Statistics on Arraignments in Florida Misdemeanor Cases: The “Three Minute Justice” Study

One thing has amazed me since I became a criminal defense attorney more than 10 years ago – how many people show up at the first court date ready to enter a guilty plea without an attorney. The main problem with that strategy is that those individuals are almost always worse off then the individuals who either hire a private attorney or ask the court to appoint a public defender to represent them.

The court is not required to tell you about the indirect consequences of the plea which can often be far worse than the sentence that will be announced by the court. Additionally, the judge and the prosecutor are not going to tell the individual about possible defenses that might result in the charges being dropped completely or at least reduced to a lesser charge.

Criminal Justice is Not a Wise “Do it Yourself” Project

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) published a national report called Minor Crimes, Massive Waste that looked at the way misdemeanor cases are resolved throughout the country. A follow up to that study was just published that focuses just on criminal justice in Florida. The new study is called Three Minute Justice; Haste and Waste in Florida’s Misdemeanor Court. Click here to read the full report and statistics on arraignments in Florida. The authors of the report are Sean Maddan, Ph.D. and Alisa Smith, JD, with the University of Tampa, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

The study looked at process involved in the the criminal justice system for twenty-one counties in Florida. The report shows that nearly 500,000 people are charged with misdemeanor offenses each year in Florida. That number represents about 3% of Florida’s adult population. Of those cases:

  1. 70% were resolved at arraignment;
  2. 85% of the arraignments lasted less than 3 minutes; and
  3. 65% of individuals at arraignment do not have an attorney.

The shocking part of it is that most people don’t realize the impact a criminal record will have on their future including:

  • The direct consequences such as fines, court costs, jail time, probation, cost of supervision, cost of prosecution, cost of investigation, costs of attend classes for DUI school, drug and alcohol treatment, domestic violence classes, etc.;
  • The collateral consequences such as:
    • Being labeled with a conviction for a “crime of dishonesty” which is always an impeachable offense that makes it nearly impossible to find a job or pass even the most basic background check;
    • Being convicted of a “drug offense” for possession of marijuana which has a host of implications for obtaining financial aid, housing, and employment;
    • Ineligibility to care for foster children under Fla. Stat. §§ 39.001, 39.0121;
    • Loss or denial of employment for municipal, public or state employers as provided by Fla. Stat. §§ 943.13, 110.1127, 110.127, 166.0442, and 30.29;
    • Suspension or refusal to grant medical, dental, or nursing licensing 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 or revocation of a 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 attorneys. Many trial judges are extremely proud of the speed with which they process such cases. However, reading the study really helps put the problem in perspective.

The study looked at crime and sentencing statistics gathered in the following Florida Counties: Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, Polk County, Pasco County, Manatee County, Sarasota County, Sumter County, Hernando County, Hardee County, Brevard County, Broward County, Charlotte County, Citrus County, DeSoto County, Gadsden County, Indian River County, Leon County, Miami-Dade County, Orange County, Osceola County, and Volusia County.

Read More: What Happens at the DUI Arraignment if I Don’t Have an Attorney?

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