Tampa Misdemeanor Lawyer

Misdemeanors in Florida | Small Crimes with Big Consequences

Lawyer for Misdemeanor Charges

While misdemeanors are generally considered less serious than felony offenses, they can still profoundly affect various aspects of your life, from career opportunities to personal freedoms. A misdemeanor conviction can lead to a permanent criminal record, which may affect future job prospects, housing applications, and even certain civil rights. If you or someone you care about is facing misdemeanor charges in Florida, it’s imperative that you speak with a Tampa Bay criminal defense lawyer.

Under Florida law, a misdemeanor is defined as “any criminal offense that is punishable under the laws of this state, or that would be punishable if committed in this state, by a term of imprisonment in a county correctional facility, except an extended term, not in excess of 1 year.” § 775.08(2), Fla. Stat. (2022).

Misdemeanors in Florida are handled at the county court level and can lead to penalties such as fines, probation, or imprisonment in the county jail. Unlike felony cases, the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure generally prohibit depositions in misdemeanor cases without a showing of good cause. Furthermore, misdemeanor offenses do not fall under the Florida Punishment Code or sentencing guidelines.

The Importance of Legal Representation

“A man who represents himself has a fool for a client.” This adage is often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, although its exact origin remains a subject of ongoing debate among historians. Nevertheless, the wisdom encapsulated in this famous saying—highlighting the pitfalls of self-representation—has endured for over a century among attorneys and legal scholars. Lincoln, a seasoned lawyer before becoming president, recognized that emotional involvement and personal biases can cloud judgment and impede effective self-representation. While you might be tempted to represent yourself, especially if the charges seem minor, it might be wise to heed Lincoln’s advice and consider the pitfalls of self-representation, as discussed in the next section.

The Pitfalls of Self-Representation

Representing yourself can lead to decisions clouded by emotions, where personal stakes overshadow objectivity and pragmatism. An attorney acts as a crucial buffer between your personal feelings and the objective needs of the case. Lawyers are trained to approach cases dispassionately and strategically, focusing on legal precedents and the merits of the case rather than personal sentiment. This professional detachment is vital, as decisions need to be grounded in legal principles.

Attorneys also bring a depth of knowledge about legal procedures and the intricacies of the law that non-lawyers might overlook. They can negotiate with prosecutors, and advocate vigorously on your behalf, leveraging their expertise to secure the best possible outcome. A qualified lawyer helps you mount a robust defense, negotiate favorable plea deals, and strategically mitigate any long-term consequences, thereby minimizing the lasting impact that legal issues might have on your personal and professional life.

Types of Misdemeanor Offenses

Misdemeanors in Florida are categorized into two types: 1st-degree misdemeanors and 2nd-degree misdemeanors. § 775.081(2), Fla. Stat. (2022). A 1st-degree misdemeanor can lead to a jail term of up to one year and a fine of up to $1,000. A 2nd-degree misdemeanor, on the other hand, could result in a jail term of up to 60 days and a fine of up to $500.

The scope of offenses classified as misdemeanors is extensive, encompassing a variety of crimes.

Examples of Misdemeanors

Small Crimes with Big Consequences

Don’t underestimate the severity of misdemeanor offenses. While misdemeanor convictions in Florida don’t necessarily result in lengthy prison sentences or the loss of civil rights—such as the right to vote or own firearms—a misdemeanor conviction is far from inconsequential. Misdemeanor convictions can result in penalties such as fines, probation, community service, or even imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year.

Moreover, a misdemeanor conviction will appear on your criminal record and can significantly affect various aspects of your life. Employment prospects can be limited, as many employers conduct background checks. Securing housing may become more complicated, as landlords often look into criminal histories. Gaining admission to a university can become a hurdle, and you might see a hike in certain insurance premiums. Additionally, for non-U.S. citizens, some misdemeanor convictions can have dire consequences, including the possibility of deportation.

Will a Misdemeanor Go on My Record?

Once you are arrested, a criminal record is created, and it’s permanent regardless of whether the charges are dropped, dismissed, or if you’re found guilty. The only way to remove this record is through the legal processes of expungement or sealing, which are not automatic. These processes must be initiated by the defendant and can be complex and time-consuming.

