Florida Court Holds that Sentence Violates Constitution

Legal News GavelIf you are convicted of a crime in Florida, the state has many different options regarding punishment for that crime. For example, states can force people to pay restitution or fines, and give people probation or jail time. However, there are laws around the kind of sentence someone gets. These laws include principles based on the Constitution, like fundamental fairness. In a case recently heard by the Second District Court of Appeals in Florida, a sentence given to a defendant was found to violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s requirement of fairness. This case helps to illustrate why it is so important to contact a knowledgeable Clearwater criminal defense attorney if you or a loved one has been charged with a crime.

Plea Bargains

The vast majority of defendants who are charged with a crime will end up pleading guilty. Prosecutors will frequently offer a reduced sentence to defendants who are willing to plead guilty to some or all of the charges against them. However, just because a defendant agrees to the guilty plea does not mean that it relieves the state from having to follow the laws around sentencing. In other words, if the sentence violates the Constitution, it is illegal whether or not the defendant agreed to it.

In this case, the defendant was charged with grand theft and making false entries on corporate books. She agreed to plead guilty. In exchange for this plea, she would be sentenced to six months in jail and seven years of probation. However, this sentence was contingent upon her being able to pay the $20,729.69 restitution that she owed within 60 days of sentencing. If she did not pay the full amount of restitution within this time period, her plea would be “open,” and she could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

The defendant was not able to come up with the money by the deadline, so the court sentenced her to seven years of prison and five years of probation for one charge, and five years of probation for another charge.

Illegal Sentencing

A Florida appeals court held that this was an illegal sentence. They explained that this violated the defendant’s due process rights as an indigent defendant and was contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment’s requirement of fundamental fairness. Essentially, the trial court was going to send the defendant to prison for a longer time because of her inability to raise the money for the restitution.

The state argued that the sentence was legal because the defendant agreed to it. However, the appeals court rejected this argument because no matter who agreed to it, the sentence was still illegal. The appeals court also discussed the purpose of restitution and relied on a 2016 Florida Supreme Court case as precedent. In that case, the Florida Supreme Court held that it was illegal for a lesser sentence to be expressly conditioned on whether the restitution was paid in a specific amount of time. Thus, the court here reversed the lower court and remanded this case back to the lower court to correct the error in sentencing.

Experienced Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, whether it is a drug crime, a sex crime, grand theft, or another kind of crime, it’s crucial that you contact a knowledgeable Clearwater criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. At Hanlon Law, we fight aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a crime. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with us about your case.

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