Under Florida law, the sentencing of felony offenders can be very complex. Most felony cases fall under the criminal punishment code where each crime to be sentenced as well as previously committed crimes are scored according to pre-assigned points, added up, put into a formula, and a minimum sentence is computed. There are exceptions to any minimum under the Criminal Punishment Code for various downward departures.
However, some offenders are sentenced under different schemes due to the nature of the current crime and the nature and recency of past crimes. Fla. Stat. 775.084 delineates some of the enhanced sentencing schemes under Florida law. Below is an explanation of one such sentencing scheme: Violent Career Criminals.
Violent Career Criminals
A “Violent Career Criminal” is defined as an offender who:
- Has been previously convicted of three or more of the following offenses:
- Any forcible felony
- Aggravated stalking
- Aggravated child abuse
- Aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult
- Lewd or lascivious battery, lewd or lascivious molestation, lewd or lascivious conduct, or lewd or lascivious exhibition
- Escape, or
- A felony violation of chapter 790 involving the use or possession of a firearm.
- The primary felony offense for which the defendant is to be sentenced is a felony enumerated above and it was committed while the defendant was serving a sentence or within 5 years from release from prison or the termination of any probation and/or community control.
- The defendant has not been pardoned for any of the prior qualifying offenses.
- A prior qualifying conviction has not been set aside in a post-conviction proceeding.
If the person qualifies as a Violent Career Criminal, in order for the court to be able to sentence the defendant under this scheme, the State must serve notice to the defendant and his/her attorney that they are seeking a VCC sentence. The court then must hold a hearing to determine whether the Defendant qualifies as a VCC and determine by a preponderance of the evidence whether the prerequisites have been proven by the State.
If the court finds that the person does qualify as a VCC, the court must sentence the defendant as such unless the court finds that such a sentence is not necessary for the protection of the public.
If the court finds that the person does qualify as a VCC and that the defendant should be sentenced as a Violent Career Criminal, the Court must sentence the defendant to, for a:
- Life felony or first-degree felony, life in prison;
- Second-degree felony, up to 40 years in prison with a mandatory minimum of 30 years in prison;
- Third-degree felony, up to 15 years in prison with a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison.