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Criminal Defense Attorney in Lake Worth and Wellington

A criminal charge has the potential to affect your life and liberty. In some cases, a criminal conviction can have long-lasting consequences affecting many areas of life, including your job, your family and perhaps your status as a U.S. immigrant. When these interests are at stake, it is critical to seek the protection and guidance of a committed and qualified Florida criminal defense attorney. Casanova Law is a criminal defense law firm in Lake Worth with the passion and experience to fight for your rights and freedoms. By hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer in West Palm Beach, Lake Worth and the South Florida area, you can better prepare your case and your defense.

Why You Should Hire a Florida Criminal Defense Attorney

Criminal Defense is a complex and oftentimes layered field of practice which requires a West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer who can balance experience, tenacity, courtroom skill, personality, and familiarity with the local area. Understanding the nuances in a high-pressure courtroom requires practice that can only come from direct experience and participation in the South Florida criminal justice system. If you’ve been charged with a crime or arrested, your liberty could be in jeopardy. When it comes to liberty, the bare minimum is not enough. You need everything in your favor.

Having a Lake Worth criminal defense lawyer that can help explain your rights throughout the process can be a game-changer in obtaining the best possible outcome. A criminal defense attorney should fill you with confidence that she will handle everything in your case – from the investigation, evidence and witnesses to court proceedings, filings and more. A Lake Worth criminal defense lawyer with local experience can effectively focus on a possible reduction of your initial charge, a decrease in the severity of possible punishments or a reduction in jail time or probation. The goals you discuss with your attorney will depend greatly on the circumstances surrounding your case and vary greatly from one case to another. If your case does go to trial, having a solid defense strategy put together by a criminal defense law firm is critical.

Public Defender vs. Criminal Defense Attorney

A defendant in a criminal case has the constitutional right to an attorney at all critical stages of the proceeding. If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach County, the Court may assign a public defender if the judge believes you cannot afford a private criminal defense lawyer. Public defenders are talented employees of the government who dedicate their careers to defending the indigent. However, there are certain disadvantages to having a public defender represent you instead of your own private counsel.

The Office of the Public Defender is underfunded and overworked. Although public defenders are exceptional lawyers, they simply have too many cases assigned to them. This may mean that you would not receive personal, individualized representation. You may only be able to speak with your public defender at your court hearings for five minutes or less. With a private criminal defense attorney, you will likely have extended conversations outside of the courtroom with the attorney and staff. A private attorney has more time to strategize about your case and prepare your defense.

With a public defender, you may have to attend every court hearing (as opposed to the benefit of having your presence waived for most hearings with a private attorney). Without a waiver of your presence, you will miss work frequently, and failure to attend court will result in a bench warrant for your arrest.

You may also end up with a public defender who only has one or two years’ experience. This is especially true for misdemeanor cases, as the new hires are generally placed in misdemeanor court for practice before being promoted to a felony division. In contrast, most private criminal defense attorneys have been practicing law for many years; they may have started out at the State Attorney’s Office or Public Defender and later transitioned into private practice after gaining extensive trial experience.

Lastly, you do not get to choose your public defender. The court will appoint a public defender for you, and you have no say in who will protect your life and liberty. If you hire a private attorney, you get to decide who will fight for you in court.

Hiring a Florida criminal defense attorney is a wise investment into your future. When your life, liberty, and record are at stake, you cannot take any chances.

Criminal Defense Cases We Handle in Lake Worth and Wellington

In Florida, criminal charges can occur at multiple levels. These include misdemeanors for minor offenses, as well as felonies, which are more severe and may carry significant penalties. No matter how minor or severe, they can negatively impact your employment, family, reputation and immigration status.

The following are among the most common types of charges that can be handled by a criminal defense attorney in Lake Worth, FL:

Assault and Battery

Whether you’ve been accused of threatening imminent force (known in Florida as assault) or actually applying physical contact in a way that causes bodily injury (otherwise known as battery), you could face harsh repercussions. While assault and battery are distinct criminal charges, both carry the need for strong representation from a West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer. 

Theft and Robbery

Theft is among the most common charges in Florida. While many residents expect it to be accompanied by a slap on the wrist, some theft charges can lead to significant fines or even imprisonment. The penalties for robbery — theft involving the use or threat of force — are even more severe.

Burglary and Trespassing

Whether trespassing or trespassing along with an intent to commit another crime (known as burglary), these are common criminal charges in Florida with penalties ranging from fines to probation and jail.

