Statewide Prosecutor - Guide for Victims
Office of Statewide Prosecution
About the Office of Statewide Prosecution
The Office was created by Constitutional Amendment in 1986.
The Office is charged with the responsibility to prosecute certain organized criminal activities which occur in, or affect, two or more judicial circuits-for example: bribery; burglary; criminal usury; extortion; gambling; kidnapping; larceny; murder; prostitution; perjury; robbery; carjacking; home-invasion robbery; narcotics violations; violations of the provisions of the Florida RICO (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization), Florida Anti-Fencing Act, or the Florida Anti-Trust Act of 1980 as amended; computer pornography; and any crime involving, or resulting in, fraud or deceit upon any person; or any attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy to commit any of the crimes specifically enumerated above.
The Statewide Prosecutor has the authority to conduct hearings throughout the State, summon and examine witnesses, require the production of physical evidence, sign informations and indictments, confer immunity, and exercise basically the same powers as are granted to State Attorneys.
The Statewide Prosecutor is appointed by the Attorney General to serve a four-year term.
An Overview of the Legal System
The process begins when a victim, or one having knowledge of a crime, files a sworn statement with the proper authority known as a complaint. Once a complaint has been investigated, and the complaint is found to have probable cause, a crime can be charged either by information or indictment. An information is a sworn document signed by the prosecuting authority (in this case the Office of Statewide Prosecution) which charges a person with the a violation of the law. An information may charge any crime except a crime punishable by death.
An indictment is a charging document filed by a grand jury and may indict on any crime. A grand jury consists of 18 citizens who hear allegations and evidence brought before them by the prosecuting authority and decide who, if anyone, should be charged with what crime(s). If a defendant is held on a complaint and an information or indictment is not filed within 21 days, he/she may demand an adversary preliminary hearing. At an adversary preliminary hearing, evidence is presented and witnesses are questioned. The judge then makes a determination whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that the defendant committed it, in order to further detain the defendant.
Within 24 hours of his/her arrest the accused criminal, known as the "defendant" is brought before the judge for first appearance. At this hearing the judge informs the defendant of the charges against him/her, advises the defendant of his/her right to counsel, and explains the amount of bond.
If the defendant is not able to post the bail initially set by the judge, he/she may request a bond hearing at any time. At a bond hearing the judge considers the nature and circumstances of the case, the weight of the evidence against the defendant, the risk of danger to the community, and the defendant's prior record and ties to the community. The judge then determines whether a lower bond amount will ensure the defendant's appearance at further court proceedings and protect the community from unreasonable danger.
After filing an information or indictment the defendant is next entitled to an arraignment, whereby the defendant is told of the substance of the charge against him/her and called upon to plead guilty or not guilty. Defendants rarely plead guilty at arraignment; however, in more than 90 percent of the cases the defendant pleads guilty or no contest prior to trial.
You should receive advance notice of critical proceedings such as arrest (from law enforcement), release (from the corrections facility), and proceedings in prosecution (from the Office of Statewide Prosecution). To assure you get proper notice from this Office, you should keep the prosecutor advised of your current address. You may request a consultation with the prosecutor to discuss the facts of the case. You may also discuss release of the accused, plea agreements, pre-trial diversion programs, and sentencing of the accused. If you are an incarcerated victim you may submit written statements at all crucial stages of the criminal and parole proceedings.
Should the case proceed to trial, you can expect to receive a subpoena. A subpoena is a written court order requiring a person to appear at a place and time, in order to give testimony or bring material. Subpoenas are usually issued for depositions and trials. Please pay careful attention to the instructions on the subpoena. If you do not understand the instructions, please contact our office.
A deposition is a sworn statement given by a witness in response to questions from attorneys on both sides of the case to assist them in understanding what the witness knows about the case. A court reporter is also present to record the proceeding, but a judge is not present. The defendant is not permitted to attend depositions unless permission is granted by the court upon a showing of good cause or upon stipulation of both sides.
