Understanding Florida Criminal Law Scoresheets (Sentencing Guidelines)

You have been arrested for a felony, and likely the first question you have is  “will I go to jail”?  Or worse yet “will I go to prison”?  You are hearing terms like sentencing guidelines, and scoresheets, and mandatory minimums.  What does all this mean?  Will my prior record be used against me, what about juvenile crimes?  How can I figure out if the prosecutor will come to court, shrug their shoulders and say, “Judge, he scores prison, we are asking for the bottom, 46.38 months in DOC.”  What?  Where does a number like that come from?  Whether you have a Public Defender or a Private Attorney, it is in your best interest that you understand your own scoresheet (a.k.a. sentencing guideline).

The Florida Department of Corrections has prepared a manual for filling out this scoresheet.  This manual is 56 pages long and is quite detailed.  I will attempt to explain this calculation to you in a way that you can understand and help you to be a knowledgeable participant in your case.

When you are sentenced on a felony charge in Florida, the prosecutor is required to prepare and file a sentencing scoresheet.  This calculation takes a number of factors into account and assigns each factor a number.  After accounting for each factor you add up all the numbers, do a simple calculation to see how many points you have.  If you have over 44 points, you score mandatory prison.  If you have less than 44 points, you are eligible for a non-state prison sanction, which could include county jail time, probation, community control (house arrest) or possibly even time served in the county jail and a fine.  If you have less than 44 points you still can be sentenced to prison, but it is not mandatory.  If you have 22 points or less and you are being sentenced to a third degree felony, in order to send you to prison, the judge must make written findings that a non-state prison sanction may present a danger to the community.

Now, let’s move on and discuss the factors that are entered into this equation to figure out if you score prison.

The first factor is called the primary offense.  The most severe charge with which you are currently charged will be entered on this line.  That charge has a corresponding offense level.  For example, Possession of Cocaine is a level 3 offense which will give you 16 points, and a residential burglary charge is a level 7 which generates 56 points.  As a general rule, the more serious the charge, the more points it generates.  The most common charges are ranked in Florida Statute 921.0022(3).

The next section is called additional offenses.  If you are only charged with one count, this section will be left blank.  If you have more than 1 count, the additional counts will be listed here.  As in the primary offense, each charge is assigned an offense level, which translates to a certain number of points.  The number of points assigned to each level is much lower in this section than in the primary offense section.  To take our example, a Possession of Cocaine listed in this section will add 2.4 points to the scoresheet, and a residential burglary will add 28 points to the scoresheet.

The next factor to be considered is if the victim suffered injury as a result of the crime.  The injury is scored as slight, moderate, severe, or death with corresponding points for each one.  However the prosecutor decides to score the injury, they have to be able to prove that level of injury.  There is case law which clarifies and addresses these issues, and your lawyer should question the assessment of injury points if appropriate.

The next section enters your prior record into the equation.  As with the other sections, each charge for which you have previously been convicted is assigned a level and corresponding number of points.  Juvenile charges MAY be added if they are within five years of the date of the primary offense on the scoresheet.  If you have 10 consecutive crime free years, your old convictions will NOT be scored.  You know your record and convictions better than anyone.  Be sure to look closely at this section and point out any discrepancies to your lawyer.

Legal Status Violation points are added if you are under any form of court imposed or post-prison release community supervision and commit a new crime.  Examples include, escape from incarceration, fleeing to avoid prosecution, failure to appear for court, violating the terms of your bond, committing a new crime while incarcerated, on any diversion program or while on probation.

Community sanction violation points are assessed when you have violated probation, community control, or a pre-trial diversion program.  If your violation is a technical violation (new misdemeanor, not paying money etc.) 6 points will be assessed.  If your violation is a new felony, 12 points will be assessed.  If you are on your third or fourth violation of probation, the State can add points for each prior violation for which you were reinstated to probation.  So, with each violation you get closer and closer to scoring mandatory prison.

If the crime for which you are being sentenced involved a firearm, the State may add either 18 or 24 additional points.  If you have a “prior serious felony” you may have an additional 30 points added to your scoresheet.

Next, here is a line on the scoresheet to add up all of your points.  This total is known as the subtotal sentence points.  There are a number of sentencing enhancements which may be applicable.  If the primary offense on the scoresheet is a violation of the Law Enforcement Protection Act, a Grand Theft of Motor Vehicle, any gang related crime, Drug Trafficking, or a crime of Domestic Violence committed in the presence of a child 16 years of age or younger, you may be subject to having your subtotal points multiplied by 1.5, 2, or 2.5.

Once any enhancements have been added, you have your points total.   If you have 44 points or more, you subtract 28 from your points total, then multiply that number by .75.  This will give you the lowest permissible prison sentence in months.  Unless the judge chooses to “depart” from these guidelines or your lawyer can negotiate an alternative with the prosecutor, this number is the only legal sentence.

If you score mandatory prison, do not despair.   There are reasons for which a judge can legally “depart” from these guidelines.  The basis’ for departure will be discussed in greater detail in a future post.   Always be aware that there are many charges in which minimum mandatory sentences apply and those will not be reflected in the above described calculation.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can and should explain your scoresheet to you in detail.  The scoresheet is an integral part of the criminal justice process and you deserve to have your scoresheet explained to you in detail and to have all of your questions answered.  As you can tell from this brief overview, the sentencing scoresheet contains many opportunities for error.

Unfortunately, many people have gone to jail or prison because their lawyer didn’t have enough knowledge to challenge the prosecutor’s scoresheet calculations and was not experienced in felony defense. You deserve a lawyer who has handled thousands of scoresheets and knows the case law that further explains each and every section.  If you are facing a felony in any Central Florida county and have questions about sentencing or your score sheet and looking for an attorney, call Mike now 407-926-6613.


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