When facing criminal charges, it is important to have an experienced defense attorney. Your attorney will fight for you to make sure that proper investigation are conducted, collect necessary evidence for your defense, evaluate all possible legal theories to question the government case against you. This aggressive representation will ensure that the proper charges are filed or dismissed. Almost all criminal charges could affect your liberty and financial future. It is also in your best interest to hire someone who will fight with your best interests in mind.
You must ask questions about the attorney’s experience in that area of law. Find out if they practice actively in that county. They need to have experience with the local prosecutors and law enforcement and understand the culture of the county in which you are charged. Ask about potential penalties for the offenses charged. You should have a clear understanding about the allocation of costs and fees in your case. Above all, no ethical attorney should make you a guarantee about the outcome of any criminal case.
Mrs. Soukkala has been in practice for almost a decade. During that time she has worked as a Prosecutor, a Public Defender, adjunct criminal law professor at the University of Tampa, and private practice. She has tried thousands of cases to date dealing with trafficking, theft, domestic violence, sex cases, conspiracies, fraud and many more.
She has experience in Juvenile Court, Injunctions, and Dependency Court. She understands her clients, works diligently to defend their cases and helps them get peace of mind.
Criminal Law FAQs
Q: What is mitigation evidence and how does it help clients?
A: Most cases never go to trial and are resolved through a plea bargain in exchange for a conviction. To achieve the best plea bargain for a client, our office will present different forms of evidence to the prosecutor. This process will in effect give a “face to the name” of a client in cases where thousands of other cases are just ink on a page. Courts are congested with thousands of news case every month. Our office is highly skilled at presenting mitigation evidence to prosecutors and judges. Often times there are a deeper reason behind why a client may be charged with a crime. There can be addiction and/or mental illness or many other reasons why alternatives to incarceration should be used. The benefits of mitigation could mean that charges could be reduced or even not filed at all.
Q: Why not let the public defender represent me?
A: Public defenders are appointed after a determination is made that you have an inability to pay for counsel. The time between the determination of financial need and appointment is critical for most cases. Many cases that can be reduced before a filing decision is made could lose this opportunity.
Q: Do I need a lawyer if I’m guilty?
A. Yes. Most of the time clients are financially strapped and cannot fathom the idea of hiring a lawyer even when they are charged with a crime. Many charges have consequences that can affect you for years or even a lifetime. For instance:
- Losing your civil rights
- Losing your right to bear arms
- Difficulty renting an apartment
- Inability to obtain state and/or federal aid
It is so important to have an attorney that understands the process to challenge any issues in the case and work out the best possible deal for you. Even minor charges that affect your license can cause ramifications that can cost thousands over the course of a lifetime.
Q: What are the penalties to crimes in Florida?
A: Criminal charges broken up into two groups. 1) Felonies and 2) Misdemeanors Below is a guide to the different levels of crimes and their maximum sentences:
- CAPITAL FELONY (e.g .Murder, certain sex crimes): Life in prison or the death penalty.
- LIFE FELONY (e.g. Armed Robbery, Kidnapping): Punishable by life in prison.
- FIRST DEGREE FELONY (e.g. Trafficking): Punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
- SECOND DEGREE FELONY (e.g. Burglary): Punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
- THIRD DEGREE FELONY (e.g. Grand Theft): Punishable by up to five years in prison.
- FIRST DEGREE MISDEMEANOR (e.g. DUI): Punishable by up to one year in jail.
- SECOND DEGREE MISDEMEANOR (e.g. No Valid Drivers License): Punishable by up to 60 days in jail.
Q. If I’m charge with a Felony will a go to prison automatically?
A. Misdemeanors cases can be negotiated with the government or the Court. Felony cases are required to use a score sheet based on Florida criminal punishment code. Each felony charge is assessed a numerical value. (ie: the higher the severity of the crime, the higher the numerical value is). The value is entered in a formula to determine a minimum sentence for each case. If a charge has more than 44 points, then a prison sentence will imposed. Only the prosecutors’ office has the ability to offer a lesser plea deal. The Court is bound by the guidelines unless the Court finds reason to depart to a below guideline sentence.
Q: What are some differences between State and Federal crimes?
A: A federal crime occurs when there is violation of one of the federal criminal law statutes and a state crime occurs when a state statute is violated. Some case can be charged in both courts. Federal cases usually involve inter-state activity (ie: purchasing drugs in Georgia and driving them down to Florida for sale and distribution). Almost all federal crimes are heard in front of a jury grand to obtain an indictment before arrest. State officers can make an arrest before information is filed.
Penalties for federal cases can be high even for first time offenders. Many cases have minimum mandatory sentences. This is due to the Federal Guidelines to streamline sentencing and reduce Judges decision making. State cases can also have minimum mandatory sentences but can be reduced in certain jurisdictions quicker than others.
Q: What if I’m not a U.S. citizen? Will I get deported?
