Sentencing in Florida

Knowledgeable St. Petersburg Criminal Lawyer

  • Generally

Sentencing is a complicated area of the law in Florida; entire books have written on the topic. The first major distinction in offense types is between felony and misdemeanor and, within these two broad categories, are various sub-classifications which determine the maximum sentence allowed by law. Certain types of offenses, committed within a specified period of time after a prior conviction for the same type of offense, involve enhancements that can significantly increase the maximum penalty otherwise applicable.

In most felony cases, the minimum lawful sentence is determined by Florida's sentencing guideline scheme, also known as the criminal punishment code (exceptions include capital felonies and sentences imposed under Florida's prison release re-offender statute). Under certain limited circumstances, the judge may impose a sentence that is less than what the guidelines call for, but the "departure" basis must be one that is recognized by law and there must be sufficient record evidence to support it. Sentencing guidelines do not apply in misdemeanor cases. Florida also employs minimum mandatory sentencing, the details of which are set forth below.

The maximum penalty is, as stated above, always determined by statute, and depends upon the offense classification (and any applicable enhancements). What follows is a very general overview of the sentencing scheme in Florida, including offense classifications, maximum fine amounts, sentencing guidelines, minimum mandatories, and enhancements. If you have been charged with a crime in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, or Tampa, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to get a full understanding of what sentencing provisions will apply in your case, and what you are facing in terms of minimum and maximum penalties for that particular offense (or offenses).

  • Felony, Misdemeanor, and Non-criminal Violations

The term "felony" means any offense that is punishable under the criminal laws of Florida by death, or imprisonment in the state penitentiary. For any sentence that exceeds one year, the person shall be imprisoned in the state penitentiary.

The term "misdemeanor" means any criminal offense that is punishable under the laws of Florida, by a term of imprisonment in a county correctional facility, not in excess of one year. The term "misdemeanor" does not mean a conviction for any non-criminal traffic violation, or any municipal or county ordinance.

The term "non-criminal violation" shall mean any offense that is punishable under the laws of Florida by no other penalty than a fine, forfeiture, or other civil penalty. A non-criminal violation does not constitute a crime, and conviction for a non-criminal violation shall not give rise to any legal disability based on a criminal offense. The term "non-criminal violation" shall not mean any conviction for any violation of any municipal or county ordinance.

  • Classifications of Felonies and Misdemeanors

Felonies are classified, for the purpose of sentencing, into the following categories:

  • Capital Felony

A person who has been convicted of a capital felony shall be punished by death if the proceeding held to determine sentence according to the procedure set forth in s. 941.141 results in findings by the court that such person shall be punished by death, otherwise such person shall be punished by life imprisonment and shall be ineligible for parole.

  • Life Felony

For a life felony committed on or after July 1st of 1995, by a term of imprisonment for life or for a term of years not exceeding life imprisonment. For a life felony, the maximum fine amount shall not exceed $15,000.00.

  • Felony of the First Degree

For a felony of the first degree, by a term of imprisonment not exceeding 30 years or, when specifically provided by statute, by imprisonment for a term of years not exceeding life imprisonment. A first-degree felony that carries up to life in prison is known as a "PBL" felony. An example is armed residential burglary or burglary/battery. For a felony of the first degree, the maximum fine amount shall not exceed $10,000.00.

  • Felony of the Second Degree

For a felony of the second degree, by a term of imprisonment not exceeding 15 years. The maximum fine amount shall not exceed $10,000.00.

  • Felony of the Third Degree

For a felony of the third degree, by a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years. The maximum fine amount shall not exceed $5,000.00.

Misdemeanors are classified, for the purpose of sentence, into the following categories:

  • Misdemeanor of the First Degree

For a misdemeanor of the first degree, by a definite term of imprisonment not exceeding one year. The maximum fine amount shall not exceed $1,000.00.

  • Misdemeanor of the Second Degree

For a misdemeanor of the second degree, by a definite term of imprisonment not exceeding 60 days. The maximum fine amount shall not exceed $500.00.

  • Sentencing Guidelines

In most felony cases, the minimum lawful sentence is determined by Florida's sentencing guidelines. As indicated above, there are certain exceptions, including capital felonies and sentences imposed under Florida's prison release re-offender statute.

