Board Certification in Criminal Trial Law

Florida Bar Board of Legal Specialization and EducationWhen the public begins their search for a criminal defense attorney in Florida, it is important to consider whether the attorney has become board certified in criminal trial law. At Lawyer Legion, we recognize the importance of board certification programs in Florida for criminal trial law.

The Florida Board of Legal Specialization and Education (BLSE) of The Florida Bar governs the rules and policies for each of the certification areas and oversees the committees that implement each areas's standards. The standards for board certification in criminal law can be found in rule Rule 6-8 which were last revised on October 16, 2015. The field of criminal law as a specialty practice area for certification was originally established in 1987.

The rules provide that a lawyer who is a member in good standing of The Florida Bar and meets the standards prescribed below may be issued an appropriate certificate identifying the lawyer as either "Board Certified in Criminal Trial Law" or "Board Certified in Criminal Appellate Law."

The attorney may qualify for certification under both categories provided the applicant meets the standards for each category.

The purpose of the standards is to identify those lawyers who practice criminal law and have the special knowledge, skills, and proficiency, as well as the character, ethics, and reputation for professionalism, to be properly identified to the public as board certified in criminal trial or appellate law. One of the best ways to understand the requirements for becoming certified in criminal law is to read the rules in their entirety. 

Find a Lawyer in Florida Board Certified in Civil Trial Law.


Definitions for Criminal Law Certification under Rule 6-8.2

Rule 6-8.2 provides certain definitions including:

(a) Criminal Law. "Criminal law" is the practice of law dealing with the defense and prosecution of misdemeanor and felony crimes in state and federal trial and appellate courts.

(b) Practice of Law. The "practice of law" for this area is defined as set out in rule 6-3.5(c)(1).

(c) Criminal Law Certification Committee. At least 2 members of the “criminal law certification committee” shall be certified in criminal appellate law. At least 5 members shall be certified in criminal trial law.

(d) Trial. A “trial” shall be defined as substantially preparing a case for court, offering testimony or evidence (or cross-examination of witness[es]) in an adversarial proceeding before a trier of fact, and submission of a case to the trier of fact for determination of the ultimate fact of guilt or innocence.

A trial conducted under the Jimmy Ryce Act, section 394.911, et seq., Florida Statutes, may count toward the trial requirement for initial certification or recertification. However, no more than 60 percent of the total trial requirement for criminal trial law certification or recertification may be based on Jimmy Ryce trials.

(e) Protracted Litigation. “Protracted litigation” shall be defined as litigation that proceeds on a long-term basis involving unusual and complicated legal or factual matters, extensive discovery, court hearings or trial, and by its very nature is so time consuming it precludes the applicant from meeting the numerical requirement.


Minimum Requirements for Certification in Criminal Trial Law in Florida

The minimum standards for obtaining certification as a specialist in criminal law are found in Rule 6-8.3. 

(a) Substantial Involvement and Competence. To become certified as a criminal trial lawyer, an applicant must demonstrate substantial involvement and competence in criminal trial law. Substantial involvement and competence shall include the following:

(1) At least 5 years of the actual practice of law of which at least 30 percent has been spent in active participation in criminal trial law. At least 3 years of this practice shall be immediately preceding application or, during those 3 years, the applicant may have served as a judge of a court of general jurisdiction adjudicating criminal trial matters.

(2) The trial of a minimum of 25 criminal cases. Of these 25 cases, at least 20 shall have been jury trials, tried to verdict, and at least 15 shall have involved felony charges; and at least 10 shall have been conducted by the applicant as lead counsel. At least 5 of the 25 cases shall have been tried during the 5 years immediately preceding application. On good cause shown, for satisfaction in part of the 25 criminal trials, the criminal law certification committee may consider involvement in protracted litigation as defined in rule 6-8.2(e).

(3) Submission of a criminal trial court memorandum or brief prepared and filed by the applicant within the 3 year period immediately preceding application. Such document shall be substantial in nature, state facts and argue various aspects of criminal law. The quality of this memorandum or brief will be considered in determining whether an applicant is qualified for certification.

(4) Within the 3 years immediately preceding application, the applicant's substantial involvement must be sufficient to demonstrate special competence as a criminal trial lawyer. Substantial involvement includes investigation, evaluation, pleading, discovery, taking of testimony, presentation of evidence, and argument of jury or non-jury cases. For good cause shown, the criminal law certification committee may waive 2 of the 3 years of substantial involvement for individuals who have served as judges. In no event may the year immediately preceding application be waived.

(b) Peer Review.


(1) The applicant shall submit the names and addresses of at least 4 lawyers, who are neither relatives nor current associates or partners, as references to attest to the applicant's substantial involvement and competence in criminal trial practice, as well as the applicant's character, ethics, and reputation for professionalism. Such lawyers shall be substantially involved in criminal trial law and familiar with the applicant's practice.

