Skip navigation.
Home | About Us | Contact Us
Rick Scott, Governor
Florida Department of Corrections, Secretary Michael D. Crews

Florida Department of Corrections
Timothy H. Cannon, Interim Secretary

Part I Introduction

Section 1. Overview of Florida Sentencing Guidelines

What are Sentencing Guidelines?

The Florida Sentencing Guidelines represent the state's structured policy with respect to the sentencing of non-capital felony offenders. There are three distinct versions of the guidelines currently in operation in Florida. They all:

  • Provide for a uniform set of standards to guide the sentencing court in sentencing decisions.
  • Evaluate relevant factors present at sentencing relating to the offense or offenses and the defendant's prior criminal behavior.
  • Attempt to provide for "truth in sentencing" and eliminate unwarranted disparity in sentencing decisions.
  • Focus on ensuring that the punishment is commensurate with the offenses before the court for sentencing.
  • Are mathematically based and provide a means to address several policy areas including severity of the crime, victim injury, prior record, legal status, and other specific considerations. Every assessment of points in each system reflects a policy statement regarding the relative severity of a criminal's behavior.
  • Are represented by a respective scoresheet which must be completed for each felony defendant prior to sentencing.

History of Sentencing Guidelines

Before Sentencing Guidelines

Florida Sentencing Guidelines first became effective on October 1, 1983. Prior to that time, courts sentenced in accordance with provisions of law that permitted a wide range of judicial discretion in the sentencing decision. Sanctions ranged from a minimum of a fine, up to state prison incarceration. The statutory maximum penalties of incarceration in state prison were:

  • Five years for a felony of the third degree.
  • Fifteen years for a felony of the second degree.
  • Thirty years for a felony of the first degree.
  • Life for a life felony.

This was a form of indeterminate sentencing policy because most offenders sentenced to prison were, by law, parole eligible. Parole was a discretionary early release policy which obviously had a significant impact upon both the percentage and the actual amount of time served.

The 1983 Sentencing Guidelines

Due to concerns regarding actual and percent of time served as well as concerns regarding a lack of uniformity in sentencing, the 1983 Florida Sentencing Guidelines were enacted October 1, 1983 and parole eligibility was abolished for almost all offenses committed after that date. These guidelines are currently in effect for:

  • All non-capital felony offenses committed on or after October 1, 1983 and before January 1, 1994.
  • All non-capital and non-life felonies committed before October 1, 1983 but sentenced after October 1, 1983, when the defendant elects to be sentenced under these guidelines.

The 1983 guidelines structure was comprised of nine separate worksheets for specified offense categories. All offenses were contained in one of these categories:
1. Murder/Manslaughter
2. Sexual Offenses
3. Robbery
4. Violent Personal Crimes
5. Burglary
6. Thefts, Forgery, Fraud
7. Drugs
8. Weapons and Escape
9. Other Felony Offenses

Within each worksheet, points were assessed for offenses to be sentenced and prior record offenses based on the number of offenses and each offense's felony degree. Assessments were also made for legal status and victim injury. Total scores fell into sentencing ranges or cells, for each worksheet. The least severe cell provided for a non-state prison sanction and the most severe cell provided for 27 years to life in prison. Departure sentences were permissible as long as written reasons were provided.

Several factors eventually eroded the integrity of the "truth in sentencing" aspect of the 1983 sentencing guidelines. Some of these factors included:

  • An epidemic of "crack" cocaine-related offense activity. This resulted in an unanticipated impact upon correctional resources.
  • The passage of unfunded mandatory minimum sentence legislation.
  • Significant growth in the population of the state of Florida.

As a result of these and other factors, the percentage of time served and actual time served declined. By 1989, the average percent of time served was 34%. This lack of system integrity was the impetus for the creation of a new sentencing guidelines structure.

The 1994 Sentencing Guidelines

The 1994 sentencing guidelines were enacted through the passage of the "Safe Streets Act". These sentencing guidelines are in effect for all non-capital felony offenses committed on or after January 1, 1994 and before October 1, 1995. The focus of these guidelines is to:

  • Incarcerate violent and repetitive offenders.
  • Ensure a greater percentage of time served by providing that the policy created matched the resources that would be available.
  • Eliminate certain gain time provisions.
  • Continue to attempt to eliminate unwarranted disparity in sentencing.
  • Provide a flexible sentencing structure.

