The criminal statutes in Florida make certain behaviors illegal and impose a range of potential penalties should someone plead guilty or be convicted of wrongdoing as defined by those statutes. Many crimes can potentially result in both minimum and/or maximum penalties, although the exact terms of the sentence imposed may depend on the discretion of a judge. They may be empowered to consider the severity of the offense and its impact on others, as well as the circumstances of the defendant before crafting the ins and outs of a final sentence.
Aggravating factors, like the use of a deadly weapon during an assault, might lead a judge to impose the maximum penalty possible in some cases. Mitigating factors, like mental health challenges or advanced age, could lead to a judge imposing a more lenient sentence. Judges should not consider protected characteristics like race, and they should impose a sentence with the intent to punish the offender appropriately. In most cases, the penalties a judge orders will fall within the range prescribed in state legal code. However, sometimes criminal trials result in sentencing departures, an outcome which can have a profound impact on the defendant involved.
What is a sentencing departure?
When a judge determines that the recommended sentence imposed by state law would be inappropriate due to the circumstances, they can sometimes enter a sentence that departs from what this law prescribes given the charges. Judges typically cannot exceed maximum penalties without risking an appeal, but they can order someone to serve multiple back-to-back sentences instead of allowing someone to serve multiple sentences concurrently.
Downward departures, as the name implies, involve a judge sentencing someone to less than the typical minimum sentence suggested in state law. Defendants can benefit from a departure that leads to a lower penalty than the usual minimum. Downward departures typically only happen when a judge feels that the circumstances truly warrant compassion toward the defendant. The more thorough of an explanation someone’s attorney provides for a situation during their defense or prior to sentencing, the more likely they are to inspire the judge to consider a downward departure.
Understanding all of the ways in which someone can minimize the potential consequences resulting from a Florida criminal charge can help them put together the best possible defense strategy given their situation.