Under the Constitution of the State of Florida, the State Attorney is charged with being the chief prosecuting officer of all criminal trial courts in his or her respective circuit and shall perform all other duties prescribed by general law.
The State Attorney, with the aid of appointed assistants and staff, appears in the Circuit and County Courts within the judicial circuit and prosecutes or defends on behalf of the State of Florida all suits, applications, and civil or criminal motions in which the State of Florida is a party.
The State Attorney is required to provide personnel and procedures for the orderly, efficient and effective investigation, intake and processing of all felony, misdemeanor, criminal traffic, juvenile and specially enumerated civil cases. These cases may be referred by law enforcement, by other state, county and municipal agencies as well as the general public. The State Attorney is required to represent the State of Florida in the prosecution of all criminal cases arising out of their respective circuits (F.S. 27.02). A criminal case may be generated by several different events. These events are as follows:
- Arrest of an Offender - The State Attorney must review every arrest for violations of state law that occurs in his respective circuit. This review process can be very extensive. The State Attorney must rely on law enforcement to prepare arrest reports, victim affidavits, witness statements and to secure the evidence needed to prove each and every element of the offenses charged.
Once the State Attorney has reviewed all supporting documents and sworn testimony, a decision is made to either file an Information, decline to file any charges (No Info), file a change of charge, present the case to the Grand Jury or require additional investigation.
Upon the filing of an Information, or an Indictment by the Grand Jury, the case then proceeds to arraignment, discovery preparation, depositions, motion responses, pretrial hearings, trial or plea, and finally sentencing. The appellate process then begins. If the appeal is from County Court to Circuit Court, the State Attorney must respond. The State Attorney may respond to Circuit Court to District Court or Supreme Court appeals.
- Non-Arrest Walk-in Complaints - The State Attorney receives complaints and reports of criminal activity from various sources, including law enforcement and the general public. Each one of these complaints must be investigated thoroughly to determine whether a crime has occurred and who has committed the crime. These investigations take place prior to the arrest of the accused. The investigation may include substantial witness statements, search warrants, subpoenas duces tecums and more. When the State Attorney's Office has completed its investigation, a decision is made to either file an Information or decline to file any charges. If charges are filed, an arrest warrant or issue summons must be prepared to bring the accused into custody. Once the accused is arrested, the case proceeds to arraignment, discovery preparation, depositions, motion response, pretrial hearings, trial and sentencing. The appellate process then beings as outlined above.
- State Attorney-Initiated Investigations - The State Attorney may initiate an investigation if he has reason to believe a crime has occurred and an investigation is warranted.
- Executive Assignments - The State Attorney receives assignments to investigate and prosecute cases outside his circuit when the governor's office orders an assignment. This occurs when another circuit has a conflict and requests the governor to re-assign the prosecution.
- Grand Jury Investigations - The function of the Grand Jury in criminal matters is to investigate and determine whether there is sufficient evidence to justify an Indictment against an accused. The Grand Jury must ascertain whether there is probable cause that a crime has been committed by the person so accused. If they determine that the evidence is sufficient to constitute probable cause, the Grand Jury issues a true bill which then becomes the Indictment on which the accused will be put on trial.
Responsibilities of the State Attorney
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