How Does Sentencing Work in a Florida Criminal Case?

If you’ve been charged with a crime in Florida, you may have looked into the sentencing range for the crime you were charged with. The general sentencing ranges are:

  • For a Misdemeanor of the Second Degree: up to 60 days in jail
  • For a Misdemeanor of the First Degree: up to one year in jail
  • For a Felony of the Third Degree: up to five years in prison
  • For a Felony of the Second Degree: up to 15 years in prison
  • For a Felony of the First Degree: up to 30 years in prison, unless otherwise specified in the applicable statute.
  • For a Felony of the First Degree Punishable By Life: Up to life in prison
  • For a Life Felony: Up to life in prison
  • For First Degree Murder: By death or life in prison

In some cases, specific criminal statutes provide for a possible sentence of life in prison for a first degree felony. Additionally, some statutes impose minimum penalties allowable under the law, like DUI, Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, or Capital Sexual Battery.

While knowing the caps is somewhat helpful, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that the language “up to some number of years” covers a lot of ground. Thus if you’ve been charged with a felony in Florida, it can often be difficult to know what to expect if you’re convicted. Additionally there are a litany of factors that will impact such an outcome including but not limited to your score under the Florida Criminal Punishment Code, the actual facts of your case, the existence or absence of mitigation, the existence or absence of statutory mitigation, the wishes of any victim, and the views of the presiding judge.

Furthermore, the Florida Criminal Punishment Code is a bit complicated, so the best source of reliable, understandable information about the likely sentencing range in your particular case is an experienced local criminal lawyer. Additionally, while this post will provide a general overview of how the Florida scoring system works and when a criminal court can impose a sentence lower than the minimum determined using the scoring worksheet, the best source of information about a particular case will come from a seasoned attorney who knows how to apply these concepts to genuine situations.

What is the Florida Criminal Punishment Code?

The Florida Criminal Punishment Code is a provision of the Florida Statutes that lays out not only the purpose of sentencing for criminal offenses in Florida, but also the mechanism through which legal sentences are determined. Further, while important in every case, the Florida Criminal Punishment Code is most significant in the prosecution of felonies. The reason being that any individual charged with a felony will “score” a point value under the Florida Criminal Punishment Code. Additionally, this point value may have significant impacts on the potential sentence a person could receive. This point value is determined by use of the Florida Criminal Punishment Code Scoresheet.

The Criminal Punishment Code Scoresheet

As mentioned above the Florida Criminal Punishment Code Scoresheet is a critical consideration for a potential sentence of anyone charged with a felony in Florida. This framework incorporates a variety of factors and the presence of these factors earns a defendant points. Ultimately the amount of points a defendant “scores” can impact whether a defendant is eligible for a prison sentence or what the minimum allowable prison sentence a defendant may face in the absence of convincing statutory mitigation. Factors that impact a individuals score or point value under this framework include:

  • The charge or charges currently pending against a defendant. Every felony offense falls into a certain offense level as listed in the Punishment Code, and the higher the offense level the more points an offense carries. There are 10 different offense levels, with points ranging from four points for a level 1 offense to 116 points for a level 10 offense. The full point value is assigned to the primary offense, and a lower point value for additional offenses. Ultimately the point values of each offense are added together to obtain a subtotal.
  • Injury to victims. Not all offenses result in injuries to a victim, but if a victim was injured that fact and the degree of injury will increase a defendant’s points under the guidelines framework.
  • Additional points are assigned if a firearm was used in the commission of the crime.
  • Certain crimes, including some higher-level drug trafficking crimes, are subject to a multiplier, increasing the number of points assigned to the offense.
  • Other multipliers may apply, based on the nature of the crime combined with variables such as the number of prior offenses of the same type or the presence of a child at the time of the offense. Your criminal attorney can tell you whether additional multipliers apply in your case.
  • Additional points are assigned based on prior criminal offenses. These points are also determined by the level of the offense, but are lower than either the point value assigned to a primary offense or additional offense of the same level.
  • Additional points are assigned for prior legal status violations or community sanction violations, such as probation violations.
  • Additional points are assigned for prior serious felonies.