Drug Charges

From possession to manufacturing, a wide variety of drug charges can negatively impact your future. The state’s approach to drug crimes is beginning to shift, so it’s important to work with a West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer who understands current regulations.

Reckless Driving

Reckless driving is a complicated charge in that can be interpreted differently by various law enforcement officials, witnesses, and prosecutors. This can make such cases difficult to handle.

Leaving the Scene of an Accident

Florida law mandates that those involved in motor vehicle crashes remain on the scene until they’ve exchanged relevant information with other drivers. In severe crashes involving bodily injury, drivers may also need to seek medical attention or involvement from law enforcement. A charge of Leaving the Scene of an Accident or Failure to Fulfill Duty Upon Damaging Unattended Property can result in jail time for the alleged offender.

License Charges

License charges include driving on a suspended license, driving without a license, and permitting a person without a license to drive.

Registration Charges

Driving an unregistered vehicle may not seem like a big deal, but it can lead to surprisingly significant charges and sentences in Florida. Unfortunately, given how easy it is to let your registration lapse, many otherwise-responsible drivers are at risk of being assessed with this charge.

Attached Tag Not Assigned

This little-known Florida charge can occur if license plates or validation stickers are attached to vehicles for which they are not lawfully registered.

No Motorcycle Endorsement

Motorcycles call for specialized skills above and beyond what typical Florida drivers need to demonstrate. If these skills are not verified, major penalties may follow.

What Happens During a Criminal Defense Case in Florida?

Criminal arrests and charges

A criminal case begins with an arrest, a Notice to Appear, a warrant, or summons. Regardless of how your criminal case is initiated, you face criminal charges that come with the potential to harm your freedom, finances, and many other facets of your personal and professional life.

In Palm Beach County, if an officer arrests you or if you are picked up on a warrant, you must first worry about bonding out. Some charges allow for a “schedule bond,” meaning a predetermined, standard bond amount for a particular charge. If you get schedule bond, a family member or friend can contact a bail bondsman, pay him or her ten percent (10%) of the bond amount, and have the bondsman post the bond amount with the Sheriff’s office. It takes about 8-12 hours for the jail to process a bond and release the accused, so we recommend getting a bondsman as soon as possible.

If you do not get schedule bond, you may have to wait in jail overnight to see a judge in the morning. The judicial proceeding for probable cause and bond determination is called First Appearance, and it must be held within 48 hours of a defendant’s arrest. At First Appearance, the presiding judge will review the facts alleged in the police officer’s Probable Cause Affidavit, determine whether the officer really had probable cause to make an arrest, and order a bond amount. Bond can include a monetary amount as well as conditions on release. If the judge deems appropriate, he or she may order S.O.R. (Supervised Release), which involves a defendant reporting to Pre-Trial Services weekly and abiding by other behavioral and geographic restrictions.

Whether by judge or law enforcement, you may be fortunate enough to be released “O.R.” (on your Own Recognizance). This is normally reserved for misdemeanor cases. Domestic Battery charges are the exception; in Palm Beach County, you are held “no bond” for Domestic Violence allegations until you see a judge – even if the charge is a misdemeanor.

In limited situations, an arrestee may be held in jail without bond pending resolution of the case by trial or plea. This occurs with extremely serious felonies or defendants who picked up another charge while an older case is pending. In pre-trial detention cases, the defendant or the defendant’s attorney must reconsider case strategy to balance the desire for a favorable outcome with the need to minimize time in custody.

If you receive a Notice to Appear or Summons, the charges begin without an arrest. In this preferable situation, you simply receive a document ordering you to attend court for your criminal case. Note that the date listed on your Notice to Appear may not be accurate. To confirm your court date, you should review the Notice of Hearing document mailed to your address. If you do not receive correspondence from the clerk’s office, contact the clerk immediately. A failure to appear in court will result in a capias (bench warrant).

Hearings and trials

For most defendants (those who were released O.R. or bonded out prior to First Appearance), the first court date is called Arraignment. The purpose of arraignment is to receive formal reading of your charges and decide how to plead. Most defendants plead “Not Guilty” at this early stage to have the opportunity to review the evidence, hire an experienced criminal defense attorney (if they haven’t done so already), and prepare the best defense possible. Note that just because you plead “not guilty” at Arraignment does not mean that you’re going to trial. You may later change your plea to guilty after having the opportunity to understand the allegations and perhaps negotiate a desirable offer from the prosecution. Or, you may secure a dismissal or “Nolle Prosse” on your case. The point of pleading “Not Guilty” at the outset is to protect your rights by getting informed and getting prepared. Unless there is a really good reason, don’t give up your chance at a better offer or dismissal by assuming there is no defense!

