You don’t necessarily have to be the Governor to avoid a long prison sentence, but becoming Governor certainly helps if you’ve committed a notable grand theft here in Florida. Yet it’s possible to avoid prison even for a significant Grand Theft without the burden of running for office.
A recent client was charged with a Grand Theft that occurred over a period of three years in Clearwater, Florida. During that time $48,000 was taken from the victim. The evidence was unfortunately abundant. Not only had my client confessed, but there were multiple instances of forgery with the proceeds going directly her. After negotiations with the investigating detective it was agreed that my client would avoid arrest by turning herself in. At booking her bond was made ready and after a couple of hours of being processed, fingerprinted and photographed at the Pinellas County Jail she was released.
However, the charges were significant and could easily trigger prison time. She was charged with Grand Theft and Scheme to Defraud. It was essential to first make every effort to persuade the state attorney’s office not to file either the Grand Theft or the Scheme to Defraud charge as the combined scored total based on the dollar amount of the theft would drive up the Florida Guideline range. In fact, the Florida guidelines mandated a sentence of Florida prison. The prosecutors agreed to not file the Grand Theft and to file only one count of Scheme to Defraud which is a second degree felony. This not only meant that my client would be unable to have recourse to Pretrial Intervention despite having no previous criminal history but that there would be an adjudication of guilt and worse a very high likelihood of a long prison term. This was troubling in that it would be difficult enough for her to find work again without spending time incarcerated.
Clearly, the objective had to be to use whatever leverage necessary to persuade the prosecutors and the judge to first give my client no jail and second to give her a withholding of adjudication. In any criminal case the most effective means of leverage is to find multiple weaknesses within the framework of the criminal charges. But here there was not only a confession to the crime, but multiple examples of easily provable forgeries. Further, if the case was taken to trial and we lost it would likely result in jail, because the charges that were not filed would be filed again by the prosecutors. Other than using weakness in a Grand Theft case, the best next source of leverage is persuading the victim that jail time is unconscionable.
Under Florida law a judge may go under the Florida Sentencing Guidelines for a limited number of reasons. One of the most effective reasons to go under the guidelines is establishing that the victim will receive restitution. Here the victim was willing and able to pay restitution. Based on the restitution being payed the victim agreed to no prison time as well as to a sentence with a withholding of adjudication so that the defendant would have an opportunity to more easily find a job. But how could the state give a withhold of adjudication on a second degree felony Scheme to Defraud case?
At the sentencing the prosecutor amended the information to a Grand Theft in the third degree. After careful deliberation and after speaking to a representative from the victim on the record to be certain the restitution had been met, the judge agreed to a sentence giving my client a fresh start on life. Even after a huge mistake it’s possible to avoid prison time in Tampa Bay, Florida.