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.