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How The Criminal Court System Works

A crime has been committed and the suspect has been arrested. How does the justice system proceed?

On a misdemeanor offense, a defendant is given a notice to appear in lieu of physical arrest. The state must try the case within a certain amount of time known as the speedy trial period. Many defendants who are arrested and booked into the Palm Beach County jail are given a scheduled bond.

Certain offenses require the defendant to be seen by a first appearance judge within 24 hours of arrest. First appearances occur daily at the Gun Club Courtroom, 3228 Gun Club Road in West Palm Beach.

First appearances also occur in Belle Glade at the West County Courthouse, 38844 SR 80, for defendants who live in the western part of the county and are booked into the West County Detention Facility.

At that time the judge, with input from the state and defense, will determine what conditions will ensure the defendant’s appearance at court hearings, the safety of the public and victim(s) and the integrity of the judicial process. The defendant’s prior criminal history and the facts of the case in front of the judge are determining factors in the type of bond or release that will be ordered.

Depending on the type of crime, some cases may be resolved at first appearance. Others are sent out to the various courthouses in the county for arraignment in approximately 30 days. Whether the crime is a felony or misdemeanor, and where the defendant lives, determines where the cases are heard:

  • Main Courthouse, 205 North Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, FL 33401, 561-355-2996
  • North County Courthouse, 3488 PGA Blvd., Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33410, 561-624-6608
  • South County Courthouse, 200 West Atlantic Ave, Delray Beach, FL 33444, 561-274-1530
  • West County Courthouse, 3844 S.R. 80, Belle Glade, Fl 33430, 561-996-4843

After an arrest has been made and the assigned prosecutor receives all of the reports and evidence from the law enforcement officer, the prosecutor makes a decision as to whether charges can be filed and what charges are appropriate.

Investigators or defense attorneys may call witnesses and victims in a case. A victim or witness is under no obligation to speak to anyone about the facts of the case without a subpoena for deposition or trial. It is acceptable to question who is calling and what agency they represent if you are contacted in your role as a victim or witness regarding the case.

Criminal discovery depositions may be taken by either the defense or the state.

In a criminal discovery deposition, a witness is placed under oath and asked their knowledge of the case.

In felony cases, criminal discovery depositions can be taken from almost any witness without the court’s permission. In misdemeanor cases, depositions are not allowed unless ordered by the court, following a motion showing good cause why a deposition is necessary.

The arraignment is the first scheduled hearing where the defendant is made aware of the charges against him. This is the first opportunity a defendant has to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. The prosecutor may make a plea offer to the defendant at this hearing.

If the case is not resolved at arraignment, it can be set for a case disposition, status check, or plea conference. The defendant’s attorney may need additional time to investigate the case before accepting a plea offer. If the case does not resolve in a plea, the next hearing the court normally will set is for trial.

A victim or witness will be served with a subpoena for trial. Once a case is scheduled for trial, all victims and witnesses will be contacted by the State Attorney’s Office and told the date, time, and location of the trial.

It is important to pay attention to the instruction on the subpoena and contact the listed phone number for further instructions.