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Florida Criminal Law: Sentencing

The Miami criminal defense law firm of DMT has represented hundreds of clients in sentencing hearings both in state and federal court. The procedures for sentencing vary tremendously between the state and the federal system criminal justice systems. Each Miami criminal lawyer at DMT has personally represented dozens of clients both at the state and federal level for sentencing hearings. Each criminal attorney has an intimate knowledge of the criminal rules of procedure that apply to sentencing hearings, and through hard work, dedication and a creative approach obtain outstanding results. This approach has allowed to defense team at DMT to obtain excellent results at sentencing hearings.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines

The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 was created to develop guidelines that would provide improvements to the basic principles of criminal punishment. The guidelines were created to allow for deterrence, incapacitation, just and fair punishment and rehabilitation. The legislation's intent in creating the act was to fight crime by a creating an effective and fair system of sentencing. Prior to the creation of the act, disproportionate sentences were problematic as individuals convicted of the same crime with substantially the same background received different sentences. While the federal sentencing guidelines provide a range for which the federal judge to sentence a defendant, atypical features of a case allow for the judge to depart from the standardized sentencing guidelines. If the court departs from the guidelines, the rules require that he or she specify reasons for the departure. The basic literature setting forth sentencing criteria and punishments exist in the United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual.

Each criminal violation under Federal Law is a assigned an offense level. Offense levels can be increased for similar law violations for a variety of reasons. For example, in cocaine trafficking and marijuana trafficking cases, the offense level will increase as the amount of illegal substances involved in the offense increase. In mortgage fraud and Medicare fraud cases, the punishment level will increase as the amount of loss to the victim increases. Another factor that can lead to increase the offense level is the prior record of a defendant. Offense levels can also be increased depending on a person's level of involvement in a criminal offense. Offense levels can be increased for defendants who are the heads or managers of criminal enterprises, while defendants who only play a minor role in an offense can have their offense level reduced. One of the best ways to reduce a sentence is receive a 5K departure which allows a court to reduce a sentence commensurate with a defendant's cooperation with the federal prosecutors with the substantive crime or other crimes.

State Sentencing Guidelines

Like the federal sentencing guidelines, state guidelines were created due to judges handing down disproportionate sentences for similar crimes for defendants with similar backgrounds. The state sentencing guidelines have undergone significant changes over the years. The guidelines that are currently used in state court were handed down in October 1998. Every felony offense in the State of Florida ranges from a level 1 to a level 10 offense. Each level offense for which a person is convicted is assigned a certain amount of points. Prior felony and misdemeanor convictions are also assigned points. All of the points are tabulated on a sentencing score sheet which will create a bottom of the sentencing guidelines. The top of the range is determined by adding the maximum sentences for all of the crimes for which the defendant is convicted. Individuals convicted of "non-serious" criminal charges with little or no criminal backgrounds will score non-state prison. A non-state prison score will allow the court or the prosecution to offer probation or even pre-trial diversion.

Like federal court, state judges can depart below the guidelines as long as their reasons are clearly stated on the record. Reasons for departure include the defendant was a minor participant, mental disorders, victim was an aggressor, the defendant cooperated with the prosecution, the defendant's youth, or the criminal act was an isolated incident. Judges can also depart below guidelines for defendants that qualify as juveniles or youthful offenders.

Pre-Sentence Investigations (PSI's)

Pre-sentence investigation are used both in federal and state court. The investigations are more important in federal sentencing proceedings. Once a defendant is convicted or enters a plea in federal court, a federal probation officer will conduct a background investigation and attempt to determine the guidelines for a particular defendant. An experienced criminal lawyer will evaluate a pre-sentence investigation report and file objections and submit arguments to have client's guidelines reduced as much as possible. Arguments for departures should also be made as part of the memoranda submitted to the court. Failing to point out errors or request additional criminal offense reductions can lead to a defendant serving months and even sometimes years more than they should when they receive their sentence.

If you are under investigation for, or have been arrested and charged with a criminal offense, contact the Miami criminal lawyers at DMT. An experienced criminal attorney is available every day of the year, 24 hours a day to speak with you regarding your situation. Allow us the opportunity to help protect your rights and defend you case. You can call our office at (305) 340-2197 or reach us by completing the form on our contact page or by sending an e-mail.