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

Judicial Discretion In the Imposition of Sentence: Conditions of Confinement

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

A sentencing court lacks jurisdiction and authority to regulate the treatment and placement of sentenced prison inmates absent specific statutory authority, and cannot impose increased sanctions pertaining to confinement, such as loss of privileges.  This rule applies to county jails as well as to facilities run by the Department of Corrections.1

Once a trial court has pronounced sentence and entered a judgment of conviction, it relinquishes jurisdiction over the matter to the executive branch, except for the appellate process and to the extent that regular procedures allow the matter to be reopened in a judicial forum for limited purposes that can be achieved only in court.  Just as the executive branch of government may not intrude on the judiciary’s duties in the sentencing process, so is the judicial branch limited in its role thereafter as the sentence is executed.2

The management and running of jails and prisons is a complex executive function.  The Department of Corrections is responsible for the supervisory and protective care, custody, and control of inmates, buildings, grounds, property, and all other matters pertaining to facilities and programs for the imprisonment, correction, and rehabilitation of adult offenders.3  Prison operations and the treatment of prisoners are closely regulated under chapters 944 and 945, Florida Statutes.  A county sheriff is the conservator of the peace in his or her county4 and, if designated by county ordinance, chief correctional officer of the county correctional system.5  County jail operations and the treatment of prisoners are closely regulated under chapter 951, Florida Statutes.  Department of Corrections officials and county sheriffs cannot delegate these responsibilities to members of the judiciary, and members of the judiciary are properly reluctant to interfere with jail or prison administration, especially as to the treatment of sentenced inmates.

August 24, 2021


1Alqawasmeh v. State, — So. 3d —, 2021 WL 1931885 (Fla. 2d DCA 2021) (the treatment and placement of an inmate serving a county jail sentence is outside a sentencing court’s purview); Cuesta v. State, 929 So. 2d 648 (Fla. 3d DCA 2006) (sentencing court lacks authority to sentence inmate-contemnor to loss of privileges, including prohibition on use of telephone, family or contact visits, exercise, television, library, or commissary); McCrimager v. State, 919 So. 2d 673, 674 (Fla. 1st DCA 2006) (striking provision for “hard labor” in county jail sentence); Moore v. Burns, 796 So. 2d 1261 (Fla. 3d DCA 2001) (trial court lacked jurisdiction and authority to prohibit the Department of Corrections from cutting inmate’s hair due to religious reasons); Moore v. Peavey, 729 So. 2d 494 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999) (trial court’s order granting inmate visitation privileges with minor son usurped authority of Department of Corrections to exercise its lawful discretion in matters of inmate visitation and thereby violated separation of powers doctrine); Singletary v. Carpenter, 705 So. 2d 110 (Fla. 2d DCA 1998) (criminal courts do not have authority to enter orders regulating access of inmates to their children); Singletary v. Acosta, 659 So. 2d 449, 450 (Fla. 3d DCA 1995) (trial court lacked authority to direct Department of Corrections to place defendant in specific drug treatment center and require specific medical treatment and education); Holloway v. State, 652 So. 2d 1217 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995) (sentencing court does not have authority to preclude defendant from receiving gain time or any form of early release credit); George v. State, 651 So. 2d 180 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995 (under state statute it is the board of county commissioners, not the court, that has the authority to grant commutation of time for good conduct of county prisoners); Valdes v. State, 469 So. 2d 868 (Fla. 3d DCA 1985) (trial court is without authority to prevent gain time); Depson v. State, 363 So. 2d 43 (Fla. 1st DCA 1978) (trial court order at sentencing that gain time be withheld was improper).

2See State v. Beauchamp, 262 N.J. Super. 532, 537, 621 A. 2d 516, 519 (Sup. Ct. App. Div. N.J. 1993) (sentencing judge is without power to impose conditions of parole).

3§ 945.025(1), Fla. Stat.

4§ 30.15(1)(c), Fla. Stat.

5§ 951.061, Fla. Stat.


Written by Hon. William Burgess

August 24, 2021 at 8:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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