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Felony Sentencing

Sentencing on felony cases in the state of Florida can be incredibly complicated. To begin with, the government will prepare a sentencing guideline score sheet to determine what the minimum possible sentence for a felony charge will be. Florida Statutes assign a point value to all criminal charges. When an individual is charged with a felony, the government will determine how many points each of the new charges carry. The government will also determine how many points must be assigned for any prior record of the accused (often regardless of whether the prior record resulted in an adjudication or a withheld adjudication, whether the person pled guilty or nolo contendere, whether the person was a juvenile or adult). The government may also add points for victim injury, probation violations, and any number of statutory enhancements. The score sheet then totals the number of points for an individual and if that number exceeds 44, then the judge must sentence the offender to a prison sentence (at least 1 year and 1 day of incarceration). The number of months the offender must spend in prison will increase as the number of points increases above 44. The maximum sentence the judge may impose is limited only by the statute for the criminal offenses with which he is charged (although, if the minimum is higher than the maximum, then the judge must impose the minimum!). If the offender scores less than 44 points, then the judge may impose any sentence he or she wants to impose.

Where an individual scores prison under the sentencing guidelines, the judge may impose a lesser sentence only where a reason for downward departure can be proven by the defendant. There is a list of downward departure reasons in the statute, and while other reasons have been suggested, they have rarely been upheld on appeal.

Once the guideline score sheet is completed, the next question to be answered is whether any mandatory minimum sentence must be imposed. Mandatory minimum sentences exist for drug and gun charges as well as some sexual and violent offenses. The judge does not have discretion to sentence an individual to less than the mandatory minimum sentence for the crime with which he or she was convicted.

One statute which imposes mandatory minimum sentences is the 10/20/Life Statute. That law requires a 10 year mandatory minimum where the government can prove certain offenses were committed with a firearm, a 20 years mandatory minimum sentence where the firearm was discharged, and a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years to life where another person was injured as a result of the discharge.

Another statute which imposes a mandatory minimum sentence is the Prison Releasee Reoffender Statute (PRR). The PRR statute mandates the judge impose the maximum sentence (without gain time) for any individual who commits certain enumerated offenses within a 3 year period following release from prison (county jail does not count in this calculation).

The government may also attempt to increase the maximum sentence allowable by designating an individual as a habitual offender. There are actually several different ways to designate a person a habitual offender. Each requires evidence of certain prior offenses and each provides for different increases in maximum and mandatory minimum sentences.

Unlike the list of reasons to sentence someone below the guidelines when that person scores prison, there is only one way to avoid a mandatory minimum sentence under the 10/20/Life, PRR, and Habitual Offender statutes upon conviction for such an offense: Youthful Offender (YO). The YO statute allows the judge to limit his sentence to a total of 6 years if the individual is under 21 years of age at the time of the sentencing hearing. While certain felony offenses make an individual ineligible for a YO sentence, this statute is often helpful in avoiding lengthy periods of incarceration.

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