At the Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Law Firm of Berman & Tsombanakis, we are often asked how does the Florida sentencing guidelines and score-sheet work and what will my sentence be. Below I will answer the first question and go over the basics of the sentencing guidelines and score-sheet. The second question, what will my sentence be, is much more complicated and really needs to be evaluated by an experienced attorney on a case by case basis, taking many individual factors into play.
When someone is to be sentenced with a felony in Florida, the State Attorney must fill out a form that is commonly referred to as a “score-sheet.” This form assigns point to the offense or offenses currently charge and also points for the defendant’s prior record if any. There are also optional points assigned for things like victim injuries and other factors. Additionally, if the person is currently on probation, then significant additional points are added, especially if the violation of probation is a new felony charge.
As far as the current offense and prior criminal history, each offense is classified at a different offense level. Less serious felonies such as simple drug possession are classified at a lower level and thus much lower points are assigned then for burglary or violent charges such as Robbery and Aggravated Battery. All the points for the current charges and prior criminal history as well as the additional points mentioned above are added up. If the points total under 44, then there is no need to go any further with the score-sheet and the defendant is deemed to score “any non state”. “Any non state” means the court can sentence the defendant from anywhere to a monetary fine or probation, up to the maximum sentence for the crime charged. Just because a person does not score out to prison on the sentencing guidelines does not mean that he cannot be given a prison sentence. Anyone charged with a crime can get up to the maximum sentence for that particular crime regardless of what they score. The score-sheet just determines, in effect, the minimum possible sentence. This is a common misconception.
If a Defendant scores 44 points or higher on the score-sheet, then you subtract 28 points from the total points and then divide the remaining number by .75. The resulting number is the amount, in months, that the defendant must be sentenced to AT A MINIMUM. This number is often called, “the bottom of the guidelines”. Of course the defendant still can get a sentence more than this amount, up to the maximum sentence permitted for the crimes charged, if the judge sees fit.
The bottom line is that the score-sheet really just calculates the minimum sentence that may be imposed by the court. The judge, using their discretion, unless the a plea agreement has been reached between the defendant and the State, can then sentence the defendant anywhere from the bottom of the guidelines up to the maximum penalty allowed by law for the crime charged.
Now, just because a person scores out to prison time on the score-sheet, it does not automatically mean that the person must be sentenced to prison. A downward departure motion can be filed which would allow the Judge to sentence a defendant to less then the minimum amount from the score-sheet. (Less then the bottom of the guidelines). There are only a few specific grounds for downward departures and not everyone will qualify for one. These downward departures are discretionary and the Judge may or may not grant a departure. A future post will contain a discussion of the different grounds for downward departures.