To the average person who is not an attorney, Florida’s criminal sentencing processes and laws seem to be purposefully confusing, or least very hard to understand the way they are written. While some sentencing have always been formulaic, they were significantly updated in 1998 to the current point system in place.
These point categories also work in ranges with minimums and maximums unless a specific crime has a statutory minimum removing discretion from a judge’s decision.
Understanding the Points
While each category of misdemeanors and felonies have a basic sentencing value assigned to them, the points then allows the court to tailor the actual sentence better to the individual defendant, or at least that’s the intent. Categories such as prior crimes, the extent of a victim’s injuries, the time since the last conviction, and more all add points in varying degrees to a defendant’s sentencing value.
Started in 1994, the point system was intended to tighten up the discretion judges previously had, sending some defendants away for life practically while others received maybe a year or two for the same crime. The wide range of sentences became so egregious, there was no logical basis for the range of sentences each crime had and no predictive method either.
While there have been various updates to specific crime point values as well as the system in general, point values as a system have remained consistent. There is still a good amount of discretion available for judges, particularly to give heavier sentences. However, the point value system has generally wiped out the judge’s ability to provide a sentence lesser than the bottom of the sentencing guidelines.
In short, the days of one person getting a slap on the wrist for a felony that puts another person away for 20 years are over.
Categories of Crimes
Just like other states, every crime in Florida falls into a general crime level category bifurcated by misdemeanors and felonies, the prior one being the less severe of the two. The major difference, of course, is that misdemeanor sentences cannot incarcerate a person for longer than a year in a county-level facility, i.e. jail. Felony sentences, in comparison, qualify a person to be put away in state prison and always exceed a year.
Felonies break down into the following sub-categories:
- Third degree – a range of more than one year and up to five years in state prison
- Second degree – Up to 15 years in state prison (crimes include aggravated battery, robbery)
- First degree – Up to 30 years in state prison (crimes include drug trafficking, first degree burglary)
- Life felony – as the name implies, a life sentence in state prison
The statute of limitations for felonies in Florida is varied. Cases involving death, perjury in a death case, and life felonies are not limited at all and can be prosecuted decades after the crime. First degree felonies have a limit of four years. All other felonies must be prosecuted within three years. Specific felonies, however, have added time lengths. For example, elder abuse can be charged up to five years after, and so can violation of securities laws.
Misdemeanors are sorted into two degrees, first and second:
- Second degree – The lower level of penalty, sentencing can be a jail stay up to 60 days and a $500 fine. Most misdemeanors that are not classified by Florida law will fall into this category
- First degree – The heaviest penalty level in a misdemeanor case, sentencing can be up to one year in county jail and a fine up to $1,000. These sentences are frequently associated with crimes that are serious but don’t yet reach felony status, such as stealing property up to $300 and there was no physical injury to a victim
It’s a technical but important aspect to know that the prosecution must charge someone with a first degree misdemeanor within two years of the crime. After that, the defendant can argue to have the case dismissed. Second degree misdemeanors must be charged within a year.
Points Come Into Play
A defendant or someone involved in a criminal case shouldn’t use the above categories as a definitive predictor of what a judge will decide for a sentence. That’s because the various point adjustments a judge can make still create variation. Also, if you are charged with a felony and you have a prior misdemeanor on your record that will count against you on your score sheet. You will have 0.2 points added to your score sheet.
There are ten different felony levels and the points range from 4 points to 116 points. Factors that add points to a person’s sentence include but are not limited to:
- Prior convictions
- The nature of the crime
- A crime committed in conjunction with other crimes
- Victim injuries and severity
- Enhanced crime definitions
If there are 44 points assigned to you, you will have to serve time in prison.
Again, Florida criminal sentencing can be extremely complicated to understand. Don’t try to guess. Instead, if you need help, contact a qualified and licensed Tampa criminal attorney for a correct answer.