(2) The applicant shall submit the names and addresses of at least 2 judges before whom the applicant has appeared on criminal trial matters within the last 2 years, or before whom the applicant has tried a criminal trial to jury verdict, to attest to the applicant's substantial involvement and competence in criminal trial practice, as well as the applicant's character, ethics, and reputation for professionalism.

(3) Peer review received on behalf of the applicant shall be sufficient to demonstrate the applicant's competence in criminal trial law, character, ethics, and professionalism. The criminal law certification committee may, at its option, send reference forms to other attorneys and judges.


(c) Education.

The applicant shall demonstrate that during the 3-year period immediately preceding the filing of an application, the applicant has met the continuing legal education requirements necessary for criminal trial certification. The required number of hours shall be established by the board of legal specialization and education and shall in no event be less than 45 hours. Accreditation of educational hours is subject to policies established by the criminal law certification committee or the board of legal specialization and education.

(d) Examination.


Every applicant must pass an examination designed to demonstrate sufficient knowledge, skills, proficiency, and experience in criminal trial law, application of constitutional principles, and rules of criminal procedure to justify the representation of special competence to the legal profession and the public.

Recertification in Criminal Trial Law

The rules for recertification in criminal trial law can be found in Rule 6-8.4. During the 5-year period immediately preceding application, an applicant shall satisfy the following requirements for recertification:

(a) Substantial Involvement.


The applicant shall demonstrate substantial involvement in the practice of law, of which at least 30 percent must have been spent in active participation in criminal trial law. Substantial involvement includes investigation, evaluation, pleading, discovery, taking of testimony, presentation of evidence, and argument of jury or non-jury cases.


(b) Criminal Trials.


Either as an advocate or as a judge, an applicant shall have completed the trial of a minimum of 5 criminal cases. Of these 5 cases, at least 4 shall have been jury trials and at least 3 shall have involved felony charges. On good cause shown, for satisfaction in part of the 5 criminal trials, the criminal law certification committee may consider, in its discretion, involvement in protracted litigation as defined in rule 6-8.3(a)(2)(e) or other such criteria as the committee may deem appropriate.

The proceedings that may serve as a trial for recertification purposes include, but are not limited to cases where the:

(1) result is “dismissal of charges” by the court upon a motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of the prosecution’s case or thereafter;

(2) result is a “mistrial” or “plea.” The case may be counted as a trial at the discretion of the committee provided the applicant offers sufficient information demonstrating substantial courtroom activity;

(3) case is a “violation of probation” or a proceeding involving post-conviction relief. The case may be counted as the 1 non-jury trial of the 5 trials for recertification if the applicant offers sufficient information demonstrating substantial courtroom activity;

(4) case is a “court martial” before a judge; however, discharge boards shall be considered non-jury;


(c) Education.


The applicant shall demonstrate completion of at least 50 credit hours of approved continuing legal education for criminal trial law certification, in accordance with rule 6-8.3(c).


(d) Peer Review.

Minimum Standards for Certification in Criminal Law

The minimum standards for certification as a specialist in criminal law are set out in Rule 6-6.3.

(a) Substantial Involvement and Competence. To become certified as a criminal trial lawyer, an applicant must demonstrate substantial involvement and competence in criminal trial law. Substantial involvement and competence shall include the following:

(1) At least 5 years of the actual practice of law of which at least 30 percent has been spent in active participation in criminal trial law. At least 3 years of this practice shall be immediately preceding application or, during those 3 years, the applicant may have served as a judge of a court of general jurisdiction adjudicating criminal trial matters.

(2) The trial of a minimum of 25 criminal cases. Of these 25 cases, at least 20 shall have been jury trials, tried to verdict, and at least 15 shall have involved felony charges; and at least 10 shall have been conducted by the applicant as lead counsel. At least 5 of the 25 cases shall have been tried during the 5 years immediately preceding application. On good cause shown, for satisfaction in part of the 25 criminal trials, the criminal law certification committee may consider involvement in protracted litigation as defined in rule 6-8.2(e).

(3) Submission of a criminal trial court memorandum or brief prepared and filed by the applicant within the 3 year period immediately preceding application. Such document shall be substantial in nature, state facts and argue various aspects of criminal law. The quality of this memorandum or brief will be considered in determining whether an applicant is qualified for certification.

(4) Within the 3 years immediately preceding application, the applicant's substantial involvement must be sufficient to demonstrate special competence as a criminal trial lawyer. Substantial involvement includes investigation, evaluation, pleading, discovery, taking of testimony, presentation of evidence, and argument of jury or non-jury cases. For good cause shown, the criminal law certification committee may waive 2 of the 3 years of substantial involvement for individuals who have served as judges. In no event may the year immediately preceding application be waived.

(b) Peer Review.

(1) The applicant shall submit the names and addresses of at least 4 lawyers, who are neither relatives nor current associates or partners, as references to attest to the applicant's substantial involvement and competence in criminal trial practice, as well as the applicant's character, ethics, and reputation for professionalism. Such lawyers shall be substantially involved in criminal trial law and familiar with the applicant's practice.

