The culmination of the criminal process is sentencing. After a defendant enters a guilty or no contest plea, or is found guilty at trial, a sentencing hearing is conducted at which a judge makes a sentencing order. The sentence must follow the guidelines set out in Florida law, but it will depend upon the individual circumstances of the case. Thus, it is essential to have an experienced lawyer to defend your rights at sentencing.Criminal Sentences
There are two parts to a criminal sentence in Florida: a written judgment of guilt plus a sentencing order, which outlines the penalties imposed. The terms of the sentence depend on whether the defendant entered a negotiated plea or an open plea, meaning a guilty or no contest plea, or whether a guilty verdict was reached at trial.Negotiated Pleas
When a defendant makes a plea bargain with the prosecution, sentencing is usually straightforward, and the judge will generally impose the sentence that the defendant agreed to. This means that the defense does not have to present character evidence or mitigating factors at sentencing.
If the judge does not agree with any portion of the plea bargain, the sentencing process will be halted temporarily. Then, either the prosecution and the defendant renegotiate the plea deal until the judge is satisfied, or they may agree to the additional terms that the judge requires in order for the plea to be acceptable.Open Pleas
In an open plea, the defendant has pled guilty or no contest, without any plea bargaining, so there has been no agreement made with the prosecutor regarding the plea. Generally, open pleas are made when either the prosecution does not make a plea offer or the defendant and his or her attorney believe that the judge’s sentence will be more favorable than what the prosecution offers.
At the sentencing hearing, the judge determines the sentence that will be imposed on the defendant. But first, the defendant may introduce witnesses to testify to the defendant’s character and may also present any mitigating circumstances. The judge may then impose any sentence authorized by Florida law.Guilty Verdicts
As in open pleas, defendants who are found guilty at trial also have a sentencing hearing at which the judge considers character evidence and any mitigating circumstances. The judge then imposes a sentence between the minimum and maximum limits allowed by Florida law.Pre-Sentence Evaluation
If the offense is a first time felony and the defendant has either entered an open plea or been found guilty at trial, the court may order a pre-sentence evaluation to occur before the sentencing hearing. In an evaluation, a probation officer investigates the defendant’s background and makes a personalized recommendation to the judge regarding sentencing.
During the evaluation, the officer questions the defendant, family, friends, witnesses, and the defendant’s attorney in a background check. The officer then makes a report including the circumstances of the crime; the defendant’s criminal history, if any; character references; family, educational, employment, and health information; and future goals and career plans.Options
At sentencing, a judge may impose fines, probation, incarceration, or community control. Fines are generally imposed in misdemeanors and drug crimes. Probation requires reporting to a probation officer and the completion of special conditions, including the payment of fines and restitution, community service, treatment programs, counselling, etc. Community control, sometimes known as house arrest, is similar to probation, but with greater supervision. Incarceration and any other sentence imposed must be within the minimum and maximum limits set by Florida law.
If you have been charged with a crime in Florida, please call West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein to discuss your case.