When you need a criminal defense attorney, it is best to locate one that handles the type of crime the authorities accused you of. Additionally, it would be best if you also chose an attorney that has the experience you need. Some attorneys only handle misdemeanors, some only traffic, and others will handle everything from traffic to felonies. It would be best if you also chose an attorney with experience in appeals and, depending on your circumstances, federal appeals. In Florida, attorneys must apply to represent clients in federal appellate courts.
While some attorneys have experience in all areas of criminal law, including major felonies, such as murder and rape, some keep their practice to traffic and/or misdemeanor courts. They might refer potential clients to attorneys with more experience in felonies if the client has a complex felony case. Some who want the experience of handling felonies might work with more experienced attorneys – and some try to get the experience on their own. If you have a complex felony case, always check to ensure the attorney you choose has experience or will work as co-counsel with a more experienced attorney like those at Panella Law Firm.
Misdemeanor Defense Attorneys
A misdemeanor criminal defense attorney might handle cases such as simple trespassing or minor felony trespassing, theft, drug offenses, and other misdemeanor crimes. These cases often do not have the complexity of major felony cases, such as murder, and are usually finished much quicker than felonies.
Traffic Defense Attorneys
In Florida, the civil traffic court has its own rules and regulations, including those that relate to license suspension and revocation. Criminal traffic cases are handled in the criminal courts at the county or circuit levels. Most criminal defense attorneys handle traffic violations, whether civil or criminal, as these cases are usually dispatched quickly. Some attorneys specify certain traffic offenses, such as DUI, as those cases can become complex, especially if the police accuse you of causing catastrophic injuries or killing someone in a DUI accident.
Examples of criminal traffic offenses include
- Reckless driving;
- Leaving a child unattended;
- Driving with a suspended license;
- Driving under the influence;
- Refusing a breath test;
- Driving with an expired or invalid license;
- Driving without a motorcycle endorsement;
- Passing a stopped school bus; and
- Willful and wanton traffic violations, and more.
Felony Defense Attorneys
If the police accused you of a felony, especially a major felony, such as rape or murder, you need an attorney with experience handling these complex cases. If the court convicts you of the charges against you, it is a significant life-changing experience, especially if you are innocent.
In many cases, felony cases progress to state appellate courts, the state supreme court, or even federal appellate and supreme courts. These higher courts have additional rules that apply to how an attorney represents you. The attorneys who practice in these courts often have extensive experience in criminal cases at the state and federal levels.
If you’ve ever tried to fight a ticket, you most likely heard the term “traffic court.” Generally, civil traffic infractions are handled by “traffic courts,” while criminal traffic violations are handled by the criminal courts at the county and circuit levels.
If you don’t have an attorney with experience handling cases in traffic, circuit, or county court, you could lose your license, pay higher fines, or even spend more time in jail. Traffic cases could become complex if the officer made a mistake while arresting you or you were accused of a traffic crime when you had a medical problem. If you are charged with a criminal traffic offense, you need a criminal defense attorney.
The differences between county and circuit courts are mostly minor and often included in the county’s local rules. However, some attorneys prefer misdemeanors as they are less likely to head to the appellate court and more likely to finish sooner rather than later. A misdemeanor might be a non-violent trespassing case, petty theft, shoplifting, domestic violence, disorderly conduct, DUI cases, and drug offenses.
Because being convicted of a felony is life-changing, especially if you are innocent of that felony – you might be guilty of a lower charge or completely innocent. For example, if the court convicted you of murder, but you were defending yourself, you could spend years or even the rest of your life in jail for a crime you didn’t commit. Just because you killed someone doesn’t necessarily mean you committed murder.
While the court dismisses some of these cases because you are clearly innocent, it could also sentence you. If you know you are innocent, you will have to appeal. Additionally, although the court believes you are innocent, the state could appeal the court’s ruling – that is the time you need an experienced criminal appellate attorney.
The Four Types of Courts in Florida
The court system has a hierarchy of courts. Most attorneys can practice in county courts and circuit courts – the two trial courts in Florida. County courts have at least one judge in each of Florida’s 67 counties.
Circuit courts are higher than county courts. The number of judges depends on the caseload for each county. As of 2023, circuit courts had 599 judges throughout the state. The judges in both courts are elected for six-year terms.
The district court of Appeals is the next highest court, and the supreme court is the highest court on the state level. The district appellate courts have 64 judges that serve six-year terms over five districts in the state. Finally, the supreme court has seven justices that serve six-year terms. The Florida Supreme Court is located in Tallahassee.
Choosing the Correct Attorney for Your Florida Criminal Case
With so many choices of attorneys, you might feel overwhelmed in trying to pick the best attorney for your situation. When you have a more complex case, choose an attorney with experience in the appellate courts to ensure you don’t have to change attorneys in the middle of your case, should it go that far.
If someone accuses you of a crime, contact a criminal defense appellate attorney to represent your interests and ensure your rights are not violated, especially if you are accused of a felony. A criminal defense attorney at Panella Law Firm can help you defend yourself against misdemeanor and felony criminal allegations.
MT: Choosing the Correct Criminal Defense Attorney in Orlando, FL