Facing sentencing for a felony charge has got to be one of the most terrifying things anyone can go through. This isn’t traffic court. If you have pending felony charges, you are facing a potential prison sentence and a permanent felony conviction on your record.
Instead of letting that fear paralyze you, take steps now to fight back and protect yourself.
My name is Tim Flaherty. My partner is Brandy Merrifield. We are Fort Walton Beach criminal defense attorneys. We understand what you are going through, and more importantly, we know how to help.
How are felony offenses classified in Florida?
In order to understand what possible sentence you are facing, it is important to know a little bit about how felonies are classified in Florida.
Florida uses a system that classifies felonies by Degree, and also by Level. The Degree of the felony determines the maximum sentence. The Level determines whether there is any minimum sentence that applies.
Felony Offenses in Fort Walton Beach by Degree
In the state of Florida, every felony offense is assigned one of five degrees of severity, including:
- 3rd Degree Felony—punishable by up to a 5 year prison sentence
- 2nd Degree Felony—punishable by up to a 15 years prison sentence
- 1st Degree Felony—punishable by up to a 30 years prison sentence
- Life Felony—punishable by up to a life prison sentence
- Capital Felony—punishable by a life prison sentence or death
Mandatory minimum prison sentences, however, may be more accurately calculated with the Florida Punishment Code Scoresheet and level of the felony offense, as defined by Florida statute.
Level of Felony Offenses in Fort Walton Beach
While the degree of your felony determines the maximum sentence, it does not help with determining what, if any, minimum sentence you may be facing. The Level of the felony offense determines that. This can be accurately calculated using the Florida Punishment Code Scoresheet.
There are 10 levels of felony offenses in Florida—where 10 represents the most serious crimes—each of which is assigned a specific numeric value, as indicated below:
- Level 1—4 points
- Level 2—10 points
- Level 3—16 points
- Level 4—22 points
- Level 5—28 points
- Level 6—36 points
- Level 7—56 points
- Level 8—74 points
- Level 9—92 points
- Level 10—116 points
How does the point value affect mandatory minimum prison sentencing?
If your point total is 44 points or less, the judge is not required to sentence you to a mandatory prison sentence. However, this does not mean that you will not receive a prison sentence if you are convicted—you may still be sentenced up to the maximum sentence as defined by the degree of your felony. However, if your score is 44 points or less, it is less likely that you will be sentenced to prison.
My score is higher than 44 points, what does that mean?
If your score is more than 44 points, the judge will be required to sentence you to state prison unless he makes a legal exception called a Downward Departure. Downward Departure sentences are discussed further down this page.
Will all my pending felony charges be scored?
Yes, every offense will be scored by the Florida Punishment Code Scoresheet—the most serious offense (the offense with the highest felony level) will be treated as the primary offense, while each of the other charges will be scored as secondary offenses. However, it is critical to note that while primary offenses will be scored with the above listed system, secondary offenses are scored with different numeric values and with a different system.
I have prior convictions on my record, will they also be scored?
Yes, they will also be scored in conjunction with your current charges. However, again, they are scored under a different point system, one with lower numeric values than those of primary and secondary offenses.
How does the state calculate mandatory minimum sentences?
Under the Florida Sentencing Guidelines, the following equation is used to calculate the sentence, in months, that will be mandated by a particular offense:
(Total Points – 28) X 0.75 = minimum sentence (in months)
To give you a better idea of how this works, here are a few examples:
45 Total Points:
45 – 28 = 17. 17 x 0.75 = 12.75 month mandatory prison sentence
74 Total Points:
74 – 28 = 46. 46 x 0.75 = 34.5 month mandatory prison sentence
116 Total Points:
116 – 28 = 88. 88 x 0.75 = 66 month mandatory prison sentence
There are so many factors contributing to the points in my score, what if a mistake is made?
Unfortunately, the State does make mistakes when calculating the total point values that determine mandatory minimum prison sentences. One of the first things we do for a person with a felony case is to thoroughly analyze his or her Florida Punishment Code Scoresheet and check for mistakes. In many cases, we do find some miscalculation and, for some, that has played a critical role in keeping them out of prison.
If you do not find any mistakes, will I go to prison for sure?
Even when you exceed the 44 total point mark that triggers a minimum prison sentence, you may be able to avoid a prison sentence with a downward departure, suspended sentence, or capped sentence. At Flaherty & Merrifield, our goal is to do everything possible to keep our clients out of prison.
Downward Departure Sentences
With a downward departure sentence, the presiding judge will be allowed to depart from normal sentencing guidelines and, instead, hand out a lesser sentence than the one called for under the guidelines. Click for more information about Downward Departure sentences.
Securing a Downward Departure sentence requires a 2-step process:
- We must give the Court legal authority to support the Downward Departure. There are specific statutory criteria that must be met.
- Even if the Court agrees that there is legal justification for the Departure, the Court must still be convinced that it is the right thing to do in your case.
The two-step process can be summarized as follows: CAN the Judge legally depart from the guidelines, and SHOULD the Judge depart from the guidelines?
It is our job to convince the Court that you are a person worth giving a second chance to. Here are a few examples of some of the things we will present:
- Your personal statement to the Court
- Witnesses to testify on your behalf
- Letters from family and friends
- Letters from employers, employees, co-workers
- Letters from former or current teachers/professors
- If you are military, all awards and commendations you have received
- Letters from anyone who can speak to your character or integrity
- An extensive sentencing memorandum on your behalf that summarizes everything you have provided. We will also lay out a detailed legal argument for why your case qualifies legally for the Downward Departure.
We want to show the Court that you are worth a second chance in the most persuasive way possible.
One thing we rarely do is advise our clients to plead “straight up” to the Court. A straight up plea means there is no agreement about the sentence and the judge can give you any sentence they want, up to the max.
As your criminal defense attorneys, it is our duty to limit your risk. Throwing you on the mercy of the court exposes you to the worst case scenario.
To try to minimize this risk, one option is to enter a capped plea. A capped plea “locks in” the ceiling of what your sentence could be, but still allows us to argue to something less. In this scenario, the judge is not allowed to give you more than the “cap” that has been agreed to. A capped plea offers a little more protection than a “straight up” plea.
Suspended Sentences in Fort Walton Beach
If you are given a suspended sentence, the presiding judge will sentence you to a term in prison, but give you the chance to avoid having to serve the sentence. The suspended portion of your sentence would be held over your head while you complete probation or whatever sanctions the judge gives you.
As long as you complete your sentence with no violations, the suspended sentence will not be imposed. However, if you do not, the judge will most likely impose the suspended sentence and send you to prison.
Suspended sentences are risky, but they are a better option than going directly to prison. A suspended sentence at least gives you another option to stay out of jail.
When you call us, we’ll talk about whether a suspended sentence is a good option for your situation.
I want to fight my charges, what now?
While these sentencing guidelines can be useful to anyone facing felony charges, we always explain to my clients that they have the right to a jury trial, should they choose to do so. We will be preparing your case for a trial from day one, so we will be ready for whatever comes our way.
Consult a Fort Walton Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
Brandy and I focus our practice 100% on criminal defense. I have been defending clients accused of felonies in Fort Walton Beach since 2001. Call Flaherty & Merrifield 24/7 at (850) 243-6097 for a free consultation.
Click here to learn more about Florida’s criminal law processes.