Ita M. Neymotin, Regional Counsel

Misdemeanor Case Process

The term "misdemeanor" in Florida means any criminal offense that is punishable under the laws of this state by a term of imprisonment in a county correctional facility, not in excess of 1 year.

A. Jurisdiction

Misdemeanors are handled in County Courts (unless coupled with a felony).

B. Types

Misdemeanors are broken down into two categories:

Second Degree: These crimes are punishable by a max of 60 days in the county jail.

First Degree: These are crimes are punished by a maximum of one year in the county jail.

C. Custody

For misdemeanors a person may be accused of a criminal violation in two different ways. First, a person may either be given a Notice to Appear which is a written order from a law enforcement officer informing a person that they have been accused of committing a crime and they shall appear at court on a specific day and time. Secondly, a person may be arrested by law enforcement and brought into custody, pending a hearing.

D. Court

Here is a general overview of the court process. Note different hearings and scenarios may occur, please consult your attorney.

1. First Appearance

When a defendant is arrested and brought into custody, they must appear before a judge within 24 hours of their arrest. This is known as a First Appearance. At First Appearance, a Judge will inform the accused of the charges and that the accused is entitled to counsel and may consult them. A Judge will determine if the accused is released from custody. The Judge makes his or her decision on; 1. severity of the crime, 2. flight risk and attachment to their community, 3. whether the accused is a danger to the community. Then,three outcomes may occur. The accused may be released on their own recognizance (ROR), in which the court releases the accused based on their promise to appear at the next court hearing. The second outcome is the Judge sets a bond in which, they order the accused to post a monetary bond in exchange for their release. Finally, a Judge may order that the accused may not be released before trial and held in custody (in certain circumstances). In Florida there is a presumption of pretrial release.

2. Arraignment

A defendant appears before a judge, where they are read formal charges by a state attorney (prosecutor). At this point a defendant may enter a plea of either not guilty, nolo contendere (not contesting the charges), or guilty. In some instances, counsel may have the arraignment waived in writing to the court. If accused enters a plea of not guilty, they are given adequate time to prepare for trial.

3. Docket Sounding

Most jurisdictions will hold a pre-trial proceeding (often known as a docket sounding) to determine the status of a case, take a plea, or set a case for trial. In some instances, a continuance, or another proceeding is allowed so that either side may further prepare or investigate the case.

4. Trial

In Florida, the accused is granted the right to a trial by jury if a potential punishment is incarceration. During a trial, the state attorney and the accused present evidence to the jury for each criminal charge. The Judge will decide issues of law that may or may not be presented to the jury. The jury is then charged with deliberating (discussing among themselves) which set of facts the jury more likely believes. They must be unanimous in their decision (all agree to the same result). If a jury does not believe the State Attorney has proved a case beyond a reasonable doubt, then the jury must return a verdict of not guilty. If the juror believes the State Attorney has proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt, then the jury must return a verdict of guilty. If the jury is unable to reach a unanimous decision after considerable deliberation, the judge may grant a mistrial, and new trial date set.

5. Sentencing

Sentencing may occur after trial or on a separate date depending if specific circumstances warrant it. The accused may either have:

A fine imposed


Jail time

A sentence may be a combination of the above, for example, 3 months jail followed by 6 months of probation. Sentencing may include other criteria which the court finds necessary. For example, a drug treatment facility for drug offenses.


Disclaimer: None of the above constitutes legal advice. Please consult your attorney to discuss your case.