Criminal Sentencing In Florida

Years ago, the Florida Legislature enacted criminal sentencing guidelines to define a systemic method for sentencing criminal defendants prosecuted in Florida state courts. The guidelines apply to all criminal defendants, whether their case is prosecuted in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach or any other area in Florida. This system applies evenly to all criminal offenses, whether your case concerns a drug offense, domestic violence, a sex crime, a financial crime, a violation of probation, or any other type of offense.

As you will see from the discussion below, the purpose of criminal scoring is to tailor a sentence that considers all relevant aspects of case. These include the nature of the main offense, the type and quantity of any secondary offenses, victim injury or death, the defendant’s personal criminal history, as well as additional points for offenses committed while on probation, that included the use of a gun, or that qualify for a multiplier.

The Primary Offense

Minimum sentences are ultimately calculated using a formula. This formula is broken down in the Criminal Punishment Code Scoresheet, pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.992(a). This scoresheet begins with adding points for the primary offense. When the Florida Legislature enacted the criminal sentencing guidelines, they assigned a unique value to every offense on the books. The more serious an offense is, the higher its numerical value on the scoresheet. These values are added as points in a manner that is similar to the points added to your driving record for traffic infractions. For example, possession of MDMA is a Level III felony and adds 16 points to a scoresheet when scored as the primary offense.

Additional Offenses

Once the primary offense is scored, points are then added for any additional offenses charged. For example, a person may be charged with DUI Manslaughter as the main offense and possession of cocaine or driving while license suspended as secondary offenses. Secondary offenses add lesser points to a scoresheet than do primary offenses. For example, a Level III offense, like possession of MDMA only adds 2.4 points when scored as a secondary offense.

Victim Injury

After points are added for primary and additional offenses, the scoresheet adds extra points for victim injury, when applicable. As one can imagine, victim injury points vary depending on the extent and nature of injury and the number of injured victims.

Victim death adds 120 points, severe injury adds 40, moderate injury adds 18, and slight injury adds 4. Points may also be added for sexual penetration or sexual contact when appropriate. Sexual penetration adds 80 points and sexual contact adds 40.

It should be noted that victim injury points are added per instance. Using our DUI Manslaughter case as an example, if two people were killed the scoresheet would add an additional 240 points or 120 per victim. If two people were killed and a third person was moderately injured, the additional points would equal 258. So on and so forth…

Criminal History

After victim injury points have been scored, points are added for the particular defendant’s criminal history. Each type of offense adds points depending on how serious it is. For example, a misdemeanor adds only 0.20 points, whereas a Level 10 felony adds 29. The more extensive and more serious a defendant’s criminal history is, the more points that will be added to his or her scoresheet.

Legal Status Violations

Next, the sentencing scoresheet adds points for “Legal Status Violations,” such as escape, fleeing, failure to appear, supersedeas bond, incarceration, pretrial intervention or diversion program, or court imposed/post prison release community supervision resulting in a conviction. A violation for any of these categories results in an additional 4 points added to the scoresheet.

Community Sanction Violation Before the Court for Sentencing

After adding points for legal status violations, the criminal code scoresheet also adds points for offenses committed while on probation, community control, pretrial intervention or pretrial diversion. Depending on the circumstances, a person may be subject to a minimum of 6, 12, or 24 additional points.

Firearm and Prior Serious Felony Points

If your offense included the use of a firearm, semi-automatic gun, or machine gun, an additional 18 or 25 points are added, depending on the circumstances. Additionally, if you had a prior serious felony, you may be subject to an additional 30 points.

Enhancements

Once all of the above named points are added up, they may be subject to enhancement depending on the circumstances present in your case. If your case qualifies, a multiplier is applied to your total points to make them greater. For example, motor vehicle theft qualifies for an enhancement multiplier of 1.5.

For example, if your total sentencing points in a Grand Theft Auto case equal 40 points, your enhanced points would equal 60. Other enhancements can be added when the victim is a law enforcement officer, for drug trafficking, gang related offenses, and domestic violence offenses committed in the presence of a related child.

Sentence Computation

Once all points have been tallied and all enhancement multipliers have been applied, criminal cases are divided into two categories: cases with mandatory prison sentences and everything else. If your total sentence points are less than or equal to 44 points, you do not have a minimum prison sentence. Such sentences are called “discretionary sentences” because it is up to your judge to decide whether you get probation, jail time, a prison sentence, or a combined sentence that includes probation and some form of incarceration. However, if your total sentence points are greater than 44, you have a mandatory prison sentence.

To calculate your lowest permissible prison sentence in months, you must apply your total sentence points to the following formula:

______________
Total Sentence Points
minus 28 = _____________
 
x 0.75 = ____________________
Lowest Permissible Prison Sentence

For example, if your total sentence points equal 120, your lowest permissible prison sentence would be 69 months.

120 minus 28 = 92.
92 x 0.75 = 69

While this formula applies to almost all cases prosecuted Florida state courts, there are exceptions to these rules. For some crimes, such as trafficking in cocaine, there are minimum mandatory sentences that may be higher than the minimum called for by your scoresheet. For example, if you were caught with the minimum trafficking amount of cocaine, you would have to serve at least three years in prison, no matter what your scoresheet says. Of course, if your scoresheet requires a higher minimum, then the higher minimum would apply.

Finally, there are limited circumstances where a judge may deviate from the criminal punishment code guidelines and sentence a person below the minimums required by the scoresheet. For example, youthful offenders sentenced before their 21stbirthday may qualify for a mitigated sentence. In other limited circumstances a criminal defendant may ask his or her judge for a “Downward Departure.” Please refer to the downward departure section of this website for more information.