As any criminal defense attorney in Fort Walton Beach knows, felony charges can be one of the most paralyzing experiences of any person’s life, especially so for the life-altering consequences that may possibly come with them. While it’s normal to feel that way, it is critical to know that your legal situation is not without hope and that there is a legal team that can fight for you and your future.
Tim Flaherty is a Fort Walton Beach criminal defense attorney. He can help you understand the possible consequences of the charges leveled against you and how to achieve the best result possible.
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 years 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
While the degree of your felony charges can inform you of the maximum possible sentence that may be handed down for the offense you allegedly committed, they do not indicate what, if any, mandatory minimum prison sentences might be triggered by your charges.
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
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?
Should the level of your felony total to less than 44 points, a judge will not be obligated 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. To put it simply, a score of 44 points or less will not trigger a mandatory prison sentence, thereby making it less likely that you will face a prison sentence.
My score is higher than 44 points, what does that mean?
If your felony level totals to more than 44 points, you will be facing a prison sentence that will be dictated by state law. However, as we will later discuss, it may still be possible for a judge to sentence you to a non-prison sentence even if you score higher than 44 points.
I am facing multiple charges in Fort Walton Beach, will they all 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 utilized to determine the months that will be mandatorily 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 x 0.75 = 12.75 month mandatory prison sentence
74 Total Points:
74 – 28 = 46 x 0.75 = 34.5 month mandatory prison sentence
116 Total Points:
116 – 28 = 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. With that in mind, a skilled criminal defense attorney can make a critical difference in helping you ensure you are not facing mandatory minimums by mistake
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 preventing prison time for them.
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 mandatory minimum prison sentence, you may be able to avoid a prison sentence with a downward departure, suspended sentence, or capped sentence. At Flaherty Defense Firm, our goal is to do everything we possibly can to help prevent our clients from ever serving prison time.
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 that which is mandated by the state.
To achieve a downward departure sentence, a Fort Walton Beach criminal defense attorney will pursue a two part process:
- We will need to prove there is a valid and legal justification for the departure. To do this, we must identify and argue to the court that you meet statutory criteria.
- Once legal justification for the departure has been secured, we will need to convince the presiding judge that he or she wants to utilize that departure. To do this, we will present the judge with any and all mitigating evidence on your behalf.
To demonstrate to the Court that you are a person worth giving a second chance, we will present a binder full of things like personal evaluations, letters of recommendation, job history, sentencing memorandums, military service records, etc. We want to show the Court that you are worth a second chance in the most persuasive way possible.
One thing we will rarely, if ever, do for our clients is plead “straight up” to the Court. Under those circumstances, there is no agreement in place before sentencing and a judge may hand out a defendant anything up to the maximum sentence allowed by the state.
We almost never do this for our clients because it is rarely a good idea to do so. As criminal defense attorneys, it is our duty to limit the exposure our clients have to possible prison sentences or any other worst case scenario.
Instead, we will sometimes enter a capped plea when we cannot come to an agreement with the State Attorney or if a mandatory minimum prison sentence is possible. By doing so, we can arrange for a maximum sentence that may not be exceeded, while still allowing us to argue for a lesser sentence later on.
Suspended Sentences in Fort Walton Beach
If you are given a suspended sentence, the presiding judge will have still sentenced you to a prison or jail term, only to suspend it to put you on probation or under community control. As such, by successfully completing your parole, you will have also successfully completed your jail or prison sentence. However, if you violate any of the terms of your probation or community control, you will have to go to prison or jail and serve the time you were originally sentenced to.
These sentences can be highly risky; if you violate your probation or community control, you will likely have to start all over. However, a suspended sentence can be a preferable alternative to actual time in a prison or jail. When you call us to discuss your case, we will 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 our clients that they have right to a jury trial, should they choose to do so. As such, we will be preparing your case for a trial from the first day in case you decide you want to fight your charges.
If we take your case to trial, rest assured that we know what we are doing with your felony charges; we will explore every legal option you have and then explain those options to you so that you, and you alone, can decide what the best course of action will be.
Consult a Fort Walton Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
If you are facing felony charges, call the Fort Walton Beach criminal defense team at Flaherty Defense Firm. With over 16 years of experience, Tim Flaherty will stand by your side and defend you every step of the way. To discuss the particulars of your case, please call us anytime, day or night, at (850) 243-6097 today.