No one wants to be sentenced to prison, yet it’s an unfortunate fact that every day in the Tampa Bay area many otherwise good people are sentenced to prison. Why do some people get prison while others receive probation?
Here are the five most important factors that drive sentencing decisions toward probation or for prison by Clearwater, Florida sentencing judges.
- The nature of the crime. Many cases automatically call for long terms of prison rather than probation if there is a conviction for the crime as charged. These cases such as possession, conspiracy or trafficking of drugs such as cocaine, heroin or marijuana, aggravated battery, DUI manslaughter often call for minimum mandatory sentences from the judge.
- Prior misconduct established by showing that the defendant has been convicted of other crimes drives up the potential for jail rather than probation. Crimes of a similar nature to the new charged offense are even more troublesome as they tend to establish that the defendant is neither remorseful nor likely to change his criminal conduct in the future.
- The victim’s input especially in violent crimes or sexual crimes such as sexual battery not involving minors is by Florida law something which the sentencing judge must consider.
- Protection of the community from violent acts, sexual crimes, crimes against children, crimes involving drugs or scheme to defraud and grand theft of large sums of money are often used by sentencing judges and prosecutors to ramp up sentences from what in other circumstances might have been probation. In all of these cases judges will try to determine if there is a continuing threat to the community if the defendant is not sent to jail. Therefor it’s vital to establish why the unlawful conduct will never be repeated. Yet, defense counsel must argue especially in theft cases how can the victim ever receive restitution if the defendant is imprisoned.
- Although the Florida guidelines and scoresheets require strict adherence to the suggested guideline range of prison or probation, the United States Supreme Court at least in Federal cases has moved away from strict adherence to the guidelines in favor of more sentencing discretion for judges. And even within Florida law there are exceptions in which the guideline range may be avoided if certain conditions are met.
- The readiness of the defense to contest the strength of the allegations of criminal conduct by going to trial if necessary. Fundamental investigation and excellent preparation is a necessary requirement for getting the best possible result in Pinellas County criminal courts. The more likely it seems that the defense may test the guilt or innocence of the defendant by risking a trial, the more likely it will be that the Florida guidelines can be driven down to an acceptable level of probation rather than prison time.
There are many other variables that go into every sentencing decision. Not many of these variables can not be controlled by the defense, but some can. Those that can be controlled must be effectively utilized by a knowledgeable Clearwater criminal defense lawyer to persuade prosecutors to yield in either amending the charged offense to a lesser degree felony or by agreeing to go under the prevailing strict sentencing guidelines if they call for prison. If prosecutors believe that there is a credible defense which may yield a not guilty verdict, then a jail term is much less likely.
Federal court is an intimidating place for any defendant and even quite a few lawyers. One reason is that federal district judges are appointed for life so there’s little to keep them from saying or doing what they please in open court. However, federal judges have surprisingly limited discretion when it comes to the most important aspect of their jobs – criminal sentencing.
If you’re a target, act fast.
Federal sentencing is fundamentally based on very strict federal sentencing guidelines. In the Middle District of Florida in Tampa, federal judges may sentence under the minimum mandatory range if and only if a permissible reason can be found within the framework of the federal sentencing guidelines. Too often prosecutors determine the sentencing outcome in federal cases during the grand jury indictment stage of the process.
This means that in the Middle District of Florida defense counsel should be hired as soon as a federal defendant receives a target letter from the federal prosecutor. A target letter is not a requirement for a federal indictment and in most federal cases a target letter is not even sent. A target letter gives written notice that the federal government not only intends to soon take the case to a federal grand jury but strongly believes that the grand jury will indict based on the evidence available.
Target letters are typically sent in complex nonviolent federal criminal cases such as conspiracy to commit fraud, theft or scheme to defraud where the investigation may have been going on for many months or years. In these cases there may be incentive for prosecutors to give notice of future indictments in hopes of securing early pleas of guilty for low level defendants in an effort to secure convictions for those higher in the chain of command and knowledge within the conspiracy.
At the end of federal cases it’s always interesting to see which defendants received the longest prison terms and who got the best results. It’s a testament to the unfairness of the criminal justice system that it’s not unusual for some of the higher level conspirators who gained the most from the fraud to serve the least time. How can this be? Because their criminal defense lawyer understood the actual risks, knew what to do and when to do it; whereas other defendants simply failed to make the right decisions at the right time. It’s not just knowing how to win at federal trial that best serves a federal defendant; it’s also knowing when to fold and how to do it in such a way as to get the best possible result.
Clearly, it’s vital to find a knowledgeable lawyer. Your lawyer will weigh the facts against the federal law to help you make a determination as to whether it is better to fight the charges with the risk of indictment for more significant crimes or to work with the federal prosecutors to forestall the indictment by pleading to a lesser federal crime. The Florida federal defense lawyer you choose should have ample experience with multiple federal criminal trials as well as an understanding of the federal sentencing guidelines. If you or someone you care about has received a target letter from the federal prosecutors at the United States Attorney’s Office, call Robert Hambrick today and he’ll help you make some of the most important decisions of your life.
It’s unfortunate but true that America has declared a unilateral drug war against its own citizens. The power of the state could have been used to promote awareness of the risks of various drugs and to help those addicted beat their habits. Instead otherwise law-abiding citizens are branded as criminals. Many are arrested on the flimsiest of excuses as law enforcement officers become liars in an effort to lock up as many people as possible.
