Statutory Requirements and Criminal Sentencing Enhancements in Florida

If you or a loved one faces criminal charges, the first objective, obviously, is to attempt to secure a “not guilty” verdict. This is not, however, the only objective. Even after a “not guilty” verdict is out of reach, it is still important to have counsel on your side to ensure that the sentence the court hands down is not unjustly long. This was the case for a man accused of burglary and theft crimes, who successfully appealed a trial court’s decision to impose a statutory enhancement to his sentence.

In Florida, the statutes allow the state to impose sentence “enhancements” on certain defendants, which means that the courts may impose sentences that, without the enhancement factors, would be inappropriately long. One type of sentencing enhancement is “Prison Releasee Reoffender.” Defendants sentenced as PRRs receive longer sentences and must serve 100% of their sentences.

In the case of one southwest Florida man, he’d been in court before. A conviction of burglary, grand theft, and dealing in stolen property got him a sentence of 364 days plus three years of probation. The man violated probation three times, and, in April 2013, the court sentenced him to two years in state prison, but, due to 766 days of credit, he walked out of the county jail on the next day a free man, without ever actually going to state prison. In the next month, the man was charged with (and later convicted of) burglary and grand theft.

The state persuaded the trial court that the defendant was a PRR because he committed his May 2013 crimes less than three years after he had finished serving his 24-month stretch in jail. The court agreed with the state and sentenced the defendant as a PRR.

Justice takes on many forms. In addition to getting justice for people wrongfully accused of crimes, another vital part of the justice system is meting out punishments that are fair and appropriate in light of the defendant’s crimes. In this case, the man argued in his appeal that he did not receive a just sentence, since he did not meet the statutory definition of a PRR. The appeals court agreed. The PRR statute was very clear on which events had to occur in order to trigger a PRR sentence enhancement. The defendant had to be convicted of certain crimes. The defendant also had to commit those crimes “within three years after being released from a state correctional facility operated by the Department of Corrections or a private vendor.”

The problem for the state in this case was that the latter element never happened. This man did not commit the crimes “within three years after being released from a state correctional facility.” He committed his recent crimes within three years after being released from the Lee County Jail. Had the Legislature wanted to make individuals like this defendant eligible for PRR sentencing enhancements, it could have said so in the law it passed, but it did not. As a result, the statute’s “clear meaning” dictated that this man was not a PRR and should not have received the sentence enhancement the trial judge handed down, according to the appeals court’s ruling.

The Second District’s opinion is in direct disagreement with previous rulings by three other appeals courts (the First, Fourth, and Fifth Districts), raising the possibility that the Supreme Court may rule on this issue.

In your criminal case, you need an aggressive and knowledgeable advocate in your corner. The skillful Tampa Bay probation violation attorneys at Blake & Dorsten P.A. have been helping the accused defend their rights and seek justice for many years. Our experienced attorneys are ready to discuss your case with you. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation and get the answers and assistance you need.

More blog posts:

DUI manslaughter convictions in Florida bring wide range of penalties, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, July 20, 2015

Florida Drug Offender Probation: What you need to know BEFORE agreeing to the terms., Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, May 4, 2012

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