A trial is the opportunity for the State to present evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime charged.
A judge presides over the trial and rules on matters of law. Most trials are jury trials, meaning that the question of guilt is decided by a panel of citizens. Do not be concerned if the trial does not take place on the first scheduled trial date. It is not uncommon for trials to be continued or postponed for a variety of reasons, from a crowded trial docket to witnesses in poor health.
The trial begins with the selection of the jury. The attorneys for each side question a pool of potential jurors and use an allotment of strikes to excuse those potential jurors who they believe will not be fair and impartial. This process continues until each side exhausts their strikes or agree on a jury. Once the trial begins, the "rule of sequestration" or "rule" may be invoked. This means that the witnesses must remain outside the courtroom except when testifying and may not discuss the case with anyone except the attorneys involved. The idea is to prevent the witness from having his/her testimony influenced by what takes place during trial.
However, victims may not be excluded from any portion of any proceeding, unless the court determines that the interest of justice requires exclusion.
The attorneys next present opening statements to explain to the jury what they hope to prove during the trial. The State (prosecution) then presents evidence and witnesses. These witnesses may be questioned or cross-examined by the defense attorney. The defense then has an opportunity to present evidence. However, on many occasions the defendant does not present any evidence because he/she does not have the burden of proof. The burden of proof is on the State to prove the defendant's guilt and the defendant cannot be compelled to testify against himself/herself. Following the presentation of evidence, the attorneys make their closing arguments in an attempt to persuade the jury to convict or acquit the defendant. The judge then instructs the jury on the applicable law and the jury deliberates.
If the defendant is found guilty he/she may be sentenced immediately, but most often the judge sets a sentencing date and orders a pre-sentence investigation. A pre-sentence investigation is a report by a probation officer detailing the defendant's background and prior criminal record. It also includes comments from the defendant, victim(s), the defendant's attorney, the prosecuting attorney, and a sentencing recommendation from the probation officer.
At the sentencing hearing and prior to pronouncing the sentence, the judge gives the defense and prosecution an opportunity to present their recommendations to the court, along with those of the victim(s), should the victim(s) wish to speak. At the hearing you will be given the opportunity to explain to the court how the defendant's crime affected you personally and financially. Your statement can be oral or in writing. Your testimony will assist the court in determining the defendant's sentence. If the sentence results in a prison term and you wish to be kept informed of the defendant's status, including release or escape, you may write to:
The Victim Assistance Program
Department of Corrections
2601 Blairstone Road
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2500
In your letter include the defendant's name, race, date of birth, and county of sentencing. You may also request that your address and phone number be kept confidential.
If you need additional information regarding the stages of the judicial system you should contact the prosecutor assigned to your case.
What Are Your Rights?
1. To be informed of the availability of the Crimes Compensation Fund. A fund for victims of violent crimes in which physical injury has resulted in a serious financial hardship to the victim or in which a death has resulted in a serious financial hardship to the victim's family.
2. To be informed regarding crises intervention services, counseling, therapy, and community based victim treatment programs.
3. To be informed on the role of a victim/witness in the criminal justice system and information on crucial stages of criminal proceedings.
4. To be informed of the crucial stages of the judicial system and the manner in which information about these stages can be obtained.
5. To be informed, present, and heard at all crucial stages of the proceedings to the extent that this right does not interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused.
6. To be informed that if incarcerated, victims have the right to submit written statements at all crucial stages of the criminal proceedings and parole proceedings.
7. To a prompt and timely disposition of the case, to the extent that this right does not interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused.
8. To be free of intimidation and harassment, to be informed of steps available to law enforcement and prosecutors to protect against intimidation and harassment, and to be informed about the address confidentiality program in domestic violence cases.
9. To advance notice of the arrest of the accused, if possible or prudent in light of an ongoing investigation.
10. To advance notice of the release of the accused.
11. To advance notice of scheduling changes, if the agency has the current address of the victim.
12. To advance notice of judicial proceedings such as arrest, release, proceedings in prosecution or petition for dependency.