Avoid the Pinellas Jail
Once arrested those suspected of having even small quantities of drugs often face significant prison sentences in federal and state courts in Florida. For example, it only takes being in possession of a handful of oxycodone, vicodin or other otherwise legal prescription pills to create a situation where a judge has no discretion to go under the federal or Florida minimum mandatory sentencing requirements. Even when a minimum mandatory sentence does not apply the strict standards of the sentencing guidelines may require a judge to give prison time even for a first time offender. Clearly the strict drug laws must be changed as soon as possible. The laws should focus on rehabilitation not punishment and on helping people not hurting them. More peoples lives have been destroyed by the strict enforcement of American drug laws than have been harmed by the illegal drugs themselves. But until federal and Florida drug laws are amended Clearwater criminal defense lawyers must find the best possible ways to minimize the terrible damage done to countless lives after a drug arrest. Here are the most important and effective things to do if you or someone you love has been arrested for a drug charge in Tampa Bay, Florida:
- Do whatever is necessary to get out of the Pinellas Jail which is well known for having poor food, unsafe conditions and providing poor medical care. Contact a bail bondsman if you don’t have the entire bail amount. Typically by paying ten percent of the entire bond to the bondsman which you forfeit as his fee, the bondsman pays the remaining 90% thus insuring that you don’t have to wait for months in jail while the case is being resolved. If the bond is still too high then a lawyer can file a motion with the judge to lower the bond by establishing that you are not a flight risk and that you have strong ties to the community.
- As soon as possible contact a reliable defense lawyer who is committed to helping you find the best results. Make sure the lawyer has prior criminal law experience and that criminal law is his one field of practice rather than finding a general practitioner or someone who also does civil law.
- Help your lawyer help you by providing any evidence you may have such as phone records, bank records, video or audio. It’s important to remember that you and your lawyer are now a team working together for the common goal of keeping you out of prison and finding the best result. Any information you provide may be helpful in arguments your lawyer may present to the prosecutor or judge in an effort to have your case dismissed or reduced to a misdemeanor.
- If the case can not be dismissed or reduced then it’s important to make a decision as soon as possible as to whether or not to have a jury trial. If you are not going to trial then you may want to co-operate with the government to obtain a better sentence. If you’re going to fight the charges then taking sworn depositions of the witnesses may be necessary. The decision on whether to go to trial is often pivotal as to how much prison time may be at risk.
It’s possible that your drug case may be decided in the special drug court. If that happens trial is unlikely as the purpose of the drug court is to give the judge other options than prison and punishment. Whether your case is decided in drug court or in a typical felony division, the Florida sentencing guidelines provide the map by which the judge will make most sentencing decisions. Therefore it’s important that your defense lawyer understand the sentencing guidelines and how they apply in your drug case.
How can someone charged with a felony in Tampa Bay, Florida find the best way to have that felony dismissed? A surprising number of cases can be dismissed if action is taken early to make sure that all the conditions necessary for having the case subject to dismissal are met. Your criminal defense lawyer must understand how the dismissal proceeds and be ready to implement the necessary negotiations with prosecutors to make certain that your case falls within the necessary parameters.
In Florida every county by law has some form of Pretrial Intervention which allows for certain misdemeanor and even some felony charges to be subject to a motion for dismissal. In Clearwater, Florida the Pretrial Intervention Program (also known as PTI) is administered by the State Attorney’s Office. This is one of the best way to avoid Florida’s very strict sentencing guidelines.The prosecutors at the State Attorney’s Office have set up the following conditions for acceptance into the PTI program:
- The law enforcement agency which made the initial arrest must agree that the defendant is suitable for the program.
- The victim must agree to the allow the defendant into the program.
- The State Attorney’s Office must make a determination that the public interest is best served by the charges being dismissed.
- The requirements of PTI must be completed.
- Typically the defendant must serve a probationary period of at least six months for a misdemeanor and a year for a felony. During that time other requirements such as counseling, therapy or educational programs must be met. Further, there can be no other arrests nor trouble with the law during that period.
- The charged misconduct usually must be nonviolent though there are exceptions for particular cases such as battery or domestic violence where the need for counseling that could avert future violence may outweigh the need for punishment.
- For a felony the charge must be filed as a third degree felony rather than a first or second degree felony.
Domestic Violence cases and drug cases may be tracked within the domestic violence court and the drug court, otherwise the set conditions and restrictions for PTI remain similar no matter the underlying charged misconduct. After the period of probation is successfully completed the presiding judge will grant a motion from the State Attorney’s Office to dismiss the misdemeanor or felony case.
Dismissal of the case is often the best possible outcome that one can hope for in any type of criminal case. Yet the price for that dismissal is that you admit that you committed the underlying offense, you are punished with probation and during the year or six months of probation your life is in limbo. These are not always easy things to square with the notion of justice and fairness if in fact you did not commit the charged misconduct. Clearly it’s important for your Clearwater criminal defense lawyer to undertake a complete review of the facts and circumstances of your case to determine not only if you broke the law but if there are other less painful remedies available even if your case could be suitable for the Pretrial Intervention Program.