationer is in violation. A probationer can be arrested and held in jail pending the probation violation hearing. At the hearing, if the judge finds that the probationer violated the terms, the judge may revoke the probation and sentence the client to jail or prison or extend the probationary period. If the judge finds the probationer did not violate the terms of probation, the probationer is restored to probation.
 

Fees, Costs and Restitution

The services of the Public Defender are not free unless the client is acquitted (found not guilty) or the charges are dismissed. If the judge makes a finding of guilt after plea or trial, the judge may require the client to pay attorney’s fees for the reasonable value of the services the Public Defender provided, court costs and restitution. The judge can require the payment of the costs and fees as a condition of the sentence or can impose a lien on the client’s property. If they are not imposed as a lien, the Clerk of the Court will enroll the client in a payment plan. Additionally, a judgment may be filed against the client for the attorney's fees, court costs and restitution.

 

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Law Offices of the Public Defender
Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida

 

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