News from the desk of Sheriff James Potter


"The Sheriff’s Role in the Criminal Justice System"

I am launching a series of articles about the Sheriff’s role in their community. Let us begin with the Sheriff’s impact within the criminal justice system.

Many of you hear about arrests in the news or read about them in the paper or on social media, but you may not know exactly what happens after the arrest. The purpose of this article is to provide our citizens with a better understanding of our criminal justice system and, more specifically, the Sheriff’s role in that process.

Every day, law enforcement officers are patrolling our streets and conducting investigations into perceived violations of the law. If a law enforcement officer gathers enough facts and evidence to establish probable cause that an individual has committed a crime, that person can be arrested and taken to jail. In DeSoto County, deputies with the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) have the authority to arrest, as well as other law enforcement officers with agencies such as the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC), Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and various other state and federal agencies. The Arcadia Police Department (APD) also make arrests within DeSoto County if the alleged crime occurred within the City of Arcadia’s city limits.

Once an arrest is made in DeSoto County, regardless of the agency making the arrest, the arrestee is transported to the DeSoto County jail ran by the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office is responsible for ensuring arrestees remain in custody pending trial or are sentenced to county jail are kept in a safe and secure environment until released by order of a judge. All new arrestees brought into custody are entitled to a first appearance, a bond hearing in front of a judge. This hearing must occur within 24 hours of the arrest if the arrestee is unable to pay their bond, or their charge does not allow for a bond until first appearance. All bonds are controlled by a bond schedule that determines the amount of bond an arrestee must pay to be released on their charges. Some charges require an arrestee to go before a judge, so the judge can hear the facts of the case prior to setting a bond. The bond schedule is set by the Chief Judge of the 12th Judicial Circuit through an administrative order. The only person with authority to modify a bond is the judge. The Sheriff’s Office is required to release any person who pays the appropriate amount for their bond, and hold in custody any person who is unable to pay their bond or who does not have a bond.

Once an arrest is made, the law enforcement officer’s reports and any evidence is forwarded to the State Attorney’s Office for review to determine whether formal charges should be filed and what charges are appropriate. The State Attorney has the authority to modify any charges as they deem appropriate and if they decide to file formal charges they will typically make an offer, called a plea offer or plea agreement, to the defendant to resolve the case. If the defendant does not accept the State Attorney’s offer, the defendant may ask the judge to make a decision as to their punishment, or they may go to trial, or attempt to have the charges legally dismissed. Any plea agreement must be approved by the judge before it is accepted and the defendant is sentenced.

Once a defendant is sentenced, the Sheriff’s Office will take custody of the defendant if they are sentenced to county jail or state prison. If the defendant is sentenced to state prison, the jail will hold the defendant until they are transported to the proper state prison facility.

Stay tuned for the next article in the series highlighting one of the many functions of the Sheriff serving and protecting their community.

Stay Safe, Be Kind, and God Bless.

Sheriff Potter