After Arraignment (and if you plead “not guilty”), you will have a series of pre-trial court hearings that may be called “Case Disposition,” “Plea Conference,” “Status Check,” or “Pre-Trial.” You may also have Motion Hearings if you have filed a Motion to Dismiss, Motion to Suppress Evidence, or any other pre-trial motion regarding legal issues in your case. Additionally, you may request to take depositions to learn more about the alleged facts and witnesses.

Ultimately, after investigating your case thoroughly, negotiating the plea offer, and exploring all available options for your case, you will have to decide whether to resolve your case or go to trial.

Pleading and negotiations

 Your decision to take a plea, enter a diversionary program such as Pre-trial Intervention (PTI) or a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), or assert your right to a trial by judge or jury should come after careful consideration of the facts, the law, and the potential consequences of each decision. Understanding the worst and best case scenarios as compared to the provability of your case is critical to the decision-making process. The best case scenario in any case is a “No File” – meaning the State refrained from filing formal charges – followed by a “Nolle Prosse” – meaning the State dropped the charges after initially charging you. The worst case scenario differs from case to case depending on the maximum potential sentence for each charge.

Your plea offer may get better or worse depending on the actions you take throughout your case. This is why it is important to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to prepare a strategy. An experienced local criminal defense lawyer knows when and what to negotiate, what pleadings (motions, requests, notices) to file, and whether to use honey or vinegar with witnesses, prosecutors, and other players in the system.

It may be that a better plea offer is obtained with an early resolution; or, a better offer may arise from the threat of trial. Each case is different, and an experienced criminal lawyer will know what to do in each situation.

Choosing an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer in Lake Worth and Wellington

You have the right to the effective assistance of counsel. Notice that your right does not stop at “counsel.” Your attorney must also be “effective” or competent. In criminal law, this means that your lawyer, ideally a local Palm Beach criminal defense attorney, needs to have a knowledge base about your case, the rules of criminal procedure, the rules of evidence, and the laws surrounding your alleged offense.

While it is a relief to know that lawyers are held to certain minimum standards, it might surprise you to find out that the definition of an “effective” lawyer is not synonymous with an experienced or great criminal defense lawyer. For this reason, when hiring a criminal defense attorney in West Palm Beach, you may want to look beyond the basic fact that a particular attorney is licensed and in good standing Florida.

If you find yourself in the position to hire a criminal defense lawyer for an alleged offense in West Palm Beach or Lake Worth, Florida, here are some key factors to consider, along with a few tips to make sure you find a criminal defense attorney best suited for the particular circumstances surrounding your case.

  1. Your criminal defense lawyer should be your lawyer in court. While it would seem obvious that the lawyer or law firm you hire would be the one to attend your court proceedings, it is actually common for an out-of-county attorney to out-source court hearings to a “coverage attorney” in order to avoid making the drive to Palm Beach County. In most circumstances, this is perfectly legal, ethical, and understandable. However, the client may not feel comfortable with this. To increase your chances of getting what (and who) you signed up for, look for a West Palm Beach criminal defense law firm with plenty of experience in Palm Beach County.

 

2. Your lawyer should know local South Florida policies. Florida law provides the definition of each criminal offense and how each criminal offense should be punished. However, each prosecuting agency has the discretion to implement policies regarding standard offers, diversion programs, and what to consider as mitigating or aggravating circumstances. Palm Beach County’s main prosecuting agency is the Office of the State Attorney, 15th Judicial Circuit. Unlike some other prosecuting agencies, the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office has a DUI diversion program, deferred prosecution agreements, and other forms of pre-trial diversion programs that could serve to reduce or eliminate your criminal charges. A South Florida criminal defense attorney will know all of this and can seek out a beneficial resolution to your case.

3. Your lawyer should understand the players in the court system. We are all human. This includes lawyers, judges, and prosecutors. Even though legal professionals are all bound by the same laws and rules of ethics, within these bounds exist different personalities and different ways of viewing cases. A local West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer should know most judges and prosecutors through frequent interaction. Understanding temperament, tendencies and patterns can help a lawyer decide on strategy for negotiation and trial.

4. Your lawyer should have practical knowledge. The probable cause affidavit for a crime alleged to have occurred in Palm Beach County could contain details about intersections, street names, landmarks, and business entities within the County. A lawyer from Palm Beach County might already be familiar with the people, businesses and locations mentioned. This practical and personal knowledge may lead to more intricate questioning of witnesses and in-depth analysis of their statements.

