FLORIDA SENTENCING BLOG

A discussion of contemporary law, policy, and practice in Florida criminal sentencing.

Confrontation, Due process, and the Use of Hearsay: The Florida Evidence Code Was Not Meant to Apply to Sentencing

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Hon. William H. Burgess, III, B.C.S.

2016-11-24 07.38.26A Woodcut

Accuracy and integrity of fact-finding in criminal sentencing is determined by the burden of proof, the reliability of the underlying evidence, and the opportunity for review and response. The balance of these factors promotes fairness in the individual case and in the overall pattern of sentences over time. Such accuracy is not an absolute in every type of case, however, but is measured against the requirements of the law applicable in the circumstances. Generally, the more severe the potential sanction, the higher the degree of accuracy and reliability of the evidence required to impose the sanction.
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Sharp Practices in the Legal Profession

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Hon. William H. Burgess, III, B.C.S.

daniel-midholt-stefan-001-55 pettifogger 1

“Pettifogger” 3-D sculpture by Daniel Midholt, based on a design by Stefan Andersson.  Image found at https://www.artstation.com/artwork/zND4d. No claim to copyright.

One of the more vexing aspects of the legal profession is having to deal with attorneys who engage in sharp practice.

“Sharp practice” is a pejorative expression for unscrupulous conduct, undertaken for the purpose of obtaining an unfair advantage over another, that may (or may not) be technically within the applicable law or rules and is considered immoral, unethical or improper. In business dealings, sharp practice often involves activities that come very close to breaking the law.1 In the legal profession, the greater part of sharp practice occurs on a continuum just beyond the proper bounds of zealous advocacy,2 honor,3 and ethics but just short of outright fraud. It is the sort of behavior that no self-respecting lawyer or judge should have to suffer and no properly functioning legal system should tolerate.
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Sentence Mitigation: Acceptance of Responsibility

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Hon. William H. Burgess, III, B.C.S.

A common and longstanding practice in the trial courts of Florida is to reward defendants who accept responsibility for their actions with lighter sentences than those defendants might otherwise have received. Many prosecutors encourage this form of sentence mitigation and it is not unusual for prosecutors to agree to downward departure sentences for such defendants in appropriate circumstances, usually early in the case. Appellate courts have noted that acceptance of responsibility is an appropriate factor for the court to consider in mitigating a sentence.1 As a practical matter, early acceptance of responsibility can show actual or potential rehabilitation,2 and it furthers the important state interests in judicial efficiency and economy. There is, however, no consensus within the trial and appellate courts as to what “acceptance of responsibility” or “early acceptance of responsibility” is, and so it is an open question as to whether or not this is a valid stand-alone basis for departure below a presumptive minimum sentence.
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Sentence Mitigation: Extraordinary Restitution

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Hon. William H. Burgess, III, B.C.S.

Ordinarily, the payment or promised payment of restitution is not a basis for downward departure outside of the provisions of sections 921.0026(2)(e) and 921.185, Florida Statutes. A further basis for downward departure may be extraordinary restitution, whether paid before or after a defendant enters a plea, where the defendant demonstrates acceptance of responsibility and makes exceptional efforts to fully remedy the harm caused by the offense. The sentencing laws of Florida do not prohibit downward sentencing departures in such situations and no Florida appellate court has taken up the issue. Nonetheless, such a departure is arguably permitted in appropriate circumstances by the provisions of subsections 921.002(1)(c)1 and (3).2
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Sentence Mitigation: Any Degree of Restitution

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Hon. William H. Burgess, III, B.C.S.

Alongside section 921.0026(2)(e), Fla. Stat., is another, older and more general, restitution departure statute. Section 921.185, which has been the law since 1974,1 provides that

In the imposition of a sentence for any felony or misdemeanor involving property, but not injury or opportunity for injury to persons, the court, in its discretion, shall consider any degree of restitution a mitigation of the severity of an otherwise appropriate sentence.2

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Comment: The Extreme Duress or Domination Mitigator

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Hon. William H. Burgess, III, B.C.S.

It is a statutory mitigating factor under Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code that the defendant acted under extreme duress or under the domination of another person when he or she committed the crime.1 While listed together, it is quite arguable that domination of another person is a lesser species of, and a much less rigorous standard from, extreme duress.2
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Concurrent and Consecutive Sentencing Alternatives in Florida

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Hon. William H. Burgess, III, B.C.S.

The basic alternatives for concurrent and consecutive sentencing alternatives under Florida law are as follows:

Discretionary Consecutive Sentencing

Same Indictment, Information, or Affidavit: A defendant convicted of two or more offenses charged in the same indictment, information, or affidavit or in consolidated indictments, informations, or affidavits must serve the sentences of imprisonment concurrently unless the court directs that two or more of the sentences be served consecutively.1 The court must affirmatively express its intention that such sentences are to run concurrently; otherwise, they will run consecutively.2
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2018: A Brief Note on Florida Sentencing

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Hon. William H. Burgess, III, B.C.S.

“Sentence” is the judgment formally pronounced by the court or judge upon the defendant after conviction in a criminal prosecution, imposing the punishment to be inflicted.1 The word comes to the modern language of the law, via Middle English and Old French, from the Latin word sententia, meaning a feeling or opinion communicated by someone to others. This etymology of “sentence” embodies the idea that sentencing is intended to be an expressive function of the courts, conveying to everyone involved and to observers the public’s reaction to the criminal offense. Public denunciation of the individual is an important part of the sentencing process: By censuring the offender, the court not only punishes the individual but also issues a statement of regarding what the community as a whole regards unacceptable behavior and reasserts the moral boundaries of the community.2
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Written by Hon. William Burgess

June 30, 2018 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Sentencing Alernatives for Violations of Probation or Community Control by Youthful Offenders

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Hon. William H. Burgess, III, B.C.S.

In all cases, a violation of probation of community control must be willful and substantial to produce a revocation. “Willful and substantial” refers to the quality of the violation, whereas the terms “substantive” or “technical” refer to the type of violation—a nuance only present in the Youthful Offender sentencing scheme. Accordingly, a “technical” violation is a violation of a rule of probation or community control which is a byproduct of the original offense, while the term “substantive violation” in section 958.14 requires more than a mere breach of a condition of probation or community control. A substantive offense is one which is complete of itself and not dependent on another, and so a separate act that constitutes a violation of probation or community control becomes a substantive one when it involves the commission of a separate criminal offense.1 A substantive violation does not require that the defendant be charged with a new criminal offense, or convicted of a new criminal offense prior to a finding of violation, or at all, and such a finding can be made when the new offense has been nolle prossed or dismissed.2

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Early Termination of Probation or Community Control

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Hon. William H. Burgess, III, B.C.S.

Trial courts have unbridled discretion under state law to decide whether or not to terminate a defendant’s probation or community control early.1

Public policy strongly favors early termination of probation and community control where the goals of such supervision have been met,2 and disfavors punitive conditions of probation or community control that would prohibit early termination.  Early termination of supervision is a tool used to encourage good behavior and faithful compliance with the terms of probation or community control.  A policy or practice of no early termination of supervision could result in the absurd situation of a rehabilitated defendant being prohibited from going into court for the opportunity to prove his or her rehabilitation and, if proven, permit the court to put an end to unnecessary expenditures of time, money, and other resources on continued probation that serves no purpose beyond harassment of the defendant or which would be better directed towards defendants who have not been rehabilitated. Such policies and practices do not enhance the image of the state courts in the eyes of the public and may in fact serve to publicly discredit the courts.

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