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The Criminal Process

Tampa Lawyers for Defendants in the Florida Justice System

At Hanlon Law, we guide the accused through the criminal justice system in Tampa and beyond. Often, for the accused, a criminal case starts with an arrest. However, the police may have been investigating and working on a case long before an arrest happens. You should consult an experienced Tampa criminal defense attorney as soon as you realize you are being investigated.

The Criminal Process

Police officers may make arrests with or without an arrest warrant. An arrest can be made without an arrest warrant where a police officer knows the warrant has been issued and is still in effect even though another police officer holds it, where an arresting officer has probable cause to believe a felony is being perpetrated and you’re the one perpetrating it, or when a misdemeanor is perpetrated in the officer’s presence. There are some misdemeanors for which an arrest can be made without a warrant, such as shoplifting or possessing under 20 grams of marijuana.


Booking occurs when someone who has been arrested is entered into the system. His or her belongings will be taken and inventoried. A police officer will take your fingerprints and mugshot during the booking process and these will be sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to determine whether there are any outstanding warrants in the Florida system. After you’ve been fully booked, you may be able to post bail. You may be released on your own recognizance if you were arrested for a nonviolent misdemeanor. If you’re not released on your own recognizance you’ll only be held up to 24 hours before a first appearance.

First Appearance or Arraignment

In Florida, anybody who is arrested has to be taken before a judicial officer within 24 hours of being arrested. A first appearance proceeding is held through closed circuit television with defendants staying in jail. The point of the first appearance is to take care of arraignment and adversary hearings. If you weren’t released on recognizance, the first appearance gives you a chance to make bond.

An arraignment is the formal court hearing in which formal charges are filed by the prosecutor. They’re read aloud and you’ll need to respond formally. It is wise to retain a criminal defense attorney in Tampa before the arraignment. At the arraignment, you can enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the charge. If you plead guilty, you are admitting you committed the crimes of which you’re accused. A no contest plea is one in which you neither admit nor deny you perpetrated the crimes at issue. A not guilty plea lets the court know you deny perpetrating crimes alleged by the prosecutor. If you plead not guilty, the court will set a trial date.


When you file your plea, your Tampa criminal defense lawyer can file a Notice of Discovery. A jury trial can be requested. The discovery notice requires your prosecutor to provide all evidence collected on your criminal charges. Your attorney is also supposed to provide whatever evidence is available; the goal is to make sure each side knows the other’s evidence.

Pretrial Phase

Sometimes the accused are eligible for pretrial intervention programs. These are often available for people who are first offenders, non-violent offenders or who have been charged with drug crimes. If you successfully finish a pretrial intervention program, the charges will be dismissed. However, there are some cases in which we may instead or also challenge how the police gathered evidence by bringing a motion to suppress evidence. When certain important evidence is excluded, it may be possible to get the case completely dismissed or negotiate a better plea.


When no plea bargain can be reached and you have pled not guilty, the case will go to trial. Trials may be held before juries or they may be bench trials, meaning that they are held before judges. If you are found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the next step is sentencing. The sentence may involve a term of incarceration, fines, probation, or community service. When a crime is more serious, such as murder, or where there are certain factors present, such as discharge or use of a firearm, you can face a longer sentence. There are some crimes, like drug trafficking, that involve a mandatory minimum sentence. Sex crimes can result in a requirement that you register as a sex offender for the rest of your life.

Consult an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Serving Tampa

If you’re being investigated or you’ve been arrested for a crime in Tampa, you’re probably concerned about the criminal process. Criminal defense attorney Will Hanlon of Hanlon Law can answer your questions and walk you through each step of your case. He has represented the accused since 1994 and understands what defenses are likely to be successful. Call Hanlon Law at (813) 228-7095 or contact us via our online form.

Client Reviews
I retained Mr. Hanlon for two cases... He handled both cases very quickly and without me present. The end result was all three charges on two separate cases were dismissed. I couldn't be more pleased with the service I received from Mr. Hanlon.
- Ashley
Excellent attorney! Will handled my petty theft case with the utmost professionalism and kept me informed of my options and choices every step of the way. The evidence was highly circumstantial and predatory, but luckily the whole case was null processed. I highly recommend Will because of his expertise and knowledge.
- Criminal Defense Client
Mr. Hanlon was extremely professional in handling my DUI case. His office was very helpful in answering all my questions. I was so pleased when he reduced my charge from a DUI to Reckless Driving. It was a weight off my shoulders. I would highly recommend him for any DUI case based on his high success rate in reducing the charges. Thanks again Mr. Hanlon.
- Steve