Since January 1, 1994, the Florida Department of Corrections has collected over 400,000 scoresheets on felony offenders sentenced in Florida courts under the state's sentencing guidelines. This second annual report examines the 113,547 scoresheets for fiscal year 1996-97 (July 1, 1996 through June 30, 1997) sentence dates, under either the 1994 or 1995 guidelines structure. This report also includes an examination of 221,351 1994 and 1995 offender scoresheets to determine if racial disparity exists in sentencing. Since the 1995 sentencing structure is effective for all felony offenses committed on or after October 1, 1995, most scoresheets (82.3%) reflect this policy.
In 1993, the Florida legislature created a new sentencing structure, with seven goals intended to improve the sentencing behavior of Florida's courts. The main body of this report (Part II: Impact) examines the extent to which the guidelines have had the desired and expected effects in each of these goal areas by analyzing scoresheets with sentence dates in FY 1996-97. These stated goals, as listed in Chapter 921 of the Florida Statutes are:
Goal 1: Prison beds are to be utilized for the more serious offenders and repeat offenders.
Fact: Serious offenders and non-violent offenders with long prior records represented a larger proportion of state prison admissions under the 1994 and 1995 versions of the guidelines compared to pre-1994 guidelines.
Goal 2: Sentencing is to be neutral with respect to race.
Fact: This study found that an offender's race has NO meaningful effect on the sentencing decisions made by Florida courts under the 1994 and 1995 sentencing guidelines structure.
Goal 3: The penalty imposed is commensurate with the severity of the primary offense.
Fact: As the severity of the primary offense increases, the proportion of offenders sentenced to state prison increases, and the length of the prison sentence increases.
Goal 4: The severity of the sentence increases with the length and nature of the offender's prior record.
Fact:The average length of a state prison sentence increases as the number of prior felony convictions of offenders increases.
Goal 5: The sentence imposed represents the actual time to be served.
Fact: Although the prison sentence lengths imposed by courts have not changed dramatically from FY 1992-93 to FY 1996-97, the repeal of basic gain-time and elimination of the early prison release program has significantly increased actual time served in prison.
Goal 6: Departures from the recommended sentence are to be articulated in writing and justified.
Fact: Of the 113,547 scoresheets received with sentence dates in FY 1996-97, the courts deviated from the guidelines structure in 13.6% of the cases (14,561 mitigated and 870 aggravated, 15,431 total deviations).
Goal 7: The primary purpose of sentencing is to punish the offender.
An introductory section (Part I: Introduction) provides basic information on the different sentencing structures developed and utilized in Florida from 1983 - present and the department's responsibilities in regards to the sentencing guidelines. The tables and charts in this section describe the scoresheets with sentence dates in FY 1996-97 that are examined throughout this report. More detailed information relates the "practice" of sentencing to the "policy" intended to be implemented through the guidelines (Part III: Sentencing Guidelines Practice).