Florida Sentencing and the Criminal Punishment Code

In the State of Florida the sentencing for a felony offense can be quite complicated. The sentence is primarily determined by examining the Criminal Punishment Code (CPC). The CPC was established by the legislature in order to give sentences uniformity throughout the state. Whether or not that goal was accomplished is a matter of opinion and great debate within Florida’s criminal justice system. In addition to the CPC additional statutes govern the degree of an offense, maximum punishment and whether there is a mandatory minimum amount of incarceration that is required.

Every crime is designated with a certain offense level. Every offense level is designated with a point value. The more serious the legislature has designated a crime the higher the offense level and in turn the higher the point value. For example, possession of marijuana over 20 grams would be a level one offense, and robbery with a firearm is a level 10 offense.

The prosecutor will prepare a document called a score sheet, which includes all offenses where a guilty or no contest plea was entered or found guilty of by a jury. The score sheet will also include points for criminal history and any applicable enhancements. The total points that are assessed on the score sheet are then entered into a calculation which will determine the sentencing guidelines. If the guidelines recommend prison, the Judge is required to sentence someone to prison, unless there are certain mitigating circumstances.

The first possible enhancement on a score sheet are for crimes that involve some sort of violence or injury to a victim. The severity of an injury will determine the amount of additional points that are included in the score sheet. The victim injury points range from 240 points for second degree murder to 4 points for only a slight injury. For crimes involving unlawful sexual conduct, the CPC also includes injury points for sexual penetration and sexual contact.

The CPC includes additional points for violating conditions of your bond. If the court find that you violated condition of release, failed to appear, or even did not complete a pretrial intervention or diversion program you could be given 4 additional points. Additionally, should you be entering a plea to a violation of probation or community control, you will be given 6 points for a technical violation of your probation or 12 points for a new felony conviction. This additional 6 or 12 points would be assessed each time the court finds you in violation of your supervised release.

Should the guidelines require prison, the CPC allows for a downward departure if the court finds certain mitigating circumstances. Although the list is not exhaustive, the legislature lists mitigating circumstances in Florida Statute 921.0026. Some of the mitigation circumstances include cooperating with the government to resolve a current offense or any other offense, the fact that a defendant was a minor participant in the criminal conduct, and the crime was committed in an unsophisticated manner, was an isolated incident, and the defendant has shown remorse. Simply because a court finds that there are mitigating circumstances does not mean a Judge is required to depart from the guidelines.

As this article suggests, the sentencing scheme in Florida is complex. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help navigate the criminal punishment code. A criminal defense practitioner will have the knowledge of the statutes, mitigating circumstances, and if any expert witnesses would be needed.