Most people charged with a felony in Florida are unaware of the time they could spend in prison if convicted. Florida has a very complicated method to determine sentencing time. The basic rule is, for a first-degree felony, it could be anything from 30 years to life, depending on the charge.
However, the statutory maximums are not absolute and do not always apply. In an attempt to make penalties more uniform, Florida introduced the current score sheet system in 1998. The sentencing score sheets depend on a point-based system to determine whether a defendant can go to prison, and if so, for how long they must go.
The scoresheet might appear complicated, but it is actually quite simple once you understand it. Every felony offense is assigned two-point values which are primary offense and secondary offense. The primary offense score is higher and is the starting point on the score sheet. For example, a primary offense possession of a controlled substance would score 16 points. If a defendant had a second possession charge, the second charge would be a secondary offense and would score an additional 2.4 points.
Once the points are calculated for the offenses, the next consideration is whether the victim was injured. Points will be added for death, injuries that are severe, moderate, and slight, as well as for sexual penetration or contact. The points in this segment range from 4 points for causing a slight injury, all the way up to 240 points for second-degree murder.
Next, the scoresheet will consider the Defendant’s prior record. Once again, all charges are assigned a point value and added up. The point values for prior offense are smaller than they would be for the same offense as a primary or secondary offense.
Four points will also be added if the Defendant is on ordered supervision at the time of the new offense, such as probation or incarceration. In addition, in a violation of probation case, 12 points will be added if the violation was a new felony, or 6 points will be added for any other type of violation. Please note, extra points will be assessed if the Defendant meets certain criteria, such as being a violent felony offender of special concern.
Moreover, if a firearm was used in the offense, the score sheet will add 18 or 25 points. If the Defendant has a prior serious felony, an additional 30 points will be added.
In the final section, there are certain enhancements that can be added, usually at the discretion of the prosecutor. The total score can be multiplied by 1.5 if the Defendant is a drug trafficker, member of a gang, committed domestic violence in the presence of a related child, or theft of a motor vehicle. The total score could also be multiplied by 2 if the crime involved a sexual offense committed on a minor. If the crime was directed at a law enforcement officer, the score can be multiplied by 1.5-2.5, depending on the specifics.
Once all the points are added together, we can determine how much time the Defendant can actually serve. If the total is less than 22 points, the Defendant must be sentenced to a non-prison sentence, except under unusual circumstances. This is an important point because even though the maximum penalty for a third-degree felony is five years if a person has a low score, they still may not be sentenced to more than a year in jail. If the score is more than 22 but less than 44, the Defendant could be sentenced to prison, but it is not required.
However, if the score is over 44, it must be plugged into a formula to determine how much time the Defendant must be sentenced to in prison. The formula is the total score, minus 28, times .75. The total number is known as the lowest permissible sentence in months. For example, if the defendant scored 44 exactly, the Defendant would score 12 months in prison. The higher the score, the longer the Defendant’s sentence. It is important to remember, however, that the score is a minimum. For a Defendant who scored prison, the maximum number would be the maximum sentence for the charged crimes.
When charged with a felony crime in Florida, it is important to understand your scoresheet and how the prosecutor comes up with the numbers. If you wish to engage in plea negotiations, you need to understand what the prosecutor can and cannot do! Also, you must know the Court’s sentencing obligation in the event you decide to plead guilty without an agreement. This also applies if you decide to take the case to trial. Although it appears very complicated, it is actually basic once you understand where all the points come from.
There are specific ways to get a reduced sentence. I will provide more information in future blogs. In the meantime, you may contact my office for an appointment if you need help with a criminal matter.
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