Florida had over 113 million visitors in 2016. That’s a lot (considering the state’s population is just under 21 million). Unfortunately, not everyone who visited returned home without first being arrested.
I have been a criminal defense lawyer since 1995 and I represent people who have been arrested while visiting Florida on holiday.
Getting Arrested in Florida
Traveling is fun but it can often be stressful too. Money issues are often a cause for stress and the cost of traveling can add to that. Stress can cause us to act irrationally and before we know it, we have done something we regret. Visitors to Florida need to understand the rights that apply to them when they are arrested.
- Right to be represented by counsel (Hire an Attorney)
- Right to a Trial (means you can enter a plea of Not Guilty)
- Right to Confront Witnesses Against You (Hire a Lawyer)
And what I like to say, the Right to be treated equally in court when resolving your case. This means you should not receive a harsher penalty because you decided to accept responsibility immediately.
Entering a Plea of Not Guilty
You may have done something wrong and you may think the best way to deal with it is to just admit it. However, this can be a huge mistake. Entering a plea (other than Not Guilty) without advice from counsel can lead to irreparable harm that can last a lifetime.
You Just Need More Time, Say Not Guilty
Entering a plea of Not Guilty is not the same as telling the court “I didn’t do anything wrong and I am going to fight this all the way.” Neither the court, the prosecutor, or anyone else sees it that way.
A plea of Not Guilty is simply telling the court you have not yet decided what you are going to do. It is a Right, and you should use it.
What Visitors Get Arrested For
Florida visitors who get arrested typically get charged with minor offenses such as domestic arguing (violence), theft (shoplifting), or DUI/drugs (marijuana not legal in Florida). Sometimes it is for more serious offenses or the occasional criminal mischief (destruction of property) or the over charged Resisting Law Enforcement Without Violence.
Most of these type of cases (except domestic violence) will result in pretrial release. A bond (security release) or conditional release (usually prohibiting you from contacting a victim) would indicate a more serious offense.
After You Get Released, Understand What is Happening
Any arrest will be very stressful. The first thing you should do is read all the paperwork you received from the Court. Understand what just happened and what the next step is. The next step is typically a date for your arraignment set off two to four weeks away. This is a good time to contact a Criminal Attorney.
Contacting A Lawyer
After your release, you will then have the time to contact and hire a lawyer to handle your case. Representing out-of-state clients is a major part of my criminal practice. Many attorneys represent people in this situation and because Florida has so many visitors, it is accommodated by the courts.
Getting Back Home
If the arraignment is scheduled for after you were suppose to return home, an attorney will be able to waive your appearance in the most common situations. You won’t have to be there and, so long as there is no restriction on travel, you will be able to return home.
The Court Process Can Take Months
The procedure of the court can take months. An attorney can handle all of that for you and keep you updated on the progress, discovery, and all plea negotiations.
Most criminal cases can be handled while you are back home. And most cases do not require you to return in order to resolve the case unless it goes to trial.
Resolving an Arrest for Florida Visitors
The critical issue will always be how to resolve your case. I will advise you of the best courses of action. Keep in mind the following factors:
- Will you be convicted of a crime, permanently marking your criminal history?
- Will this affect your ability to re-enter the United States (if from another country)?
- Will the disposition of your case affect anything in your life now? Job? Where you live? Etc.?
We Also Handle Traffic Tickets
We even handle the traffic tickets you may get while visiting Florida. This is a little off-topic but a traffic ticket received in Florida can cause problems in the state you are from if not handled properly.
Expunging or Sealing Your Criminal Record After Resolving Your Florida Arrest
One of the important considerations you must understand is whether or not the resolution of your case will allow you to seal or expunge the record. Sealing or expunging your record is the first step to keeping this out of the public’s eye. This also means keeping it from your employer, family and friends, off job applications, etc. See, What is an Expungement.
How Can You Expunge Your Florida Record (From Far Away)
Even though you may live in another State or even another country, you can still have an arrest sealed or expunged so long as you qualify. Florida visitors can take advantage of the same laws as Florida residents. Although people try to do this themselves, attempting to do this from a distance can be daunting.
I have been doing this for over 20 years. We handle everything today with email, phone, text, and skype technology. We have built our practice around the use of technology to make it as easy for our clients as possible.
Will You Have to Travel Back to Florida
People who live out-of-state rarely have to return to Florida to complete this process. In the last 20 years, we have never had to have someone travel from outside of Florida. That does not mean it will never happen. If the Court requires a hearing and your presence, then arrangements will have to be made.
Will The Distance Cause Unnecessary Delays
As noted above, the use of technology mitigates any delays due to distance. Our experience also reduces most delays.
How Much Will It Cost
The cost of sealing or expunging a criminal record for a person who lives out-of-state is exactly the same for a person who lives locally. Keeping the cost down for everyone is our goal and made much easier with today’s technology.
For More Information Emailed to You
Please note the date this article was published. The information listed above is subject to change as changes are made to the laws. The information written above is meant only to be for Informational Purposes Only and is not legal advice.
If any corrections or errors are found please notify me as soon as possible.
Eric Dirga has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1995. His office is Eric J. Dirga, PA, located in Orlando, FL. He provides legal representation for Criminal Defense in the Central Florida area and representation for expungement and sealing of records throughout the state of Florida.
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