A: If you are facing a criminal conviction and are not a U.S. citizen, the potential for deportation is high. The immigration code has its own value system and determines which charges are “aggravated felonies.” These felonies have mandatory deportation and are extremely limited in immigration court for relief to remain in the US. Contact our office to evaluate your case and determine the best possible resolution to avoid deportation.
Q: How does my prior record affect my current case?
A: Your prior record can affect whether you are going to be arrested or given a notice to appear. It can determine the amount of bond your will receive. Penalties can rise exponentially especially if the crimes are similar or more severe. Certain types of crimes can cause clients to be branded as a career criminal, habitual offenders, prison release reoffender or habitual violent offender. Each of these designations can have crushing effects on the sentencing guidelines. If you have a prior criminal history, give us a call. We have the experience to assist you if obtain
Q. How does a case normally progress?
A. Every case flows through a sequence in both state and federal court. Below is a listing of each aspect of a case and its description.
- First Appearance – If you are in custody after an arrest, you have a right to appear before a judge within 24 hours of your arrest. The first appearance hearing will involve having a judge advise you of the charge(s) for which you have been arrested. Probable cause for the arrest must be established at this hearing to maintain detention. A bond/bail amount will be set at this hearing by the presiding judge.
- Bail – The amount of bail is determined by the severity of the charge, ties to the community, work history and prior record. If you are charged with a crime that carries a penalty of either life imprisonment, death or you are facing a violation of probation. This may include murder, sexual battery, kidnapping, burglary or robbery you may not have a right to bail.
- Formal Information – If you did not post bond are in jail, the state attorney will have 33 days from the date you are arrested to file formal charges against you. After the 33rd day the court can order you automatically released on your own recognizance (a.k.a ROR). If the state files a petition to the court for an extension of time then the state has up to 40 days from the date of arrest to file information against you.
- Arraignment – Once charges are filed an arraignment will be scheduled. The hearing is the first time in front of your assigned judge where the charges will be read to you and you must state your plea. If you plea not at arraignment, your case will be scheduled for a pre-trial conference/disposition.
- Discovery – Your attorney will request to participate in the discovery process to obtain any reports, records, audio or visual tapes that the government will use against you as evidence in your case.
- Motions – Your attorney will review your case discovery an determine if any pre-trial motions are appropriate to file on your behalf. Judges set motion hearings separately to from any other hearings based on the amount of witnesses or time necessary to argue the motion.
- Pre-Trial Intervention – This program is intended for first time offenders as an alternative to prosecution. The entry requirements of this program can be complex based on the nature of the charge(s) so it is best to retain counsel to assist you to with your case to fully investigate pre-trial intervention for you.
- Pleas – If you wish to resolve your case before trial, you can enter a plea before a judge. Please can be negotiated with the state before trial, or they can be open. Open pleas are made directly to the court where the presiding judge will make a decision on the sentence in your case. There are three different types of pleas: 1) Not Guilty; 2) Guilty; 3) No Contest. If you plead not guilty then your case will proceed to trial.
- Trial - There are two types of trials. Jury and non-jury trials. In a jury trial, a judge presides over the courtroom proceedings, and six or more citizens (a jury) from the community are chosen to hear the evidence presented against you. This jury will determine whether the crime you are charged with has been committed. In a non-jury trial, only the judge decides the whether or not a crime has been committed.
- Pre-Sentence Investigation/Report – Whether you pled guilty or no contest, or you were found guilty at trial; the court can order pre-sentence investigation (PSI) or a pre-sentence report in federal cases (PSR). The PSI/PSR provides information about your history and background to help the judge determine a correct sentence. This investigation is performed by a probation officer. They will interview you, your family, and friends for the contents of the report. The PSI/PSR details the facts of the crime, any criminal history, medical history, previous employment, and financial situation. A copy of the report will be submitted to your attorney and yourself to review and make any objections prior to filing with the court.
- Sentencing – At this hearing you will be presented an opportunity to address the court. Anyone that would like to speak on your behalf will have an opportunity to speak. This hearing will also address any mitigating circumstances and any departures or variances that may be applicable in your case.
- Alternative Sentencing – Some counties have courtrooms dedicated to helping individuals who struggle with drug or alcohol addictions and or mental health disorders. Programs are available to persons who are interested in treatment in these divisions and may result in dismissal of a case if successfully completed. Contact your attorney immediately if you are suffering from mental health conditions or addiction to see if you qualify.
- Probation – Probation conditions usually include: 1) monthly reporting to your probation officer; 2) requesting permission for address change, employment or travel; 3) monthly payment of restitution; and 4) no new charges. There are different types of probation that may involve stricter conditions like random urine screens, counseling, and even curfews. Probation is notoriously difficult to complete if you are not diligent and in constant contact with your probation officer. Violations can occur if you violate one condition, so remember to contact your probation officer or attorney if anything might possibly change to avoid violation.
- Appeal – After sentencing, if you wish to appeal any aspect of your case in state court you have to notify the court within 30 days (14 days if in Federal Court.) Time is of the essence so if you decide that you want to appeal you must contact an attorney immediately to protect your rights.