Does Your Character Factor into Receiving Leniency from the Court on a First Offense?

Interviewer: For first time offenders, do the courts ever show any sort of leniency?  Does it matter sometimes if the person is married, has a family and has a stable job?

Jay Arnesen: For the most part, to answer your question, yes.  First time offenders definitely have more privileges and receive more deference from the court as well as more leniencies from the court, when they go through the system.  There are some limited exceptions to that which are very obvious.

You could have been someone that is 60 years old, has never been through the criminal justice system, and then killed someone.  Well, if you kill someone, you’re not going to get leniency.  If you’re charged with murder, murder is murder and there is no leniency in our statutes.

Some Offenses Carry Mandatory Penalties upon Conviction

The same thing holds true if you haven’t been arrested but now all of a sudden you’re arrested for first degree trafficking in cocaine and they have all of these minimum mandatory penalties attached with it.  If you are convicted or if you plead guilty to that charge, and there’s a mandatory minimum sentence attached with it, even though you have never been convicted before, you have to at least do the mandatory minimum.

First Offenders Are Afforded Leniency in Florida Courts, with the Exception of Murder or Drug Trafficking Charges

For the most part, I would say 90% of the cases, a first time offender that’s charged with a crime in Florida, will get better treatment than somebody that’s a repeat offender.  It’s also a sentencing factor.  The fact that you’ve never had any contact with the criminal justice system helps you. It’s something that, by statute, you’re entitled to get treated better to, as opposed to someone that’s been that’s been arrested before or been convicted before.

How Often Can an Attorney Have a Positive Impact on a Case?

Interviewer: How often do you think you can have criminal charges dropped, dismissed or reduced so that person’s situation is not so serious?

Jay Arnesen: How often?  That’s the goal in every single case, and I don’t say that lightly.  If, in fact, you don’t hire a criminal attorney, you typically plead guilty to the charges as they stand.  There’s always room for work.  My clients generally never plead guilty to the accusation with the penalties as they stand.  They may, in fact, end up pleading guilty to the crime, but the penalties would be mitigated or lessoned by substantially if we were going to accept that.

What Are the Differences between a Felony Charge and a Misdemeanor Charge?

Interviewer: Please clarify some of the major differences between a misdemeanor and a felony.

In Florida, There Are 2 Levels of Misdemeanor Charges: A First and a Second Degree

Jay Arnesen: Misdemeanor cases, generally, are going to be much easier to resolve than felony cases.  In Florida there are two types of misdemeanors.  There is a first degree misdemeanor and a second degree misdemeanor.  The first degree misdemeanor is a crime that’s punishable by no more than one year in jail, one year probation, or a $1000 fine.  That’s our highest misdemeanor.

As Opposed to Felonies, Florida’s Misdemeanor Charges Do Not Entail Mandatory Prison Sentences

A second degree misdemeanor is only punishable by no more than 60 days in jail, up to six months of probation, and a $500 fine. I would think that the easiest way to look at this is that if you were charged with a misdemeanor, the court does not have to ever sentence you to a term of prison.

Any type of felony conviction carries with it a potential to go to prison.  Our lowest felony is a third degree felony in Florida, and it subjects you to five years in prison.  Then there’s a huge gap.  The gap goes from third degree felony to first degree misdemeanor.

If a Misdemeanor Sentence Includes Incarceration, It Would Be for the County Jail as Opposed to the State Prison

First degree misdemeanor only holds you punishable by no more than a year in jail.  When you see the word jail, you have to distinguish that from the word prison, because jail is different than prison.  Prison is state prison.  Jail is the county jail.  In any type of misdemeanor action, the most you would serve is a jail term in the county jail.

Misdemeanor Cases Are Heard in County Court

I believe that that’s probably the biggest aspect for a custodial part of the offenses or the crimes.  The next part of it is that any type of misdemeanor is probably not going to be in the state court, it’s going to be held in the county court, which would have jurisdiction over it.

Misdemeanor Charges Heard in County Court Are More Likely to Be Reduced to an Offense That Does Not Entail a Criminal Record

In those courts you’ll see the cases resolve a lot better, will have a lot more fluctuation to even go lower than a misdemeanor to some sort of city ordinance. That would not result in a permanent criminal record, whereas a felony results in an absolute criminal record.  If you come out of that, even a third degree felony results in you being a convicted felon.  It’s a terrible stigma to have with you.

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