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From Arrest To Trial – How A Crime Becomes A Criminal Charge, Part I

Police procedurals and crime dramas are all over television these days. Such programs progress from crime, through investigation and trial, and end in conviction nicely and neatly in only 42 minutes. However, real life is not quite as neat and tidy as fiction. Below will be a discussion of the basics of an arrest and the decision to charge an arrested defendant in Florida and what you need to know if you find yourself arrested and facing charges.


Generally the process from arrest to trial consists of four basic steps

Arrest and police report, indictment, preliminary hearing, criminal charge

Although there are sometimes other processes and procedures that happen in-between those four steps, for the most part, every criminal prosecution passes through each of those steps on the way to pleading and trial.


Most serious criminal prosecutions begin with a custodial arrest in which the defendant is placed in handcuffs, taken to the county jail, and processed. Processing an arrestee includes taking a booking photo, fingerprinting, and gathering biographical and identifying information about the arrestee. Typically the process takes several hours.

Not every crime involves an arrest, though. Minor misdemeanors and infractions are frequently handled by issuance of a ticket. No custodial arrest is typically made in those cases, and the defendant is free to go and make his or her own arrangements for pleading or payment of a fine.

Arrest Report

Upon arrest, the officer who made the arrest prepares an arrest report. The report is the officer’s summary of the facts and circumstances as he witnessed them at the time of the arrest. The report details the charges the officer believes apply to the case, but the ultimate decision on what charges are eventually filed rests in the hands of the prosecutor.

Although any and all of the statements made on the arrest report may be challenged by the defendant at trial, the arrest report still holds great weight among most juries.


Once the defendant is processed and the arrest report is complete, the prosecutor reviews the details of the case and generally has three options to choose from:

Decline to press charges, modify the charges suggested by the arresting officer, or enhance the charges suggested by the officer into a more serious criminal offense.

An arrest is not a guarantee that a defendant will be charged with a crime. The prosecutor has several considerations he or she must weigh before making a final decision.

  • Judicial resources – because courts are always backed up with more cases than they can ever handle in a timely fashion, prosecutors typically help to lighten that load by only presenting serious crimes that are likely to result in either a conviction or (optimally for the court) a guilty plea of some kind.
  • Personal opinions – prosecutors are humans, and as humans they have ideas about what crimes should be zealously prosecuted and what crimes do not merit time and resources.
  • Political aspirations – prosecutors live in the public eye, and many choose to use the office as a steppingstone to higher elected positions. Often a high-profile case gets more attention from prosecutors than others in order to boost the prosecutors public perception and enhance his or her own personal image.

Come back next week for part 2!


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