Felony court is for adults accused of committing crimes punishable by more than a year in jail. Felony Court divisions are mainly located in downtown West Palm Beach at the Main Judicial Complex. There are also divisions at the Criminal Justice Complex in West Palm Beach, and the West County Courthouse in Belle Glade.
Felony Division trial lawyers represent the vast majority of Public Defender clients charged with felonies. These attorneys appear in court almost every day, and handle all aspects of their assigned cases from start to finish. They collaborate with the Social Services and Mental Health Division to tackle the issues presented by each unique case. Whether a case calls for plea negotiations or a jury trial, Felony Division attorneys work with their clients in an effort to achieve the best possible outcome. The Office also has assistant public defenders assigned to handle particularly serious felonies in each felony division.
A person accused of committing a felony crime may receive a notice to appear in court or may be arrested at the time of the crime, or later pursuant to a warrant.
If the accused receives a notice to appear, it will include the date, time, and location at which they must appear in court. On that date, the accused will fill out a financial affidavit and, if they qualify, the judge will appoint the Public Defender’s Office to represent her or him.
Within 24 hours of arrest, the accused will attend a court hearing called “First Appearance.” On that date, the accused will fill out a financial affidavit. If the accused qualifies, the judge will appoint the Public Defender’s Office to represent her or him. The judge will set or deny a bond depending on the charges and the accused’s personal circumstances. For those who are unable to post their bond, an investigator with the Office will meet with them at the jail within 48 hours.
The State has 30 days from the arrest or issuance of a notice to appear to file formal charges. If the State files formal charges, the client’s next court date is “Arraignment.” At Arraignment, the client will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If the client enters a not guilty plea, a future court date will be set.
Before and during the next court date, the assigned attorney will receive discovery and review it with the client. The attorney will also discuss possible plea resolutions with the client and the prosecutor. Depending on the circumstances, the State may offer pre-trial intervention (PTI), which, if successfully completed can result in the State dropping the charges. The client should talk to his or her attorney before accepting any plea. If no plea agreement is reached, the judge will set the case for trial.
Prior to trial, the client may be interviewed by an investigator from the Public Defender’s Office. The investigator will assist the attorney in gathering information related to the case and locate and interview witnesses. The attorney may file pre-trial motions to include or exclude certain evidence. The attorney will also determine if expert witnesses are necessary for the case.
When the state is seeking the death penalty or a client faces the possibility of life without parole, these cases go to the Major Crimes Division. A team of veteran attorneys, investigators and mitigation specialists handle these cases and in many instances work with a variety of outside experts and social workers toward the resolution of these cases.