If this seems a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. Your criminal lawyer can do the calculations to show you how these factors will combine to influence sentencing in your case.

Now ultimately the total number of points that a defendant merits is added together to reach a total. If that number is less than 22 then generally a defendant is not eligible for a prison sentence unless a jury decides that a non-prison sentence would present a danger to the public. If the defendant’s point total is above 22 points but less than 44 points then the defendant is eligible for a prison sentence but there is no minimum required prison sentence. Now should a defendant score above 44 points then additional calculations are required and such an individual “scores” a minimum permissible prison sentence in the absence of statutory mitigation.

The formula for determining the minimum permissible prison sentence for a defendant who scores above 44 points on the FCPC scoresheet is as follows:

  1. Subtract 28 from the total sentencing points, and
  2. Multiply the result by 0.75

For example, if the total number of sentencing points was 100, the calculation would go like this:

100 – 28 = 72

72 x 0.75 = 54

Thus the lowest permissible sentence for a defendant who scored 100 points under the guidelines would be 54 months in prison.

Sentencing Above the Lowest Permissible Sentence

As the terminology suggests, this formula above doesn’t yield the sentence a criminal defendant will receive,nor does it yield the maximum sentence that a defendant will receive. Instead this calculation provides the lowest permissible sentence that a defendant may receive in the absence of statutory mitigation. Thus it is not uncommon for a defendant to receive a sentence that is larger or longer than their guideline score. First, if the relevant criminal statute includes a mandatory minimum or a minimum mandatory sentence, the sentence must be at least that minimum, even if the scoresheet yields a shorter or smaller lowest permissible sentence.

Even where there is no mandatory minimum sentence in the statute, the court is free to sentence the defendant to any amount of time between the lowest permissible sentence and the statutory maximum. 

Sentencing Below the Lowest Permissible Sentence

“Lowest permissible sentence” is a bit misleading, because there actually are circumstances in which the court may impose a sentence below the minimum yielded by the scoresheet. The rationale for the imposition of such lower sentences is what’s known as statutory mitigation and the applicable statutory mitigators can be found in Florida Statute 921.0026. But it is crucial to understand that a judge has far more discretion to impose a sentence in excess of a defendant’s guideline score than to impose a sentence below that same guideline score. Now some of the most common statutory mitigators include:

  • The lower sentence is pursuant to a legitimate, uncoerced plea agreement
  • The defendant was an accomplice whose role in the crime was relatively minor
  • The defendant’s capacity to recognize the criminal nature of their actions or conform to the law was substantially impaired
  • The defendant requires special treatment for a mental or physical disability or addiction
  • The need for payment of restitution to the victim outweighs the need for incarceration
  • The victim provoked or otherwise willingly participated in the incident
  • The defendant acted under duress
  • The defendant cooperated with the state
  • The victim was substantially compensated before the defendant was identified
  • The offense was committed in an unsophisticated manner, was an isolated incident, and the defendant has shown remorse
  • At the time of the offense, the defendant was too young to appreciate the consequences of the action or the defendant is to be sentenced as a youthful offender
  • The defendant is qualified to participate in a treatment-based drug court program and is open to participating
  • The defendant was making a good faith effort to obtain or provide medical assistance for someone suffering a drug overdose

Your Jacksonville criminal defense attorney can help you determine whether one or more of the permissible mitigating factors may apply in your case.

Get the Help You Need with Your Criminal Case

If you’ve been charged with a crime in Florida, your next step should be to speak with an experienced local criminal attorney. You can schedule a free consultation with Florida criminal defense lawyer Matthew Lufrano right now by calling 904-513-3905 or filling out the contact form on this site.