There are twenty elected State Attorneys in Florida, one for each of the twenty judicial circuits. The State Attorney is the chief prosecutor in each circuit and is charged with the responsibility of representing the State of Florida in his or her judicial circuit. The State Attorney prosecutes or defends on behalf of the state all suits, applications, or motions, civil or criminal, which the state is a party. The State Attorney reviews charges and complaints to determine whether they warrant prosecution and trial. The overwhelming majority of the cases filed by the State Attorney are criminal. Adult criminal cases are classified as felonies and misdemeanors. Felony cases are more serious crimes punishable by a term in the Florida Department of Corrections and are prosecuted in Circuit court. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes which call for a maximum punishment of one year in the county jail.
Misdemeanors are prosecuted in County court. Juvenile cases are criminal cases where the defendant was under the age of 18 at the time of the offense. These cases are handled by a Circuit Judge. Under some circumstances, juvenile offenders may be prosecuted as adults.
State Attorneys also handle some civil cases, such as bond validations, contraband forfeiture, injunctions, proceedings to commit mentally ill individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others, and various other civil matters. In addition to court duties, the State Attorney provides legal advice in criminal matters to all law enforcement agencies in the circuit and works with these agencies to provide in-service training.
State Attorneys are authorized to employ Assistant State Attorneys to assist them in the completion of their duties. There are about 160 Assistant State Attorneys in the Sixth Judicial Circuit, which is comprised of Pasco and Pinellas Counties.
In addition to the twenty elected State Attorneys, one for each Judicial Circuit, there is an Attorney General of the State of Florida. In Florida, the Attorney General has limited jurisdiction in the trial of criminal cases. Criminal cases are prosecuted in local courts by the State Attorneys, and the Attorney General represents the State of Florida when those criminal cases are appealed to the District Courts of Appeal or to the Supreme Court.
Within the Office of the Attorney General is the Office of Statewide Prosecutor. The Statewide Prosecutor is appointed by the Attorney General and is responsible for prosecuting certain criminal offenses that occur in more than two Judicial Circuits.
Although typically the Attorney General works closely with the elected State Attorneys, particularly on those cases which are appealed, the Attorney General has no supervisory authority over the State Attorneys.
A Judicial Circuit is a subdivision of the State created to facilitate operation of the court system of the State of Florida. There are twenty Judicial Circuits within the State of Florida which are made of the 67 counties in the State. A Judicial Circuit may consist of a single large county, or up to seven small counties. Each Judicial Circuit has a State Attorney, a Public Defender and numerous Circuit and County Court Judges. The Sixth Judicial Circuit covers both Pasco and Pinellas Counties.
If you have been the victim of a crime or believe that a crime has been committed, you should first contact a law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction in the city or county where the physical acts of the crime occurred. If the crime was committed in an unincorporated area of Pinellas or Pasco County, the crime should be reported to the Pinellas Sheriff or the Pasco Sheriff, as applicable. There are, however, certain exceptions. Complaints involving misconduct by public officials or election law violations may be reported in writing to the State Attorney’s Office. Note, however, that reports of misconduct on the part of law enforcement officers should first be reported to the internal affairs section or professional standards section of the law enforcement agency with which the officer is employed. A law enforcement agency such as a police department or sheriff’s office will investigate your complaint.
If they are able to obtain legally sufficient admissible evidence, they will make an arrest. If the perpetrator cannot be readily located within their jurisdiction they may apply to a judge to have an arrest warrant issued and sent to the area where the offender is located or entered into law enforcement computer databases nationwide.
After the defendant is arrested the criminal case is submitted to the State Attorney’s Office for an investigation to confirm that there are sufficient facts to prove a violation of a charged crime or crimes and that the necessary evidence including witnesses will be available for trial. This may involve discussing the facts and merits of the case with the victim, family members, etc. Prosecution must be declined in some cases due to legal reasons such as insufficient proof.
Cases meeting legal standards for prosecution are then activated by the Assistant State Attorney filing a document called an “Information” specifying the data and which statutes were violated. Cases of first-degree murder are reviewed by the county’s Grand Jury who may file an “Indictment” to formalize the charge. After an Information or Indictment is filed, an arraignment will be scheduled and various other court proceedings take place such as Pre-trial status conferences, motions, plea or trial. Victims are notified of all critical stages which they may wish to attend or not. Victims and witnesses will be specifically notified by service of a subpoena for those hearings where their presence is mandatory to be available to testify as needed. The State Attorney’s Office has Victim/Witness Counselors available in each office to assist victims throughout the various criminal court processes.
Witnesses are not limited to “eye witnesses”. You may have seen the crime happen or may know something about it. You may also know something about a piece of evidence or may know something that contradicts another witness’ testimony. If you wonder “why” you are testifying in a particular case, ask the prosecutor handling it; there is probably a common-sense reason.
The defendant must be present in court to hear what all the witnesses say about him. The lawyer for the defendant is called the defense attorney and will ask you questions after the prosecutor does.
Your court room time, while actually testifying, may not take long, but it depends upon many factors. Sometimes, you must remain in the courthouse after you testify in case you are needed back on the witness stand. Most of the time you will just be waiting for your turn to testify. You are encouraged to bring a book or magazine to read while you wait.
If you have a date conflict, you should contact the Assistant State Attorney immediately to discuss your conflict. Remember, you are obligated under law to appear as indicated on the subpoena unless you can be excused.
You should contact a private attorney.
Child Support is not a part of the State Attorney’s Office. To get information and help regarding Child Support matters, you may contact the Department of Revenue, Office of Child Support Enforcement or contact a private attorney.
The State Attorney’s Office works with the Pinellas County Office of Consumer Protection and the Pasco County Consumer Affairs Division. They will determine how they can assist you and if your problem needs to be referred to law enforcement and/or the State Attorney.
VINE is a toll-free, anonymous, automated telephone service that provides victims of crime and the public with two important features: Information and Notification.
In Pinellas County victims are automatically enrolled in the VINE service by the Pinellas County Jail. Victims are notified when a suspect is arrested and booked in to the jail, as well as when a suspect is released from jail. If you are not at home or your telephone is busy when VINE calls, the VINE service will keep trying to reach you. VINE will continue to call every half hour for 48 hours. VINE will leave a message on an answering machine, but will continue to call every two hours up to 48 hours, or until a PIN is entered to stop the notification calls.
Victims in Pasco County cases are welcome to sign up on the VINE website www.VINElink.com in order to receive automated contact either telephonically or through email.