I was arrested and charged with a crime, what is the first thing I should do?
In order to protect your rights, the first action you will want to take is to seek legal representation. In the State of Florida, any person that has been charged with a crime has the right to seek the appointment of the Public Defender or to hire a private attorney. Most of the time, applying for the appointment of the Public Defender can come with a minimal application cost that is added to your court costs.
If I qualify, should I hire the Public Defender?
Each individual must make a personal decision about whom they will retain to protect their rights. There are pros and cons when utilizing the services of the Public Defender. While Public Defenders are known for their passion helping indigent clients and familiarity with the Judges they appear before, they are usually overwhelmed by significant caseloads. In fact, in recent years, several Public Defenders have sued the State to stop accepting new cases. This can prevent the client from spending significant time with their attorney. When facing a restraint on your freedom you have to weigh your options carefully.
What if I want to just plead guilty and get a case over with?
You have the right to plead guilty, however, entering a plea of guilty without having an attorney review your case is generally a very bad idea. At a minimum an attorney will educate you on your rights, review discovery, and provide you with an educated legal opinion about what course of actions you might want to pursue. If you walk into Court and plead guilty your sentencing will be at the discretion of the Judge. If you don’t like what they decide it is very hard to have it overturned.
Can I just call the prosecutor and tell them my side of the story?
That is always a possibility, but not a well-reasoned idea. Generally, every communication with a self-represented defendant is required to be in writing or on the record in court. Trying to defend yourself without an attorney is the equivalent to a patient diagnosing and treating their own disease. It may work out, but the risks far outweigh anything positive that could come from this avenue. A prosecutor’s job is to look out for the best interests of the citizens of the State of Florida. A prosecutor is beholden to their boss, the citizens of the State of Florida and elected officials. They are not obliged to provide you with your best outcome. An attorney will defend you and aggressively pursue what is in your best interests.