If you are arrested in Florida, the decision as to whether you should answer any questions is entirely your own. You should give this matter your careful consideration because oral statements, as well as written statements, will be received as evidence in court against you.

If you are offered any inducement to sign a document or if you are threatened, coerced, or forced to sign anything, advise your attorney immediately and the senior police official in charge. If you do not have a criminal attorney, you may ask to see one immediately.

If you are unable to afford a criminal defense attorney, you have a right to be put in touch with the Public Defender immediately. The Public Defender is a lawyer and is available to give you important legal advice following your arrest. If you are in doubt about whether you should talk with the arresting officer or other law enforcement officers, you should wait until you have spoken with an attorney before giving up your right to remain silent.

Criminal law sets the acceptable limits of conduct in society. Everyone is expected to obey the criminal law under the penalty of punishment. Criminal law generally does not require you to perform an action; rather, it forbids an unlawful action. The State of Florida and the federal government have their own set of criminal laws.

Criminal law consists of the criminal laws themselves and the law of criminal procedure.

  • Criminal law consists of the legal rules defining criminal conduct and how it is punished.
  • Criminal procedure consists mainly of the procedures used to prosecute a crime and the rights of the defendant.

Criminal laws must precisely define the conduct that they prohibit so that a person of average intelligence can understand the forbidden conduct and conform their behavior to the law. A criminal law that is difficult to interpret is unconstitutional and unenforceable.

A crime is a wrong committed by a person against a state or the federal government. Because a wrong is committed against all members of the community, not just the particular victim, the victim does not make the decision to prosecute the accused person. The state or federal government, acting as the people’s representative, prosecute the crime. A crime is punishable by imprisonment, fine, restitution, or other penalty.

Actions that are crimes are also covered by the civil law of Torts. A person, who is injured by an action constituting a crime, may bring a civil lawsuit to obtain damages from the person who committed the criminal act.

Under the common law (judge-made law) inherited from England, crimes are divided into two main categories – felonies and misdemeanors. The distinction between them is based on the crime’s seriousness and on the length of punishment.

  • Felonies are crimes generally punishable by more than one year’s imprisonment. You have the right to a jury trial when charged with a felony crime. The common law felonies include murder, rape, robbery, burglary, kidnapping, and treason.

The State of Florida classifies crimes by felony/misdemeanor and then degree. There are five degrees of felony crimes: capital, life, first, second, and third degree. Capital felonies, punishable by death, include the most serious crimes like murder and sexual battery on a child less than twelve years of age. Life felonies are punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment and include burglary with a battery, certain trafficking offenses, and second-degree murder. A first-degree felony is punishable by a maximum of thirty years in prison, a second-degree felony– by fifteen, and a third-degree felony–by five years. Misdemeanors are either first or second-degree. A first-degree misdemeanor, like simple battery, for example, is punishable by a maximum of one year in the county jail. A second-degree misdemeanor is punishable by sixty days maximum.

The Florida State Legislature and the U.S. Congress enact criminal laws. In states having a common law system, state courts make criminal law based on the common law (judge-made law) inherited from England. The current trend in Florida is to transfer the development of criminal law from the court to the legislature.

State Criminal Laws

Traditionally, crime is considered a matter of state rather than federal concern. Because of this, most ordinary crimes are covered by state criminal laws. For example, a domestic violence crime, or theft case that took place within the state, committed by local residents, is covered by state criminal laws, and ordinarily will be prosecuted by local prosecutors.

Federal Criminal Laws

Congress does enact criminal laws in areas falling within the federal jurisdiction set out in the U.S. Constitution and concerning federal matters. Congress has enacted federal laws dealing with federal property, federal employees, federal taxes, receipt of federal benefits, and federally guaranteed civil rights. For example, it is a federal crime to rob a U.S. Post Office or to assault a federal employee.

Additionally, there are significant federal criminal laws covering matters dealing with interstate commerce. If interstate commerce is involved, these laws make ordinary criminal conduct covered by state laws a federal crime. Interstate commerce may involve the use of interstate means of communication (telephone, telegraph, or the U.S. Mail) in committing the crime.

If a person is convicted of a federal crime, he/she the court will sentence the defendant pursuant to the federal sentencing guidelines.