Inside Florida Felony Sentencing
Florida laws governing the sentencing of people convicted of felony-level crimes are notoriously complex and difficult to comprehend. Though the laws were significantly revised as recently as 1998, it can still be nearly impossible for a layperson to understand the “points” system used by Florida judges when sentencing a person convicted of a crime.
This article will break that system down and attempt to make it easier for those facing criminal charges or their families to better understand what goes on during the sentencing phase of the Florida criminal process. Your Orlando criminal defense attorney can answer any additional questions you may have about maximum and minimum sentences you may face if convicted of a felony.
Florida’s “Points” System
The current method of assigning “points” to certain types of crimes and combinations of current convictions and prior ones was originally devised in 1994. Prior to that, sentencing judges were given a great deal of discretion when deciding the fate of people appearing before them. There were some mandatory minimum prison terms in place for certain types of crimes, but otherwise, there was a wide range of possible punishments available for each. The reality of this system was that any two people with similar criminal histories convicted of similar crimes could end up with vastly different sentences.
According to the Florida State Department of Corrections, the 1994 sentencing guidelines were passed as part of the so-called “Safe Streets Act,” and were part of a new legislative focus on assigned finite correctional resources on offenders who were either violent or found themselves repeatedly in trouble with the law. The law has continued to evolve since then, with point values and sanctions being changed to reflect changing crime trends. The law as it stands now allows for upward deviation from suggested punishments for a wide range of crimes, but it prevents the rampant downward deviation that allowed for drastically different sentences for individuals convicted of the same exact offense.
Assigning a Severity Level to a Crime
In Florida, like in most other states, crimes are categorized as either misdemeanor or felony-level offenses. Misdemeanors are traditionally less severe crimes that are punishable by a maximum incarceration period of one year in a county-level correctional facility.
Felonies, on the other hand, are punishable by either death or a period of incarceration in a Florida state penitentiary — not a county jail, but a prison — for a term exceeding one year. There are essentially four degrees of felony crimes:
- Third Degree: up to five years in prison
- Second Degree: up to 15 years in prison
- First Degree: up to 30 years in prison
- Life Felony: punishable by life in prison
By divvying up felony charges in this way and assigning them a particular statutory maximum punishment, the law now provides that each person convicted of a felony may be sentenced to prison time.
Florida’s Sentencing Scoresheet: The Points System Calculation
Under the current felony points system, felonies are — in addition to being differentiated by degrees — categorized into 10 levels that determine the number of points each charge will be assigned for sentencing purposes. The levels are divided by the seriousness of the crime, with Level One being the least serious and Level Ten being the most serious. Point values are assigned accordingly, with a Level One primary offense resulting in a mere four points, and a Level 10 crime equaling 116 points.
Multiple charges (if the defendant is accused of committing more than one criminal act in a single instance, such as burglary and assault) and prior criminal convictions are also accounted for by the points system, and they are assigned values as set forth in the Criminal Punishment Code Scoresheet. Essentially, the total number of points for each criminal charge is added together to determine not only if a mandatory minimum prison term is necessary, but also what that minimum would be. The standard formula for this calculation is as follows:
- (Total points from all criminal convictions – 28) x 0.75 = the minimum mandatory sentence required (in months)
The formula above is just the start of the sentencing equation. Florida has additional factors such as aggravator or mitigators that can add or reduce the potential sentence someone receives. The Court has discretion in some cases to file a downward departure of the minimum sentence. A lawyer can argue for their client to receive that lower sentence by stating the evidence in favor of a lesser sentence.
The sentencing formula, the level formulas, and the distinction between different levels of felonies are complex matters of law. The importance of having an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side each and every time you face criminal charges cannot be understated. Though different degrees of sentencing seem cut and dry, there are many different aspects of the legal system that come into play.
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Even if the charges you face now may not result in enough points to warrant a lengthy prison term, prior convictions can count against you in the future. Your second chance begins with your first brush with the criminal justice system.
Do not delay in contacting the experienced Orlando felony defense attorneys at the Umansky Law Firm. Founding attorney William Umansky is an active member of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and has assembled a team of highly intelligent lawyers, with over a 100 years of combined experience, ready and willing to fight to the end for your rights. Reach us by email or phone, for a free case evaluation.