By: James Davis
Florida Notice to Appear
In the State of Florida, law enforcement officers have the option to arrest a suspect and transport the individual to the nearest jail or issue a “Notice to Appear” in lieu of making an actual arrest under certain conditions. The legal significance of a Notice to Appear is the same as an arrest. If you have been served with a Notice to Appear it is crucial that you understand what the notice means and what steps you should take next.
Authority for a Notice to Appear
A Notice to Appear in a criminal case in Florida is very similar to a Summons in a civil case. Unless an officer is concerned that the accused will not appear, poses a threat to the public, cannot be identified, or is wanted in another jurisdiction, an officer has the authority to forego an arrest and issue a Notice to Appear instead when the criminal offense involved is a misdemeanor. The authority for issuing a Notice to Appear comes from Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.125 which reads, in pertinent part:
“If a person is arrested for an offense declared to be a misdemeanor of the first or second degree or a violation, or is arrested for violation of a municipal or county ordinance triable in the county, and demand to be taken before a judge is not made, notice to appear may be issued by the arresting officer…”
If the arresting officer is not convinced that a Notice to Appear is sufficient and proceeds to make an actual arrest, the Booking Officer also has the authority to decline to officially process the accused at the jail and issue a Notice instead after additional investigation.
How Does a Notice to Appear Work?
If a law enforcement officer decides to issue a Notice to Appear instead of arrest an individual the officer must secure the accused’s signature on three of the four copies of the Notice. The fourth copy is retained by the accused. Two of the signed copies are then given to the Clerk of Court who then forwards one copy to the State Attorney. Once the copies have been delivered the accused is considered to be formally charged with a criminal offense and must appear in court at the designated time and place indicated on the Notice to Appear.
Failure to Obey a Notice to Appear
Because a Notice to Appear is the same as a judge ordering you to appear for a court hearing, a warrant for your arrest will be issued if you fail to appear at the designated time and place indicated on the Notice. In addition, you could be convicted of the offense for which the Notice was issued. If you fail to appear you lose the right to defend yourself against the charges filed against you. Moreover, the prosecutor may request whatever sentence he or she feels is appropriate for your conviction without any input from you or your attorney.
What to Do If You Receive A Notice to Appear
If you are given a Notice to Appear you must take it seriously. Carefully read the Notice so you understand the charges filed against you and when and where you must appear for court. After that, contact an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney to ensure that your rights are protected throughout the prosecution of your case.