What does it Mean to be a Habitual Felony Offender in Florida?
Like many other US states, Florida has developed a formula for sentencing when someone is convicted for a crime. For the most part, the designated penalties or range of punishment is listed by statute and judges have discretion in sentencing for certain offenses. In addition, the criminal laws provide for “enhancements” – i.e., situations where the court could impose a harsher sentence because of the presence of various factors. One scenario is referred to in Florida’s statute on Habitual Felony Offender (HFO) status, where a criminal defendant could receive a longer term of incarceration or higher fines.
Because a judge has discretion in sentencing an HFO, there’s always the chance that you could avoid harsher punishment. A Florida criminal defense attorney can assist with your case to obtain the best possible outcome, but you might find it helpful to review some basic information about habitual felony offender status.
Important Definitions: The start off point for HFO status is the definition, which applies to any criminal defendant who was previously convicted of two or more felony offenses. A crime counts into the total if:
- It was felony that was committed in Florida; and/or
- The criminal conduct and case took place in another state where it was considered a felony, or it was punishable by one year or more in prison.
The second important factor for HFO purposes is the definition of an enhancement. This term refers to the court’s power to impose an extended term of incarceration through mandatory minimum sentencing. For some offenders, a judge can issue a sentence up to the statutory maximum; for a person who is an HFO, the judge must issue a sentence of the statutory maximum.
How a Person Gains HFO Status in Florida: Besides the two points mentioned above, the statute provides that the following criteria must be met for the court to assign HFO status:
- The prosecutor must request that the defendant be designated as an HFO;
- The two prior felony convictions were separate from each other AND the current offense;
- The current offense is a felony the defendant committed while serving a criminal sentence related to a prior felony OR with five years after; AND,
- The current offense and either of the prior convictions do not involve certain drug crimes.
Note that a prosecutor needs to prove these criteria by a preponderance of the evidence, a different legal standard than the “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that applies to the underlying crime. Once the prosecutor meets this standard, the judge will issue a sentence according to the mandatory minimums.
Talk to a Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer About HFO Status
If you’re facing charges and there’s a possibility of being punished as a habitual felony offender, it’s essential to retain qualified legal counsel right away. Your lawyer can better represent you by getting involved at the earliest possible stages in the criminal process. To learn more, please contact defense Fort Lauderdale criminal attorney Kevin J. Kulik. We can set up a confidential consultation to review your circumstances at our office.