If you are facing misdemeanor charges, consulting with an experienced Tampa misdemeanor lawyer isn’t just advisable—it’s imperative. The legal choices you make in resolving your misdemeanor case can directly impact your future options for expunging or sealing your criminal record. A qualified attorney can guide you through the complexities of the legal system, defending your rights and strategically managing your case to preserve your eligibility for future expungement or sealing.

If your case does not result in an outright dismissal of the charges, your attorney has other avenues to help preserve your eligibility for expunging or sealing your record. For example, a DUI charge, which cannot be sealed even if adjudication is withheld, could potentially be amended to a reckless driving charge with a withhold of adjudication, thereby becoming eligible for sealing. Similarly, a domestic battery charge, which also can’t be sealed regardless of adjudication, could be amended to a simple battery with a withhold of adjudication, making it sealable down the line. It’s a strategic approach aimed not only at resolving your current case favorably but also keeping future options open.

A Tampa Misdemeanor Lawyer Can Help

Expunging or sealing a record involves complex legal procedures that essentially make your criminal record inaccessible to the public. While the detailed eligibility criteria for these options are beyond the scope of this article, know that by working with a seasoned Tampa misdemeanor lawyer, you are not just defending your present charges but also preserving the possibility of a future unburdened by a criminal record.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some frequently asked questions and answers regarding Florida misdemeanor charges.

What are 1st and 2nd degree misdemeanors?

A 1st-degree misdemeanor can result in a jail term of up to one year and a fine of up to $1,000. A 2nd-degree misdemeanor can result in a jail term of up to 60 days and a fine of up to $500.

What types of crimes are misdemeanors?

Offenses like Petit Theft, DUI, Simple Assault, Possession of Marijuana, and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia are considered misdemeanors in Florida.

What happens after I get arrested?

In Florida, after being charged with a misdemeanor, you could either be arrested or given a notice to appear in court at law enforcement’s discretion. A formal arrest involves booking and detention until you can post bail or appear before a judge. A notice to appear serves as a written order to attend future court proceedings without being taken into custody. This is in contrast to felony charges, where an arrest is generally mandatory.

How do misdemeanor plea deals work?

A plea deal is a negotiated agreement between the defense and the prosecution on the terms of the sentence, which the court usually—but not always—accepts. Contrary to common perception, a plea deal doesn’t always mean pleading to a lesser charge or receiving a reduced sentence. Instead, it’s a mutually agreed-upon outcome that is generally considered more favorable for the defendant than the estimated result of going to trial and losing. This provides an incentive for the defendant to accept the plea.

Can a misdemeanor be expunged or sealed?

Some misdemeanors can be expunged or sealed, but eligibility criteria must be met. Factors like a conviction or a withhold of adjudication on certain ineligible offenses could disqualify your case. For a more comprehensive explanation, consult our Expungement and Sealing Services page or read our detailed blog article on the topic.

Will a misdemeanor affect my job prospects?

Many employers conduct background checks, and a misdemeanor could potentially limit your job opportunities. It’s worth noting that even dismissed cases that haven’t been expunged or sealed could negatively affect your employability, as some employers may not differentiate between dismissed and convicted cases.

Must I disclose my misdemeanor when applying for a job?

You are generally required to disclose your criminal record when asked by a prospective employer, unless it has been expunged or sealed. Failing to disclose can result in termination if discovered later. Even criminal records that were previously expunged or sealed may have to be disclosed under certain circumstances.

Can a misdemeanor affect my ability to rent a home?

Some landlords conduct criminal background checks and may hesitate to rent to someone with a criminal record, including misdemeanors. Having a misdemeanor on your record could restrict your housing options, especially in competitive rental markets where landlords have multiple applicants to choose from.

Some Final Thoughts

Choosing the right legal representation is vital for your future. Misdemeanors may not be as severe as felonies, but their impact can be long-lasting. Remember, there’s no such thing as the “best Tampa attorney for misdemeanor.” The right attorney for you is the one who understands your case and whom you feel comfortable with.

Contact a Tampa Misdemeanor Attorney

Tampa Misdemeanor Lawyer, William B. Wynne offers free consultations for those facing misdemeanor charges. Don’t gamble with your future—contact us today at 813-532-5057.

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