If you’ve been accused or charged with a criminal offense in Florida, then you may be feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of litigation. Unlike many civil disputes, prosecution for a criminal offense is fundamentally high-stakes — you could not only be subject to various fines and other regulatory penalties (i.e., loss of professional licensing, etc.), but could also be facing a term of imprisonment.
There are many other ramifications should you be convicted, too — it could significantly impact your ability to obtain and maintain employment in the future, and could damage your reputation in your community.
We encourage prospective criminal defendants to get in touch with the experienced Sarasota criminal defense attorneys here at Fowler Law Group for immediate assistance. Call us at (941) 900-3100 or complete an online intake form to schedule an initial consultation. Our team has decades of experience working with a range of criminal defendants, from those who have been charged with a DUI to those who have been accused of theft. Over the years, we have secured favorable results for numerous clients, helping them avoid criminal penalties and reintegrate into society (relatively) unscathed.
Many first-time defendants have a vague understanding of the law — whether due to popular media about criminal litigation, like “Law & Order.” As such, there are a lot of misconceptions that continue to dominate the public conversation about criminal litigation. We’d like to take a short time to cover some basic questions that first-time defendants may have, and to clarify any latent misconceptions.
Q: If I Lose the Civil Case, Does That Mean I’ll Lose the Criminal Case, Too?
Not at all. First, it’s important to note that criminal litigation tends to take priority over civil litigation, so it’s unlikely that your civil case will be handled before your criminal case. Regardless, the fundamental issue is that of the “standard of proof,” which is different between civil and criminal litigation.
In civil litigation, the applicable standard of proof is “preponderance of the evidence”: stated mathematically, you will be found liable if the evidence proves that you are at least 51 percent likely to have committed the violative conduct at-issue. This is a rather loose standard that allows plaintiffs to impose liability in cases where the evidence is not necessarily airtight.
By contrast, in criminal litigation, the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt”: stated mathematically, you will be found liable if the evidence proves that you are at least 99 percent likely to have committed the violative conduct at-issue. This is a strict standard that imposes liability only in near-certain criminal scenarios. If you can create even the slightest amount of doubt as to your guilt, then you will (ostensibly) be able to avoid criminal liability.
Given these two different standards of proof, it’s common for defendants to avoid liability in the criminal case, but to be held civilly liable for damages.
Q: Do I Have to Litigate the Case, or Is There Some Alternative Path to Resolving the Issue?
Litigation is actually quite uncommon in the criminal law context. Most criminal cases are resolved prior to litigation, through one of two paths:
1) the prosecution and defendant negotiate a plea deal, resulting in the charges being dropped altogether, or a reduced sentence recommendation; or
2) a successful pre-trial motion (such as a motion to suppress) ensures that the defendant avoids liability altogether by undermining the prosecution’s case.
Negotiating a plea deal is a great choice in some cases, where both sides may be feeling uncertain about the outcome (should the case proceed to trial) and are willing to meet somewhere in the middle.
On the other hand, pre-trial motions are an effective way of avoiding liability if you can put together a persuasive argument. For example, if law enforcement did not legally obtain the evidence which the prosecution is intending to present at trial, then you can file a motion to suppress to prohibit the introduction of such evidence — doing so may deeply undermine the prosecution’s arguments, giving you a near-guaranteed win and forcing the prosecution to drop the case entirely.
Q: Will My Confession Lead to an Automatic Loss at Trial?
Confessions are not sufficient to lead to a guilty verdict. The prosecution must still introduce evidence that corroborates the confession. For example, if there is no proof that the crime was even committed, then your confession is irrelevant to the prosecution’s case. Similarly, if there is proof of a violent crime, but also clear evidence that you were not present at the time of its commission, then your confession will not lead to a guilty verdict by virtue of its irrelevance.
Q: My Current Attorney Is Not Doing a Satisfactory Job. Can I Replace Them With a New Attorney While Proceedings Are Ongoing?
You are entitled to replace your current defense attorney with a new one, even while litigation is ongoing, but you will have to secure the permission of the court.
Generally speaking, the court will grant a request, unless they find that your request unreasonably delays litigation, or that it creates a situation that creates significant barriers for the prosecution and prevents them from “making their case.” It’s also worth noting that hiring a new defense attorney may lead to additional costs and expenses, so bear that in mind as you consider this option.
We encourage you to contact a skilled team of Sarasota criminal defense attorneys to learn more about your options.
Q: Is It Safe for Me to Tell My Attorney the Truth About the Crime, or Will They Be Required by Law to Reveal It?
It is safe — and encouraged — to tell your attorney the truth about the criminal offense at-issue and your role in its commission. In Florida, your attorney is required by law to maintain confidentiality in accordance with the attorney-client privilege. They cannot reveal such disclosures to the court or any other third-party.
It’s critical that defendants be honest with their attorneys. Many defendants do not realize that their conduct might not give rise to criminal liability, despite initial perceptions. As such, they may be under the mistaken belief that they have committed a crime and are “actually” guilty without understanding the elements necessary to establish such liability under the law.