Downward Departure Sentencing in Florida: Avoiding Prison for Felony Convictions

Florida courts enforce mandatory minimum sentences for felony offenses based on a points system. Depending on the nature of the offense and any aggravating factors, such as the use of a deadly weapon or prior convictions, felonies are assigned point values that will then determine their mandatory minimum prison terms. Although minimum sentencing is “mandatory,” there are ways to secure a lower sentence or even avoid prison altogether. This is called a downward departure.

Downward departure sentencing is possible when there are mitigating factors present: circumstances that make the offense less severe or serious. An example may be an act of violence committed by a person who was under extreme stress or pressure at the time. When these mitigating factors are present, the judge presiding over a case may deem it acceptable to deviate from sentencing guidelines and enforce a term of imprisonment that’s below the mandatory minimum. Sometimes a downward departure will allow a defendant to avoid prison, choosing probation or another form of alternative sentencing instead.

What factors will influence a judge’s decision to stray from mandatory prison sentences? Will this apply to your case? Let’s take a closer look.

Which Mitigating Factors Allow for a Downward Departure?

Mandatory minimum sentences are calculated using Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code Scoresheet Manual. This applies to all felonies except for capital felonies. Judges may deviate from mandatory minimum sentences, however, according to Florida Statutes § 921.0026: Mitigating Circumstances.

The following are examples of several mitigating factors listed in § 921.0026:

  • There is a legitimate, voluntary, and uncoerced plea bargain to consider.
  • The defendant played a minor role in the offense and was an accomplice, not the primary actor.
  • The defendant was under extreme stress or pressure at the time.
  • The defendant acted while under the dominance of another person.
  • The defendant’s ability to understand the nature of the offense was significantly impaired.
  • The victim played a part in initiating, provoking, or participating in the offense.
  • It was an isolated and unplanned incident for which the defendant has shown remorse.
  • The defendant is a minor and is to be sentenced as a youthful offender.
  • It was a non-violent offense, and a drug treatment program may apply.

In total, there are 14 different mitigating factors that could result in the reduction of a felony sentence. If one or more of these factors apply, the judge may decide to reduce or eliminate the minimum prison term normally associated with that offense.

Will I Be Able to Avoid Prison?

Downward departure sentencing is not automatic. You can be certain that the prosecuting attorney will not intentionally shed light on anything that could potentially minimize a defendant’s sentence if convicted, and some judges will be prone to showing more leniency than others. Your attorney will need to build a case on your behalf that gives you the greatest opportunity at avoiding prison and potentially a conviction altogether. Only a complete evaluation of your case and the evidence at hand will reveal whether you are eligible for downward departure sentencing.

Contact Our Tampa Criminal Defense Attorneys

Of course, the best option is to avoid felony charges and a conviction in the first place. That is always the strategy employed by our Tampa criminal defense attorneys, and we fight to win because we know we are dealing with our clients’ futures. If you have been arrested or are under investigation at this time, you need to move quickly and exercise your right to legal counsel. This does not have to be the end of the road for you. You do not have to face years or decades in prison. You have the right to an attorney, so use it. We are standing by to help.

There’s no question that felonies are serious and life-changing offenses. With the right defense, however, you can face a brighter future. Contact our Tampa criminal defense lawyers at Thomas & Paulk, P.A. today.

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