5. Your lawyer should have a great reputation in the community. A Palm Beach County criminal defense lawyer probably spends most of her time at the Palm Beach County Courthouse (PBC). Frequenting the PBC courthouses in downtown West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Palm Beach Gardens and Belle Glade, an experienced West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer has already shown the other regular participants of the system (judges, prosecutors, clerks, police officers, and even the courtroom audience) her talent, knowledge and skill. She has likely gone to trial against some of the same prosecutors that might be currently assigned to your case. When a local lawyer has established a reputation of strength, capability, ethics and tenacity, courtroom personnel are more likely to take her requests seriously.There are many more reasons why a West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer might be the right fit for you if you are facing criminal charges. One of the most important facets of an attorney-client relationship is trust. If you trust your lawyer, you will feel completely at ease and assist the attorney with information toward your representation.

Our community means the most to us here at Casanova Law, a criminal defense law firm in Wellington, Florida. Beyond our current ties to Wellington, Attorney Lourdes Casanova grew up in the western communities of Palm Beach County. She saw first-hand the construction of the mall, the booming restaurant industry, and the continuing growth of the equestrian community. We aim to help our beloved western communities in the way we know best – by keeping Wellington residents informed of their rights should they find themselves in the unfortunate situation of a criminal arrest or charge.

Our law firm is committed to also providing you with personal attention and guiding you through the legal process with strength and determination. Should you decide to hire a Palm Beach County lawyer for your criminal charge, contact us today. Call us at 561-236-5340 or contact us online to learn how we can begin to build your defense.

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Florida Criminal Defense Attorney FAQs:

What does criminal defense mean?

Criminal Defense is the practice of law involving the protection of the accused’s constitutional rights in a criminal proceeding, such as the presumption of innocence, the right to a trial by jury, and the right to remain silent.

How do I choose a criminal defense lawyer?

Experience and knowledge in Florida criminal law, procedure, evidence and litigation are the main considerations in selecting the right criminal defense attorney. However, you should also consider an attorney’s reputation among colleagues and other clients, and knowledge of local rules and practices. You may also want to consider whether an attorney knows the personalities of local prosecutors, judges, law enforcement, and other courtroom personnel. While legal knowledge is vital to your defense, practical knowledge will take your representation to the next level. It is usually best to find a criminal defense attorney by referral or reviews. You may know someone who hired a criminal lawyer and had a great experience; alternatively, you may search on Google, Facebook, or another online platform to find a local attorney with exceptional reviews. Aside from knowledge, experience, reputation, and reviews, you should also listen to your gut: Do you feel confident in a particular attorney? Do you trust the attorney? Do the attorney and staff appear to be invested in your case? Ultimately, the right criminal defense attorney is the one you feel most comfortable with.

How much does a criminal defense attorney cost?

Representation fees for a criminal defense attorney vary based on the level of experience, years in practice, geographical area, the complexity of a case, anticipated length of a case, and other factors. In general, felony charges will be priced higher than misdemeanor offenses. A criminal defense attorney with fluency in multiple languages, trial experience, and/or dual practice areas (such as immigration) may also merit a higher rate.

Should I hire a criminal defense attorney?

As with any other issue in life, you should assess whether you have the experience, knowledge, and time to handle a matter on your own, or whether it is best to seek professional help from someone trained in the area. For most people, investing in a criminal defense attorney is the right choice, as a criminal lawyer is equipped with the specific educational and professional background to handle your case. Even for those with a criminal law background, hiring a defense attorney is a wise idea; as a defendant, you likely do not have the time, energy or emotional distance to view your case carefully, rationally, and objectively. A criminal defense attorney can lift the burden from your shoulders by dedicating her time, skills, and perspective to preparing the best possible defense for your case. Investing in your life and liberty always makes sense.

Misdemeanor vs. felony charges

Both misdemeanor and felony offenses are crimes that should be taken seriously. However, a felony offense is more serious than a misdemeanor. A felony charge carries a potential prison sentence, higher fines, and longer probationary periods. Additionally, some felony charges are subject to mandatory minimum sentences – meaning a judge would have little to no discretion in imposing a lighter sentence. In contrast, misdemeanor charges cannot exceed 364 days jail and a $1000 fine and rarely have minimum mandatory sentences. A common exception to this general rule is Driving Under the Influence (DUI), which carries minimum mandatory sentences as laid out by the Florida legislature. Whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony, your criminal case can potentially affect your record, reputation, employment, and immigration status.

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