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The History and Importance of Mandatory Prison Sentences in Florida

Mandatory prison sentences were put into place to provide guidelines to the criminal justice system regarding the appropriate sentence range that would fit certain offenses and felonies. Consistency, in our criminal justice system, is equated with fairness, enforcing the ethos that when a person commits a crime, no matter who they are and what their circumstances are, they will receive roughly the same sentence as another person, regardless of their race, ethnicity, creed, national origin.

Florida’s Mandatory Prison Sentence History: Before 1983

In Florida, sentencing guidelines are a more modern invention. In Florida’s history, the only mandatory sentences were maximum sentences applied to the offense and the degree of the offense. For example, for a third-degree felony, the defendant could receive up to five years, for a second degree felony, they could receive up to fifteen years, for a first-degree felony, they could face up to thirty years, and for a life felony, they could lose their life. This provided judges broad and unfettered discretion to apply any number of punishments as long as its severity was at or under the maximum sentence.

The 1983 Sentencing Guidelines

By 1983, Florida, which had largely been a rehabilitation state, pushed to serving sentences with punishment as its main goal and rehabilitation as a secondary objective for imprisonment. This shift pushed toward the inclusion of sentencing guidelines that more aptly applied specific standards for specific offenses and degrees. A point system was put into place for each felony count that the criminal defendant was accused of, and judges were required to impose sentences that were in the points’ recommended range. Parole eligibility was also tampered with and soon the Florida prisons were flooded.

The 1994 Sentencing Guidelines

By 1994, a new sentencing framework was put into place that accounted for finite prison resources and the shifted perspective that prison was only for those who committed the most serious, violent, and dangerous crimes. The judge’s discretion was only slightly broadened with a determination that judge’s discretion could increase or decrease the sentence range by 25 percent.

The 1998 Criminal Punishment Code

By 1998, the sentencing guidelines had been replaced by Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code. Though the code brought together the past sentencing guidelines and objectives such as the idea that sentencing is for the objective of punishment, rather than rehabilitation, and understanding that the Florida state prison system only has finite resources, it removed a significant portion of a trial judge’s discretion in waiving or deviating from the mandatory minimum sentences established. The new system only permitted prosecutors the sole discretion to waive or modify the mandatory minimum sentence.

The Modern Trend: Prison Reform to Remove Mandatory Minimum Sentences

The current trend, as seen through the implementation of prison reform, is to move away from mandatory minimum sentences due to the following factors:

  • Mandatory sentences were not associated with a reduction in recidivism;
  • Prison costs have continued to skyrocket and are at their breaking point due to overcrowding;
  • A believe that a “one size fits all” application leads to inequity, unfairness, and racial bias in its application; and
  • The worry that prosecutorial discretion is too vast and remains unchecked.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

If you or a loved one have been arrested for a criminal offense, it is important to speak with an experienced defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik who can guide you through the criminal justice system and help you throughout your proceedings. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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