Written by attorney Andrew Taylor Morgan

Florida Sentencing: Understanding Criminal Punishment Code Scoresheets

For the past thirty (30) years, the State of Florida has used printed scoresheets to quantify sentencing factors for criminal defendants. The Criminal Punishment Code provides sentencing guidelines used to define a systemic method for sentencing criminal defendants prosecuted in Florida state courts. 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.

The focal point of Criminal Punishment Code sentencing is the scoresheet form which represents the bottom line in sentencing a felon. Knowing how this form is prepared and used is essential to an understanding of the Criminal Punishment Code. A lack of such knowledge can lead to misunderstanding that results in sentencing error, to the prejudice of the defendant, the State, or both.

The prosecutor (State Attorney or Statewide Prosecutor) is responsible for preparing a comprehensive criminal code scoresheet for each defendant covering all offenses pending before the court for sentencing. The prosecutor must present the scoresheet to defense counsel to review for accuracy in all cases unless the court directs otherwise.

The purpose of criminal scoring is to tailor a sentence that considers all relevant aspects of case. 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.

The scoresheet begins with adding points for the primary offense.

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.

After points are added for primary and additional offenses, the scoresheet adds extra points for victim injury, when applicable. 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.

Points are also added to the scoresheet for the particular defendant’s criminal history. Each type of offense adds points depending on the severity. 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 will be added to his or her scoresheet.

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.

The criminal punishment 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.

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.

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. 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.

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

While this formula applies to almost all cases prosecuted in 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. However, 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 21st birthday may qualify for a mitigated sentence. In other limited circumstances a criminal defendant may ask his or her judge for a "Downward Departure."

Hire an attorney with the experience and guidance necessary to protect your rights. The criminal attorneys at Canan Law are available 24/7 to help you with your legal needs.

Call us or stop by our offices at 43 Cincinnati Avenue in downtown St. Augustine if you have any questions about criminal and drug cases.

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