13. To consultation with the prosecutor's office, if the victim of a felony, regarding release of accused, plea agreements, pretrial diversion programs, and the sentencing of the accused (and to receive a copy of the non-confidential portions of the pre-sentence investigation report if prepared prior to sentencing).
14. To have property that was seized as evidence returned, unless there is a compelling evidentiary reason to keep it.
15. To request and receive restitution and information about enforcing restitution judgments.
16. To assistance in notifying the victim's employer and creditors of the victimization.
17. To submit an oral or written impact statement prior to sentencing.
18. To general assistance such as transportation, separate waiting rooms, and translators, if available.
19. To be notified of escape of accused.
20. To have victim advocate attend deposition with the victim.
21. To receive HIV test results of accused if criminal offense involved the transmission of bodily fluids.
22. When the victim is a minor, these rights may be asserted by their parent or legal guardian.
23. When a victims is deceased in a homicide case, these rights may be asserted by their next of kin.
24. To grant the prosecutor standing to assert these rights on behalf of the victim.
Common Questions Asked by Victims
How is the Office of Statewide Prosecution different from the local State Attorney's Office?
Florida has 20 judicial circuits, with an elected State Attorney in each circuit. The local State Attorney is authorized to investigate and prosecute all crimes committed in his or her judicial circuit.
The Statewide Prosecutor is appointed by the Attorney General and has the power to investigate and prosecute certain criminal offenses which are occurring or have occurred in two or more judicial circuits or as part of a criminal conspiracy affecting two or more judicial circuits. The Office of Statewide Prosecution (OSWP) has regional offices in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale and Miami-Dade. The offices are staffed with assistant statewide prosecutors, financial analysts, and support staff. The OSWP does not have its own sworn investigators, but works with all of the local and state law enforcement agencies to conduct investigations.
The primary investigative agency for the OSWP is the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).
How long will the process take?
The defendant has the right to a speedy trial, within 180 days (six months) of the time he/she is arrested and/or charged by information or indictment. During this time the defendant must be arraigned, discovery must be conducted (the process whereby the defendant, through his or her attorney examines evidence and witnesses the State will present at trial), pretrial motions must be heard, plea negotiations will be held, and a trial or plea and sentencing will take place. However, the defendant can waive speedy trial if he or she needs more time to prepare the case. Therefore, some cases may take more than 180 days to resolve.
According to the Constitution, victims also have a right to a speedy trial, but only to the extent that this right does not interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused. A time period for the victims right to a speedy trial has not been defined by the law.
During the time the case is pending, the Office of Statewide Prosecution will keep you informed of all court dates as well as any delays in reaching the resolution of the case. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the prosecutor assigned to your case.
Will I have to testify?
There is a strong possibility that you, as the victim of the crime, will have to testify at either a deposition, trial, or plea and sentencing hearing. In some cases you may have to testify at all three.
As a victim the law protects you from intimidation. If you feel you are being intimidated contact the prosecutor immediately so the proper action can be taken.
You will receive adequate notice and a subpoena to appear at your deposition and you should not have to travel outside the county in which you reside. If you have any special requests as to the time and place of your deposition, or if you desire the assistance of a victim advocate, you should communicate these needs to the prosecutor. You will also receive sufficient advance notice of the trial date and will receive a subpoena to appear on a certain date. You will be given adequate time with the prosecutor to discuss what to expect prior to the trial date. The Office of Statewide Prosecution will inform you of the date and time of any plea and sentencing hearing. Both the trial and plea and sentencing hearing will occur in the county in which the defendant is charged, which may require you to travel. If you need assistance such as transportation, separate waiting rooms, or translators, please contact the prosecutor assigned to your case
Who will pay for my travel?
