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How Florida Uses Sentencing Scoresheets and Guidelines to Determine Prison Time

How Florida Uses Sentencing Scoresheets and Guidelines to Determine Prison Time

Florida has a complex system of sentencing guidelines and scoresheets that judges use to determine the appropriate prison sentence for people convicted of felonies. The goal is to create more consistency and fairness in sentencing across the state.

Overview of Florida’s Sentencing Process

After a person is convicted of a felony offense, the sentencing process involves these key steps:

  • The probation department prepares a pre-sentence investigation report about the defendant’s background.
  • A sentencing scoresheet is prepared, calculating the defendant’s points based on the conviction offense and prior record.
  • The judge reviews the report, scoresheet, and any other relevant factors to determine the appropriate sentence within the guidelines.
  • Aggravating and mitigating factors can justify a departure from the recommended sentence.

So the sentencing scoresheet provides a starting point or baseline that judges use for determining the length of any prison sentence. But they have flexibility to depart from the guidelines.

Sentencing Scoresheets

Florida developed its sentencing scoresheets back in 1983 as part of its sentencing guidelines system. The goal was to standardize sentences based on the severity of the convicted offense and the defendant’s prior criminal history.

Each felony offense is assigned a specific level (level 1 through level 10) based on its severity. For example, second-degree murder is a level 10, while burglary of an unoccupied dwelling is a level 7.Points are then added based on the defendant’s prior offenses. More points mean a longer recommended prison sentence. First-time offenders start out with the lowest points.

There are separate scoresheets for different categories, like one for non-capital felonies and another for capital felonies. This allows sentences to be tailored based on the type of crime.

Determining the Sentence

Once the final scoresheet points are calculated, judges can determine the lowest permissible sentence, based on a matrix provided in the guidelines. They can review aggravating and mitigating factors to potentially go outside the recommended range.

Aggravators are reasons that would support exceeding the guidelines, while mitigators justify going lower. Examples include using a firearm, the victim’s vulnerability, and showing remorse.

However, judges must explain their reasoning for any departure from the guidelines in writing. This allows for meaningful appellate review of sentences that seem excessively high or low compared to the scoresheet.

Impacts on Prison Time

Florida abolished most parole in 1983, so scoresheets directly determine how long convicted felons stay in prison. Spending even a year or two longer behind bars is significant for inmates and their families.

Critics argue that Florida’s rigid scoring system fails to adequately consider factors like childhood trauma and rehabilitation potential. But supporters believe it promotes fair notice and expectations about the likely penalty if convicted.

The Florida Legislature would need to amend the current statute to alter how scoresheets account for offense severity and prior records. But judges retain some flexibility to consider special factors in each case.

So in summary, Florida’s felony sentencing scoresheets provide recommended prison terms based on convictions and past crimes. But aggravating and mitigating factors allow for departures from the guidelines in appropriate cases with judicial explanation.

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