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

2018: A Brief Note on Florida Sentencing

with one comment

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

Sentencing is a major function of the Florida court system. The most recent publicly available Summary Reporting System statistics collected and maintained by the Florida Supreme Court show that, from July 2016 through June 2017, charges against 169,248 defendants involving 354,292 separate counts were disposed of in Florida’s circuit courts, resulting in convictions for 133,324 of those defendants. In the same period, the cases of 302,816 defendants were disposed of in the state’s county courts, resulting in convictions for 169,818 of those defendants. Among the circuit court defendants, 131,387 voluntarily resolved their cases by plea, with 131,085 doing so before trial and 302 doing so after trial. Among the county court defendants, 169,252 voluntarily resolved their cases by plea, with 168,929 doing so before trial and 323 doing so after trial. During this period there also were 66,471 probation revocation hearings in the circuit courts and 29,357 revocation hearings in the county courts. In the traffic courts, 1,349,582 civil infractions and 279,231 criminal offenses were disposed of in the same period. In the family courts during the same time frame, 37,498 juvenile delinquency cases were disposed of. In addition to the sentencing activities of the trial courts, the state’s five district courts of appeal and the Florida Supreme Court annually dispose of a large number of appeals that involve sentencing issues ranging from fines and costs to the death penalty.

Florida sentencing law is vast, complicated, and daunting. It has, for example, entirely separate statutory sentencing schemes for juveniles, youthful offenders, noncapital adult offenders, and capital offenders, covering fines and costs, probation, community control, length of incarceration, and the death penalty. State sentencing law also includes complex special offender designations, such as sexual offender, sexual predator, violent felony offender of special concern, prison releasee reoffender, violent career criminal, habitual offender, habitual violent felony offender, and 3-time violent career criminal. There also are a variety of provisions for discretionary and mandatory fines and costs, offense reclassification, presumptive minimum sentencing, mandatory minimum sentencing, upward and downward sentencing departures, and collateral consequences (such as those pertaining to the loss of driving privileges and the loss of civil liberties). Compounding this complexity are the multitudes of legislative revisions to statutory law, and state and federal judicial interpretation of the law, that gives Florida sentencing law a dynamic nature.


1Black’s L. Dict. 1362 (6th ed. 1990).

2James McGuire and Simon Duff, Forensic Psychology: Routes Through the System (London: Palgrave 2018) at 364.


Written by Hon. William Burgess

June 30, 2018 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Good overview of what a complex and highly specialized area of the criminal justice system is involved in sentencing.


    June 30, 2018 at 4:05 pm

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