(2) The applicant shall submit the names and addresses of at least 2 judges before whom the applicant has appeared on criminal trial matters within the last 2 years, or before whom the applicant has tried a criminal trial to jury verdict, to attest to the applicant's substantial involvement and competence in criminal trial practice, as well as the applicant's character, ethics, and reputation for professionalism.

(3) Peer review received on behalf of the applicant shall be sufficient to demonstrate the applicant's competence in criminal trial law, character, ethics, and professionalism. The criminal law certification committee may, at its option, send reference forms to other attorneys and judges.

(c) Education.

The applicant shall demonstrate that during the 3-year period immediately preceding the filing of an application, the applicant has met the continuing legal education requirements necessary for criminal trial certification. The required number of hours shall be established by the board of legal specialization and education and shall in no event be less than 45 hours. Accreditation of educational hours is subject to policies established by the criminal law certification committee or the board of legal specialization and education.

(d) Examination. Every applicant must pass an examination designed to demonstrate sufficient knowledge, skills, proficiency, and experience in criminal trial law, application of constitutional principles, and rules of criminal procedure to justify the representation of special competence to the legal profession and the public.

Recertification in Criminal Trial Law

The requirements for recertification in criminal trial law can be found in Rule 6-8.4.

During the 5-year period immediately preceding application, an applicant shall satisfy the following requirements for recertification:

(a) Substantial Involvement. The applicant shall demonstrate substantial involvement in the practice of law, of which at least 30 percent must have been spent in active participation in criminal trial law. Substantial involvement includes investigation, evaluation, pleading, discovery, taking of testimony, presentation of evidence, and argument of jury or non-jury cases.

(b) Criminal Trials. Either as an advocate or as a judge, an applicant shall have completed the trial of a minimum of 5 criminal cases. Of these 5 cases, at least 4 shall have been jury trials and at least 3 shall have involved felony charges. On good cause shown, for satisfaction in part of the 5 criminal trials, the criminal law certification committee may consider, in its discretion, involvement in protracted litigation as defined in rule 6-8.3(a)(2)(e) or other such criteria as the committee may deem appropriate.

The proceedings that may serve as a trial for recertification purposes include, but are not limited to cases where the:

(1) result is “dismissal of charges” by the court upon a motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of the prosecution’s case or thereafter;

(2) result is a “mistrial” or “plea.” The case may be counted as a trial at the discretion of the committee provided the applicant offers sufficient information demonstrating substantial courtroom activity;

(3) case is a “violation of probation” or a proceeding involving post-conviction relief. The case may be counted as the 1 non-jury trial of the 5 trials for recertification if the applicant offers sufficient information demonstrating substantial courtroom activity;

(4) case is a “court martial” before a judge; however, discharge boards shall be considered non-jury;

(c) Education. The applicant shall demonstrate completion of at least 50 credit hours of approved continuing legal education for criminal trial law certification, in accordance with rule 6-8.3(c).

(d) Peer Review.

(1) The applicant shall submit the names and addresses of at least 4 lawyers, who are neither relatives nor current associates or partners, as references, to attest to the applicant's substantial involvement and competence in criminal trial practice, as well as the applicant's character, ethics, and reputation for professionalism. Such lawyers shall be substantially involved in criminal trial law and familiar with the applicant's practice.

(2) The applicant shall submit the names and addresses of at least 2 judges before whom the applicant has appeared on criminal trial matters within the last 2 years, or before whom the applicant has tried a criminal trial to jury verdict, to attest to the applicant's substantial involvement and competence in criminal trial practice, as well as the applicant's character, ethics, and reputation for professionalism.

(3) Peer review received on behalf of the applicant shall be sufficient to demonstrate the applicant's competence in criminal appellate law, character, ethics, and professionalism. The criminal law certification committee may, at its option, send reference forms to other attorneys and judges.

(e) Waiver of Compliance. On special application, for good cause shown, the criminal law certification committee may waive compliance with the trial criteria for an applicant who has been continuously certified as a criminal trial lawyer for a period of 14 years or more, provided the applicant:

(1) satisfies the peer review and education required in subdivisions (c) and (d) of this rule; and,

(2) demonstrates substantial involvement in criminal trial law defined, for purposes of this subdivision, as active participation in the litigation process, including the investigation and evaluation of criminal charges, involvement in pretrial processes such as discovery and motion practice, and the review of strategy and tactics for trial. The applicant shall describe the extent of substantial involvement, including courtroom and trial experience, since the last date of recertification.


Additional Resources

Criminal Trial Certification for Florida Attorneys  - Visit the website of the Florida Bar to learn more about board certification as a specialist in criminal trial law including the definition of terms involved in the rules and and reasons to become certified.


This article was last updated on Monday, February 22, 2016.