Crime Statistics in Florida: Three Minutes of Justice at Arraignment

More than 500,000 individuals are charged with a misdemeanor crime each year. That number represents roughly 3% of Florida's adult population. A new report on the impact of these misdemeanor cases was written by Sean Maddan, Ph.D., and Alisa Smith, J.D., with the University of Tampa, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The report looks at the statistics showing how many of these cases are resolved at first appearance or arraignment by individuals that do not have an attorney.

Studies on National Crime Statistics for Misdemeanor Offenses

Earlier in 2011, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) published a report called Minor Crimes, Massive Waste that looked at the way misdemeanor cases are resolved throughout the United States.

Studies on Crime Statistics for Misdemeanor Offenses in Florida

The national study was followed up by a statewide study that focused exclusively on the way such cases are handled in various counties throughout the State of Florida. Click here to ready more about crime statistics in Florida and the new study called Three Minute Justice; Haste and Waste in Florida’s Misdemeanor Court. You can read the full report here statistics on misdemeanor arraignments in Florida.

For the cases included in the study:
  1. 70% were resolved at arraignment;
  2. 85% of the misdemeanor arraignments lasted less than 3 minutes; and
  3. 65% of individuals at the misdemeanor arraignment did not have an attorney (either a privately retained attorney, appointed counsel, or an attorney from the public defender's office).
The Impact of Three Minutes of Justice for Individuals without an Attorney

The study goes on to discuss the impact these "three minutes of justice" will have on the individual for the rest of their life, including:
  • The direct consequences announced by the misdemeanor judge including a withhold of adjudication or a conviction, jail time or probation, fines and court costs, jail time, cost of prosecution, cost of supervision, cost of investigation, costs of attend classes for DUI school, drug and alcohol treatment, domestic violence classes, and more.
  • The collateral consequences that are rarely discussed at first appearance or arraignment such as:
    • Being labeled with a conviction for a “crime of dishonesty” which is always an impeachable offense that makes it difficult to pass even the most basic background check;
    • Being convicted of a “drug crime” for the large number of possession of marijuana charges which come with a host of implications for obtaining financial aid, getting scholarships, finding housing, and obtaining employment;
    • Ineligibility to care for foster children under Fla. Stat. §§ 39.001, 39.0121;
    • Loss or denial of employment for state, municipal, or other public employers as provided by Fla. Stat. §§ 943.13, 110.1127, 110.127, 166.0442, and 30.29;
    • Suspension or refusal to grant a dental, nursing or medical license as provided in Fla. Stat. §§ 466.0067, 456.074, and 456.039;
    • Inability to obtain public housing for certain misdemeanor convictions as provided in Fla. Stat. § 60.05; and
    • Suspension of a Florida driver’s license or commercial driving privileges as provided in Fla. Stat. §§ 322.03, and 316.302.
The report contains common sense recommendations that should be a must read for judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and private criminal defense lawyers. As budget cuts put more and more pressure on trial judges to handle such cases with even greater haste, we quickly reach the point that the haste ends up creating an ineffective system is counter-productive for the taxpayers of the State of Florida.

The Hidden Costs Associated with Hasty Decisions

Those individuals tarnished with an unduly hasty decision return to our communities where they are often unable to find employment, return to school, or enjoy the small benefits that those of us without a criminal record take for granted. When the individual commits a serious crime such consequences are justified, but for many minor misdemeanor offenses those "three minutes of justice" may be completely inadequate.

My Two Cents - The Role of the Public Defender

In my opinion, the fastest way to help correct this problem is for public defenders to give a speech before the judge takes the bench explaining what is about to take place and advising those people in the courtroom about the benefits of at least talking to a criminal defense attorney about their options before they enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. When I was a young public defender 10 years ago, our office required us to give such a speech before court began. 

The most important part of the speech - "whether you enter a plea of guilty or whether you enter a plea of not guilty and post bond, you will be released from the jail at the same time." I say that because many people believed that by entering a plea they would be released from custody faster. Other people were irrationally afraid that their family would bond them out even though the family was already in the process of bonding them out of jail.  

We all knew that whether we gave that speech and the way we gave that speech made a huge difference in how many people asked to return with an attorney, how many people asked to have a public defender appointed, and how many people entered a plea of "not guilty."

The judges hated it because it caused fewer people to plead guilty. Some judges called it "soliciting" clients which is kind of silly when you are a public defender. But counteracting that perception that the best thing to do was enter a plea and "get it over with" was important.

The person accused for the first time, young people and lower income individuals are at a huge disadvantage during those three minutes of justice. But at the end of the day the person accused has a responsibility to seek out information and make the best decision for their particular case.

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