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Pinellas / St. Petersburg / Clearwater Criminal Defense Lawyers
Many people have been led to believe that law enforcement is required to make an arrest in order to charge a person with a crime. However, in Florida, the police have the option to bring a criminal charge against a person without taking an individual into custody. This procedure is referred to as a “Notice to Appear” and is authorized by Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.125. So, what is a Notice to Appear in Court?
If you have received a “Notice to Appear” in lieu of a formal arrest, you should know that…
A police officer is authorized under Florida law to issue a “notice to appear’ in lieu of arrest if you have sufficient ties to the community and you have never previously failed to appear for court. However, just because the officer elected not to formally arrest you, does not mean you are facing something less than a criminal charge.
Law enforcement is sometimes motivated to issue a “Notice to Appear” because it allows an officer to avoid transporting a person to the Pinellas County Jail. Not only do the police save time, but the expense of transport and the cost of housing an individual in the jail are not incurred. We have consulted with many people who were “sent the wrong message” and believed that having received a “Notice to Appear” was “no big deal.” It is highly important to understand that the Pinellas County Criminal Justice System makes no distinction whatsoever between crimes that were charged by “Notice to Appear” versus those crimes where an arrest occurred. Regardless of whether an arrest took place, the courts will treat the case as any other criminal offense where the full range of penalties, including fines, probation, conviction, and jail, are available. Failing to show up in court on a “Notice to Appear” will likely cause the judge to issue a warrant for “failure to appear” that carries a monetary bond.
Law enforcement uses FDLE Form COCR59 to generate a “Notice to Appear” for a criminal charge. If you examine the “Notice to Appear” that you received, you will see that the top portion of the form is titled “Complaint/Arrest Affidavit.” That is because this form can used by the police to make formal arrests or to issue “Notices to Appear.” The first portion of the form is used to record identifying information such as name, address, date of birth, height, weight, gender, appearance, employment, etc. The middle portion briefly states the officer’s “probable cause” to believe that a particular individual committed a certain crime. In nearly all cases, the “probable cause” portion of the affidavit contains just a few facts coupled with “boiler-plate” language from the Florida Statutes defining the particular offense. At the very bottom of the form is the section marked “Notice to Appear Only.” In this portion, law enforcement can specify the date and time where you are to appear in court. In Pinellas County, misdemeanor “Notice to Appear” cases are handled in Division P15 at the Clearwater Criminal Justice Center.
The “Notice to Appear” form that is issued to an accused person is sometimes yellow in color, if law enforcement is using a “carbon copy” type form. On the other hand, some officers or police agencies have the capability of printing a “Notice to Appear” from the computer in a police cruiser. Sometimes, the fact that a person receives a handwritten “Notice to Appear” misleads the recipient into believing that the situation is not a serious issue, given the informal looking document they have received and the lack of any arrest. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Another form of a “Notice to Appear” is on a document that bears a close resemblance to a civil citation or traffic ticket. Once again, the fact that this document looks similar to a ticket can lull an accused person into a false sense of security that they were not charged with a crime and “all they got was a ticket.” In many instances, the “Notice to Appear” issued on the citation-type form is printed from a computer in law enforcement’s vehicle and contains all of the same information that the “Notice to Appear” FDLE COCR59 form does.
A “Notice to Appear” is used to charge people with criminal offenses in lieu of formal arrest. Take the time to consult with our office before you spend a lifetime reflecting on the results of a court hearing that you attended on your own. Don’t face a criminal charge without the benefit of an experienced Pinellas County criminal defense attorney by your side. We are former state prosecutors who exclusively practice criminal defense in Pinellas County, Florida. We routinely and regularly appear before the local judges who are assigned to and hear “Notice to Appear” cases. As a result, we understand how the system works. We are dedicated to achieving the best possible outcome and addressing the concerns that are most important to you.