The structure of the 1994 sentencing guidelines has little similarity to the 1983 structure. The 1994 structure attempted to resolve some of the problems inherent in the preceding structure, such as the nine separate worksheets, the lack of offense-specific detail, and the issue of grouping crimes by category. The structure of the 1994 guidelines:

  • Ranks all non-capital felonies in one of ten offense severity levels. Level one is the least severe ranking and ten reflects the most serious felonies.
  • Associates each of the rankings with a point value in each of three elements: primary offense, additional offense(s), and prior record. Point values escalate as the rank increases. Every offense scored is provided its corresponding point value in these areas, with the emphasis on the primary offense.
  • Provides for victim injury points to be assessed for physical injury or death suffered as a direct result of any offense pending sentence. Victim injury points are also scored for sexual penetration or sexual contact sustained.

Other policy levels of the guidelines include an assessment of points for:

    • Legal status existing at the time of the offense, pending sentencing.
    • Offenses returned to the court due to a violation of community supervision.
    • Offenses involving the possession of specified firearms when NO mandatory minimum applies.
    • Violations of the Law Enforcement Protection Act, which includes specified violent offenses committed against law enforcement officers.
    • Drug trafficking offenses when NO mandatory minimum penalty applies.

Under the 1994 structure, the total guidelines score determines the guidelines sanction and a range of state prison months, if applicable. There are basically three categories of sanction based upon total scores. The scores may:

  1. mandate a non-state prison sanction.
  2. provide for discretionary prison or non-state prison sanction.
  3. mandate a state prison sanction.

The sentencing parameters point values operate as follows:

  • If total or increased sentence points are under 40, the offender must receive a non-state prison sanction, which includes options of county jail, probation (with or without residential programs), or community control.
  • If total sentence points are less than 40, but could be increased by 15% to reach over 40, the court may, in its discretion, do so. This means that in actuality, scores of less than 34.8 must receive a non-state prison sanction under the guidelines.
  • If total or increased sentence points are over 40 and less than 52 the court has the discretion to provide a non-state prison sanction or a prison sanction.
  • If the total sentence points exceed 52, a state prison sanction is mandated under the guidelines.
  • The length of prison is determined by subtracting 28 from the total sentence points to derive the total prison months.
  • The court has the discretion to increase or decrease the sanction by 25%, unless the total sentence points were increased initially by 15% to obtain an increased point value of over 40.

The 1995 Sentencing Guidelines

The 1994 sentencing guidelines were significantly amended in 1995 through the passage of the Crime Control Act of 1995. The basic structure and intent of the 1994 sentencing guidelines remained intact, however point values were increased in a variety of areas and additional policy levers were created to provide for greater sanctions. Generally, increases in point values loosely equal an increase of approximately 1 month of prison sanction for each point increased. The 1995 version of the sentencing guidelines are effective for all offenses committed on or after October 1, 1995. The significant changes included the following:

  • The point value for level 7 primary offenses increased from 42 to 56 points. This was significant, as 42 points results in a discretionary state prison or non-state prison sanction, whereas 56 points mandates a prison sanction under the guidelines. Examples of frequently committed level 7 offenses include burglary of a dwelling, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under the age of 16, and aggravated battery.
  • The point value for victim injury points for second degree murder doubled from 120 to 240. Sexual penetration victim injury points doubled from 40 to 80 and sexual contact points increased from 18 to 40 points.
  • Additional and prior record point values for offenses in severity levels 6 through 10 were increased significantly.
  • Point values for violations of court-ordered supervision programs were enhanced.
  • A mechanism was created to increase the sanction for offenders who commit serious offenses and have a recent history of serious felony behavior. A 30 point enhancement was created to provide additional punishment for those offenders who are convicted of level 8, 9, or 10 offenses and who have in their recent prior record a level 8, 9, or 10 offense.
  • A mechanism was created to significantly increase the sanction for repeated convictions of Grand Theft Auto.

There were slight modifications to the guidelines in 1996, including a provision for increased sanction for crimes committed by street gang members. In 1997 modifications were added providing for a domestic violence multiplier and allowing for incarceration in state prison for up to 22 months for any defendant who had one prior felony conviction.

THE CRIMINAL PUNISHMENT CODE

The Florida legislature abolished the sentencing guidelines and the Florida Sentencing Commission during the 1997 legislative session. The guidelines were replaced by the Criminal Punishment Code to become effective October 1, 1998. During the 1998 legislative session the code was refined and will become effective October of this year. Compared to the guidelines, the code allows for greater upward discretion in sentencing, provides for increased penalties and lower mandatory prison thresholds.

