As an attorney and all-around legal junkie, I was reading through the criminal statutes (generally, Chapters 775 – 896, Fla. Stat.) and I came across a provision I have not used or since I began my practice in 2006. At Fla. Stat. 775.0837, there is a provision title “Habitual Misdemeanor Offenders.” I had never heard of such a thing. As an experienced felony lawyer, I’ve encountered Florida’s other sentencing schemes such as 10-20-Life, Habitual Felony Offender, Prison Releasee Reoffender, Special Felony Offender of Special Concern, etc. but never this one. So, what is it?

Essentially, the statute is an alternative sentencing scheme for qualifying offenders. In order to qualify for sentencing under the provision, a person must have committed four or more specified misdemeanors within a year of the specified misdemeanor before the court for sentencing. And this explains why it almost never comes up and why I’ve never seen it: a person must be very busy and very lucky in his sentencing on the prior crimes to even qualify. A person has to be committing a new misdemeanor, on average, every three months in order to qualify. And, even then, the crimes have to be specified crimes.

The qualifying crimes are under Chapters 741 (domestic violence injunction violations), 784 (assault and battery), 790 (firearm offenses), 796 (prostitution), 800 (indecent exposure), 806 (arson and criminal mischief), 810 (burglary and trespass), 812 (theft), 817 (fraud), 831 (forgery), 832 (check crimes), 843 (obstruction of justice), 856 (public intoxication and loitering), 893 (drug possession), and 901 (arrests).

So, what happens if someone is convicted as a habitual misdemeanor offender? Well, the court has a few options. First, the court can sentence the person to county jail for no less than 6 months and no more than 1 year. Second, the court could sentence the person to a residential substance abuse/mental health treatment provider for no less than 6 months and no more than 1 year. Lastly, the court has the option to sentence the offender to no less than 6 months and no more than 1 year of home detention.

The above referenced sentences are the only options for a habitual misdemeanor offender unless the court makes a specific finding that an alternative sentence is in the best interests of the community and the offender.

As I mentioned earlier, explaining all of this is probably unnecessary as I’ve never seen a person sentenced as a habitual misdemeanor offender. However, it is important to be aware of this provision because it could mean a mandatory 6-month sentence (or longer) if the person qualifies.