In addition to being classified as a capital, life, first, second, or third degree felony, every felony offense is, by statute, assigned a certain numerical offense level that scores a corresponding number of points on the sentencing guidelines. If more than one offense has been charged, the offense with the highest number of points is scored as the primary offense. Other pending offenses, and prior convictions are also scored and assigned a certain number of points. Additional points may also be assessed if the matter is a probation violation, or if certain other statutorily prescribed criteria are met. If the total sentence points exceed 44, the person scores a mandatory prison sentence that is at least one year and one day in length.

Florida law recognizes fourteen bases upon which the judge can "depart" from the sentencing guidelines. It should be noted that the primary purpose of the criminal punishment code is to punish the offender and the decision to depart, even where a lawful basis exists, is discretionary with the court. The fourteen departure bases are as follows:

  1. The departure results from a legitimate, un-coerced plea bargain;
  1. The defendant was an accomplice to the offense and was a relatively minor participant in the criminal conduct;
  1. The capacity of the defendant to appreciate the criminal nature of the conduct or to conform that conduct to the requirements of the law was substantially impaired;
  1. The defendant requires specialized treatment for a mental disorder that is unrelated to substance abuse or addiction or for a physical disability, and the defendant is amenable to treatment;
  1. The need for payment of restitution to the victim outweighs the need for a prison sentence;
  1. The victim was an initiator, willing participant, aggressor, or provoker of the incident;
  1. The defendant acted under extreme duress or under the domination of another person;
  1. Before the identity of the defendant was determined, the victim was substantially compensated;
  1. The defendant cooperated with the state to resolve the current offense or any other offense;
  1. The offense was committed in an unsophisticated manner and was an isolated incident for which the defendant has shown remorse;
  1. At the time of the offense, the defendant was too young to appreciate the consequences of the offense;
  1. The defendant is to be sentenced as a youthful offender;
  1. The defendant's offense is a non-violent felony, the total sentence points are 60 or fewer, and the defendant amenable to the services of a post adjudicatory treatment based drug program;
  1. The defendant was making a good faith effort to obtain or provide medical assistance for an individual experiencing a drug related overdose.
  • Minimum Mandatory Sentences

A minimum mandatory is a period of incarceration, in the state prison system, which the court must impose following a plea of guilty or no contest, or a finding of guilt by a judge or jury. Minimum mandatory sentences are imposed in conjunction with the applicable guideline score. If, for example, a person scored two years on the sentencing guidelines, but the offense carried a three-year minimum mandatory sentence, then the min. man. would trump the guideline score: the minimum lawful sentence would be three years. If, on the other-hand, the person scored five years on the sentencing guidelines, and the offense carried a three year min. man., then the guidelines would control in determining the minimum lawful sentence. Minimum mandatories, unlike sentencing guidelines, do not apply in every felony case. You will usually see a min. man. in drug trafficking cases, firearms offenses, certain offenses against law enforcement officers, and sentences imposed pursuant to Florida's 10-20-life statute. Persons sentenced to minimum mandatories are not entitled to good and gain time.

  • Resources

The following is a list of outisde sources, prior blog posts, and other webiste sections on topics related to sentencing:

  • Links
  1. HG. Org: Florida Sentencing Enhancements Pt. 1: Prison Releasee Re offenders
  2. HG. Org: Florida Sentencing Enhancements Pt. 2: Habitual Felony Offenders and Habitual Violent Felony Offenders
  3. HG. Org: Florida Sentencing Enhancements Pt. 3: Three Time Violent Felony Offenders and Violent Career Criminals
  4. HG. Org: Florida Sentencing Enhancements Pt. 4: 10-20-Life
  5. Florida Department of Corrections
  6. Pinellas County Jail
  7. Hillsborough County Jail
  8. Florida Sentencing Guidelines Manual
  • Blog Posts
  1. Florida Sentencing Guideline Departures: Unsophistictaed/Isolated/Remorse
  2. Florida Sentencing Guideline Deaprtures: Youthful Offenders
  3. Florida Sentencing Guideline Departures: Legitimate, Uncoerced Plea Bargain
  • The Bottom Line

Florida's sentencing guideline scheme is complicated. If you have been arrested for a felony offense in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa, or a surrounding area, contact The Kilfin Law Firm, P.C. to discuss the applicable sentencing range(s) in your case.