  • The Code is effective for all non- capital felony offenses committed on or after October 1, 1998. The guidelines are repealed for all offenses committed on or after October 1, 1998 but remain in effect for offenses committed prior to this date.
  • The Code significantly alters the sentencing policy in a variety of respects. One of the most notable changes is the significant broadening of upward discretion in the sentencing policy. Under the sentencing guidelines the upward discretion was 25 percent above the state prison months determined by the calculation. Under the code, the maximum sentence for any felony offense is determined by the statutory maximums as provided in 775.082.

Felony Degree

Years in Prison

Life Felony

Up to Life

1st

Up to 30

2nd

Up to 15

3rd

Up to 5


This has two effects that are divergent from the preceding guidelines. First, all felony offenders have the potential to receive a prison sentence whereas many under the guidelines were by policy excluded from such a possibility. Second, the maximums of 775.082 usually will provide for far greater sentence lengths than were permissible under the guidelines.

  • Another significant change is the determination when a prison sentence becomes mandatory under the new sentencing policy. The basic structure of the sentencing policy has not changed with respect to point determinations. Sentencing point thresholds for sentence calculations have however undergone significant revisions.
    1. If total points are equal to or less than 44, the lowest permissible sentence is a non state prison sanction (however state prison up to the statutory maximum can be imposed).
    2. If total points exceed 44, the minimum sentence is established by taking the total point value subtracting 28 and decreasing the remaining value by 25%. This end result value is the lowest permissible prison sentence in months.

This means that only those offenders scoring 44 or less points may receive a non state prison sanction under the code. All others must receive a state prison sanction, absent downward departure from this structure. The threshold under the guidelines for mandatory prison incarceration was 52 points.

The Department of Corrections Responsibilities

The department was provided a variety of responsibilities regarding the sentencing guidelines with respect to the 1994 and subsequent versions of the law. Florida statute 921 requires the department:

  • Develop the scoresheet and any revisions of the scoresheet for approval by the Supreme Court and supply sentencing guidelines scoresheets to the appropriate criminal justice entities in the state.
  • Prepare scoresheets. This agency currently has coequal responsibility of scoresheet with state attorneys. The department is the primary scoresheet preparer in 10 of the 20 judicial circuits, though we are not the primary preparer in any of the 4 largest circuits. We prepare 25% of the scoresheets statewide.
  • Collect and evaluate data on sentencing practices in the state for the purpose of assisting the commission in recommending modifications to the guidelines. When the Criminal Punishment Code becomes effective, the department will be required to assist the Criminal Justice Estimating Conference in estimating correctional impact of proposed changes to the code.
  • Provide the commission by October 1 of each year a report detailing the rate of compliance of each judicial circuit in providing scoresheets to the department. When the Criminal Punishment Code becomes effective this report must be submitted to the legislature.
  • To assist the sentencing commission in estimating rates of incarceration and make funding recommendations to the legislature. When the Criminal Punishment Code becomes effective and the commission is abolished, the department will be required to provide the legislature an annual report detailing trends in sentencing and an analysis thereof by October 1 of each year.

The SAGES (Sentencing Analysis and Guidelines Entry Systems) database

The department developed a database in 1994 to be used as a mechanism to:

  • Store sentencing guidelines scoresheets received from the clerks of the courts after sentencing statewide and
  • Provide for more accurate, legible and time efficient scoresheet preparation.

This report is derived primarily from the information upon sentencing scoresheets received by the department from the clerks of the courts and entered into SAGES with sentence dates in fiscal year 96-97.

The following should be considered when evaluating this and other information derived from this database:

  • The information is compiled from a database containing sentencing guidelines scoresheets received by the Department of Corrections for offenses with dates of commission on or after January 1, 1994. The information is based upon the scoresheets in the database with dates of sentence in fiscal year 96-97 as of October 31, 1997.
  • As the compliance rate for scoresheet submissions is not 100%, there is missing information that would have potentially affected the outcome of the analysis. The current statewide compliance rate is 85.8%.
  • Though the department retrieves and includes in the guidelines database omitted information from scoresheet that is critical, no effort is made to correct preparation error or errors recorded on scoresheets regarding the sentence imposed. The department does not have the authority to amend an official court document. Conversely, there is a responsibility to record the information as received.
  • There is data entry error on the part of department staff. Recent analyses indicate that the rate of data entry error in the fields analyzed in the report is not significant.