The county where the trial is held usually pays for your travel expenses. The prosecutor's executive secretary will advise you in making travel arrangements. Florida Statutes covering travel expenses must be strictly followed in order for you to be reimbursed.
Is the State going to let the defendant "plea bargain" his/her way out of the charges?
In many cases, it is in the best interest of all parties-the defendant, the State, and you the victim-to resolve the case without a trial. Many factors enter into the decision to reach a plea agreement. The first two factors considered are the strength of the evidence and the wishes of the victim(s). If the evidence, for whatever reason, becomes stale or defective, and is therefore not strong enough to support a conviction, as charged, it may be necessary to allow the defendant to "plea bargain" to a lesser charge or a lesser sentence than required by law.
Alternatively, the victim(s) may not wish to undergo the stress of a trial, in which case the State may try to work out a "plea bargain." The State will also consider such factors as the protection of the public, the attitude of the defendant, the need to treat this defendant similarly to other defendants who have committed the same crimes, the state sentencing guidelines, and the expense of taking the case to trial. However, the State will not enter into a plea agreement with the defendant without consulting you first. As mentioned previously, you will be given the opportunity at the sentencing hearing to explain to the court how the defendant's crime affected you personally and financially. Your testimony will assist the court in entering an appropriate sentence, which would be consistent with the terms of any agreement that has been reached between the State and the defendant.
The judge does not have to accept the "plea bargain," and may reject it if you object.
Will I get my money back?
The State of Florida will strive to protect your financial interests. The State always requests restitution to the victims as part of any sentence, and it is usually ordered by the court. Restitution may be paid prior to sentencing, during a probationary period, or after a prison sentence is served. The defendant cannot, however, be forced to make payments beyond his/her financial responsibility. The court order may be recorded as a judgment against the defendant and executed in civil court, but you may need the assistance of a private attorney for this purpose. The State cannot promise you that you will receive all or even part of your money; however, we will make every effort to ensure that restitution is ordered.
What if I am a victim of a crime involving the transmission of bodily fluids?
If the criminal offense involved the transmission of bodily fluids you have the right to receive the HIV test results of the accused.
Can I be compensated for my physical injuries?
Yes, the State of Florida does provide assistance for victims of violent crimes in which physical injury has resulted in a serious financial hardship to the victim's family. For information regarding assistance contact the Division of Victim Services and Criminal Justice Programs by telephoning 1-800-226-6667 or in the Tallahassee area (850) 414-3300.
How can I get counseling?
For information regarding crisis intervention services, counseling, therapy, and community based victim treatment programs contact a victim advocate in your area. If you need the name and contact information for a victim advocate in your area you can call the Division of Victim Services and Criminal Justice Programs by telephoning 1-800-226-6667 or in the Tallahassee area (850) 414-3300.
How Can We Help?
The Office of Statewide Prosecution is committed to assisting you, the victim, throughout the course of the prosecution. We are dedicated to ensuring that you receive information on the status of the case, timely notification of depositions and/or trial dates, and that you have the opportunity for input into the process. We will also refer you to victim services programs, where appropriate. Please contact the prosecutor assigned to your case or the Statewide Prosecutor should you have any other questions regarding our office or the judicial process.
PL-01, The Capitol
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050
Chief: Brian Fernandes
West Palm Beach Office
1300 Riverplace Blvd., Suite 405
Jacksonville, FL 32207
Chief: Kelsey Bledsoe
135 West Central Boulevard, Suite 1000
Orlando, FL 32801
Chief: Robert Finkbeiner
|Ft. Lauderdale Office
The 110 Tower
110 S.E. 6th St., Suite 900
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301
Deputy Statewide Prosecutor: Julie Chaikin Hogan
|Ft. Myers Office
4575 Via Royale Corporate Center
4575 Via Royale
Fort Myers, FL 33919
Chief: Tim Donnelly
Suntrust International Center
One SE 3rd Avenue
Miami, FL 33131
Chief: Jeremy Scott