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Common Questions About Downward Departures in Florida Criminal Cases


If you’ve been arrested on criminal charges, you may already be wondering about the sentence you’ll face for a conviction. While you’re probably aware that the severity of the crime affects your jail time and fines, you may not know the details about how sentencing works in Florida. Depending on the offense, a judge may not have any leeway in ordering penalties – unless there are circumstances that allow for a downward departure, i.e., a lighter sentence.

Many factors can contribute to a judge deciding to go with a downward departure sentence, but there’s a complicated process involved when a criminal defendant wants to request one. Though you should trust a Florida criminal defense attorney for the specifics regarding your case, some answers to common questions may help. 

What is a downward departure? Under Florida’s sentencing laws, every person who is convicted of a crime receives a score that’s calculated by assessing numerous different factors. The offense has an assigned level and number, and prior convictions are also considered to come up with the score. If your accumulated score is above a certain amount, there are guidelines that a judge must follow in issuing a sentence; for some offenses, the punishment is a mandatory term in prison.

While a judge is usually required to follow the guidelines, he or she may depart from the rules. That means it’s still possible to get a reduced sentence if you can convince the judge that a departure in a downward direction would be proper. Though there are additional complications in the case of mandatory minimums, you may also qualify through persuading the court to waive sentencing requirements.

When would a judge consider departing from Florida’s sentencing guidelines? By law, there are several mitigating factors that the court may review when determining the appropriateness of a downward departure. It’s common to receive a lighter sentence by plea bargaining with the prosecutor, in which case the judge will accept what the state recommends instead of applying the guidelines. In addition, you could be a candidate for a downward departure if you:

  • Assisted police or prosecutors in bringing other offenders to justice;
  • Were an accomplice or played a minor role in the offense;
  • Qualify as a youthful offender or were too young to appreciate the consequences of your actions; or,
  • Otherwise meet the statutory requirements for a downward departure.

How can I persuade a judge to consider a downward departure? You would first file a motion with the court requesting that the judge review your circumstances, and you’d include all relevant information to support the motion. Ultimately, the decision is up to the judge on whether to grant your request.

A Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Assist with Downward Departures

These answers to frequently asked questions about downward departures might help you grasp the basics, but there are additional subtleties and complexities involved with the process. If you’d like more information or assistance with requesting a downward departures, please contact the offices of Fort Lauderdale criminal attorney Kevin J. Kulik. We can set up a confidential consultation to review your circumstances and explain some of the underlying concepts.


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