In some cases, you can face criminal charges in Florida without ever being arrested for a crime. Conversely, you can still avoid any criminal charges for the underlying offense just because you have been arrested.
According to a Florida Criminal Defense Attorney, this distinction too often creates confusion among criminal defendants.
Being Arrested vs. Being Charged
For starters, it’s essential to know that an arrest is not necessarily required before you face charges for a criminal violation. Instead, the criminal violation could result in a citation with a notice appearing in court on a specific date. This means you can be charged without being taken to jail or formally arrested. But if you or your defense attorney failed to appear in court on the specific date, the Florida court could issue a warrant for your arrest.
Usually, law enforcement forwards the police report to the state attorney, who will review it, examine the evidence, and determine whether to file criminal charges. The state attorney will decide what charges to file if you face criminal charges and bring them to court. Regardless if you’re out of custody or in custody at the time, the state attorney can elect to file the criminal charges. So, it does not matter if you were released from custody without going to jail, the state attorney can still file the charges in court.
Alternatively, being arrested by police officers doesn’t always mean the state attorney will file criminal charges against you. For example, the attorney could decide not to file any charges because they notice errors during your arrest or doubt the eyewitnesses’ reliability. In other cases, the state attorney can conclude that there’s insufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. Please remember the state attorney needs to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the law enforcement’s case is weak, the state attorneys can choose not to file any charges.
As you can see, there are no certainties in any case. Being arrested doesn’t mean charges will be filed against you any more than going to prison guarantees that charges will be filed.
How Long Does the Florida State Have to File Charges?
Interestingly, the timeline varies on whether you were arrested or not. If you were arrested in Florida, the state has to bring you to trial before the deadline (known as a speedy trial) expires. Under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.191, the speedy trial expires in 90 days for a misdemeanor arrest, and for a felony, the timeline runs in 175 days.
If you haven’t been arrested, the timeline may be confusing. The state’s timeline can be determined based on two things:
- The statute of limitations
- Your constitutional right to a speedy trial, which is entirely different from the 90 and 175-day statutory time limits
Florida has up to three to four years to arrest you in any crime, depending upon the severity of the charge. For a first-degree felony, the prosecutors could file charges within four years.
The limit is three years for all other felonies, and for a first-degree misdemeanour, they have two years to file charges. So basically, for prosecutors, the clock starts running when the crime was allegedly committed.