Criminal sentencing in Florida is a complex topic that few non-lawyers (and even some lawyers) don’t fully understand. This article will discuss a few of the complexities of criminal sentences in Florida and what you need to know if you find yourself being sentenced for a crime in Florida.
In general, the sentencing ranges for criminal convictions in Florida are as follows:
Second degree misdemeanor: up to 60 days in jail
First degree misdemeanor: up to one year in jail
Felony of the third degree: up to five years in prison
Felony of the second degree: up to 15 years in prison
Felony of the first degree: up to 30 years in prison
Life felony: up to life in prison
First degree murder: life in prison or death penalty
The sentences above have some exceptions, however. Capital sexual battery, felon in possession of a firearm, DUI, and others have specific penalties listed in the respective statutes that are different than those above.
The words “up to” in the sentence guidelines leave judges with a great deal of latitude in sentencing. Several factors play into what sentence is handed down to a defendant, including aggravating and mitigating factors, the wishes of any victims, and the opinion of the presiding judge.
In the case of felonies, sentences are largely determined by the Florida Criminal Punishment Code. Under the Code, a potential felony sentence is determined by assigning to it a score. This score also determines the minimum sentence and whether the defendant is eligible for parole.
Several factors are taken into account when assembling a score, including
The charge or charges against the defendant – every felony is assigned a score, with the higher level offenses having a higher score. The Code establishes ten different levels, with level 1 felonies scoring four points and a level ten felony scoring 116 points. The primary offense is assigned all the available points, with additional offenses given only part of the available points.
Victim’s injuries – if the crime involves a victim and the victim is injured, more points are added.
Firearm – if a firearm is used in a crime, more points are added.
Multipliers – some more serious drug offenses, prior convictions, and the presence of a child during a crime, will multiply the score.
Past criminal offenses – more points are added.
Past probation violations – more points are added.
Past serious felonies – more points are added.
When the score is compiled and it adds up to less than 22, typically a non-custodial sentence is handed down. If the score is more than 22 but less than 44, the defendant will be given a prison sentence, but there is no minimum sentence required. If the score is greater than 44, more math is necessary.
For situations where the score is greater than 44, the judge will subtract 28 from the score and multiply the total by 0.75. The result is the minimum number of months to which the judge must sentence the defendant.
Although it is termed the “lowest permissible sentence,” there are a few cases in which the judge may hand down a sentence below that threshold. An attorney experienced in Florida criminal law will be able to counsel you further regarding any exceptions.