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:
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:
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:
The 1983 guidelines structure was comprised of nine separate worksheets for specified offense categories. All offenses were contained in one of these categories:
2. Sexual Offenses
4. Violent Personal Crimes
6. Thefts, Forgery, Fraud
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:
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 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:
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:
Other policy levels of the guidelines include an assessment of points for:
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:
The sentencing parameters point values operate as follows:
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:
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 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.
Years in Prison
Up to Life
Up to 30
Up to 15
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.
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 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:
The SAGES (Sentencing Analysis and Guidelines Entry Systems) database
The department developed a database in 1994 to be used as a mechanism to:
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: