Florida's Criminal Punishment Code:
A Comparative Assessment (FY 2008-2009)
In 1997, the Florida legislature created a new sentencing structure, the Florida Criminal Punishment Code (“Code”). The Code is Florida’s primary sentencing policy. It is unique in that it has features of both structured and unstructured sentencing policies.
From a structured sentencing perspective, the Code provides for a uniform evaluation of relevant factors present at sentencing, such as the offense before the court for sentencing, prior criminal record, victim injury, and others. It also provides for a lowest permissible sentence that the court must impose in any given sentencing event, absent a valid reason for departure.
The Code also contains some characteristics of unstructured sentencing, such as broad judicial discretion and the allowance for the imposition of lengthy terms of incarceration.
The Code is effective for offenses committed on or after October 1, 1998 and is unlike the state’s preceding sentencing guidelines, which provided for narrow ranges of permissible sentences in all non-capital sentencing events.
The intent of this report is to address the requirement set forth in Florida Statute 921.002(4)(a) to analyze sentencing events under the Florida Criminal Punishment Code. Each year, the Department of Corrections is required to report on trends in sentencing practices and sentencing score thresholds, and provide an analysis of the sentencing factors considered by the courts. In this report, a comparison is made between the Criminal Punishment Code sentences received in FY 2007-2008 and FY 2008-2009.
Since January 1, 1994, the Florida Department of Corrections has collected almost 1.8 million scoresheets on felony offenders sentenced in Florida courts under the state’s Sentencing Guidelines and Criminal Punishment Code. This report describes the 123,210 Criminal Punishment Code scoresheets with sentence dates in FY2008-2009 received by the Florida Department of Corrections through September 1, 2009, for felony offenses committed on or after October 1, 1998. It also compares 90,080 Criminal Punishment Code scoresheets received by the Florida Department of Corrections through September 1, 2009, for felony offenses committed on or after October 1, 2007 and sentence dates in Fiscal Year 2008-2009 with 97,371 Criminal Punishment Code scoresheets with offense dates on or after October 1, 2006 and sentence dates in Fiscal Year 2007-2008.
In February 2000, the Florida Supreme Court, in its review of Curtis Leon Heggs, determined Chapter Law 95-184 to be unconstitutional due to a violation of the single subject rule of the Florida Constitution. This Chapter Law contained substantial changes in sentencing law commonly referred to as the “1995 Sentencing Guidelines.”
In some cases, the 1995 Sentencing Guidelines provided for greater punishment than the 1994 Sentencing Guidelines. Some enhancements were made to the Guidelines, designed primarily to target offenders with more serious current or prior criminal records. There were a significant number of changes and the nature of the changes had a significant effect on some offenders. However, many offenders sentenced under the 1995 Guidelines would have scored identically under the 1994 version of the law.
In May 2000, the Supreme Court revised and finalized their opinion in this case and further clarified who is eligible for re-sentencing. This decision stated that “only those persons adversely affected by the amendments made by Chapter Law 95-184 may rely on our decision here to obtain relief. Stated another way, in the guidelines context, we determine that if a person’s sentence imposed under the 1995 Guidelines could have been imposed under the 1994 Guidelines (without a departure), then that person shall not be entitled to relief.”
The Supreme Court declined to rule in Heggs as to when the window period closed for offenders claiming their guidelines sentences are invalid due to the amendments contained in Chapter Law 95-184. However, in its review of Xzavier Trapp, the Supreme Court determined that the window period for challenging the Sentencing Guidelines provisions amended in Chapter Law 95-184 opened on October 1, 1995 and closed on May 24, 1997.
Approximately 192,267 sentencing events occurred under the 1995 sentencing structure for offenses committed between October 1, 1995 and May 24, 1997, based on the Guidelines scoresheets received by the Department of Corrections through February 29, 2000. Original analysis indicated that 73,467 of these sentencing events evidenced scores adversely affected by the changes brought about in the 1995 guidelines. This analysis did not determine that the 1995 sentence was outside the range of the 1994 sentence, only that the scoresheet calculation reflected a difference in points.
Due to the potential number of re-sentencing events, it would be inaccurate to attempt to analyze and compare the 1995 sentencing guidelines to other versions of the sentencing scoresheet. As re-sentencing events occur, the original 1995 scoresheet will be replaced in the database with a 1994 scoresheet. This is necessary because the re-sentencing invalidates the original sentencing event. Likewise, the new sentence will overwrite the original sentence in DOC sentence structure and databases. A computerized record of the original sentence is not kept in the database that is used for data analysis.
As such, it is not possible to determine which scoresheets are the result of a re-sentencing or to verify that a re-sentencing event was a result of the Heggs ruling. Therefore, any analysis of this time period would yield a mixture of offenders sentenced under both the 1994 and 1995 guidelines.
Because it is impossible to compare the Criminal Punishment Code to prior sentencing practices without going back to the 1994 Sentencing Guidelines, the data analysis in this report compares sentences received under the Criminal Punishment Code in FY 2007-2008 to those received in FY 2008-2009.
The sentencing scoresheet database is dynamic in that it is constantly being updated. Every effort is made to include scoresheets that are received; however, there is a lag in data entry. While this lag time is generally less than 45 days it may exceed this in some of the larger circuits. As such, as more time is allowed for the data to mature, a more accurate and complete picture of the data may be presented.