Florida Appeals Court Holds Defendant May Be Eligible for Sentence Reduction

Florida law allows a defendant to have their sentence reduced in certain specific situations. This is called a “downward departure.” Generally, defendants are eligible for a downward departure in their sentence when there has been a specific extenuating circumstance that makes a downward departure just. Your knowledgeable Clearwater criminal defense attorney can tell you whether you may be eligible for a downward departure based on the circumstances of your case.

Florida Downward Departure Law

When someone is convicted of a felony in Florida, they are sentenced using guidelines in the Florida Criminal Punishment Code. Essentially, the code has a scoresheet that it uses to determine the amount of prison time that someone should serve. However, in some cases with extenuating circumstances, the court may want to sentence the defendant to less than the minimum sentence determined by the code. This is called a downward departure. Courts can issue a downward departure provided that two conditions are met.

The first thing that the court must find for a downward departure is that there is evidence of mitigating circumstances that supports a downward departure. The code lays out 14 circumstances that may be considered mitigating for a downward departure. These include: the defendant was a relatively minor accomplice, the departure comes from a plea bargain, the defendant’s capacity was substantially impaired, the defendant requires specialized mental health treatment, or the defendant was going to be sentenced as a youthful offender.

The second thing that the court needs to do is determine whether it should impose a downward departure sentence. Whether or not to allow a downward departure sentence is completely discretionary, and judges do not have to allow a downward departure if they do not want to.

The Circumstances of This Case

In this case, heard by the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal, the trial court denied a defendant’s request for a downward departure because they determined they lacked the discretion. The defendant here was found incompetent to stand trial for alleged violations of probation and harassing telephone calls to the judge that was hearing his case. After spending four months at a competency restoration center, he was found to be competent to stand trial and was moved to the jail.

The state argued against the granting of the downward departure because they alleged that the defendant was not amenable to treatment. However, the court here found that there was evidence that the defendant is amenable to treatment when he is in a structured mental health program. The trial court also stated that the defendant was not eligible for downward departure on any of the grounds, though the appeals court here held that the defendant was actually potentially eligible on two grounds, both having an impaired capacity and requiring specialized mental health treatment. Thus, the trial court denial was reversed and this case was remanded to a different judge to make the determination of whether the defendant should be granted a downward sentence departure.

Contact an Experienced Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney Today!

When you or a loved one are charged with a crime, you may not know where to start. Your first call should be to an experienced Clearwater criminal defense attorney. The skilled Clearwater criminal defense attorneys at Hanlon Law Firm will defend you zealously against the charges. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with our attorneys about your case.

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