Articles Posted in Sentencing

In Florida, convictions for sex crimes typically result in substantial penalties. In some instances, a criminal defendant will try to seek a downward sentence by highlighting mitigating factors in their favor. The Florida courts are not required to reduce sentences due to such factors, though, as illustrated in a recent Florida case. If you are charged with sex offenses, it is wise to confer with a St. Petersburg sex crime defense attorney to determine your options.

Factual and Procedural Background

It is alleged that the defendant was charged with numerous sex crimes involving minors, including creating, distributing, and possessing child pornography and transferring obscene materials to a minor. He entered guilty pleas to all of his charges without a plea agreement. Prior to sentencing, a presentence investigation report (PSI) was prepared describing his conduct. Specifically, it noted that he created videos of children being sexually abused, distributed them, and attempted to meet with up someone he thought was a thirteen year old child.

Reportedly, the advisory guidelines range the defendant’s charges was set at the statutory maximum of 960 months’ imprisonment, with a statutory minimum term of 180 months’ imprisonment. The defendant sought a downward variance from the guideline range to the statutory minimum, citing his difficult personal background marked by his mother’s alcoholism, mental health issues, and struggles with substance abuse. He argued that his mitigating circumstances warranted a lower sentence. Continue Reading ›

Prior convictions can have a detrimental impact on a defendant’s punishment scoresheet. As such, if there are grounds for calling a prior conviction into question, they should be asserted, as it could ultimately result in a reduced sentence. In a recent opinion delivered in a sex crime case, a Florida court discussed the procedure for evaluating whether a prior conviction should be considered valid for the purposes of sentencing. If you are charged with a sex offense, it is smart to speak to a St. Petersburg sex crime defense attorney to assess what defenses you may be able to assert.

The Case Background

It is alleged that the defendant was charged with two counts of sexual battery on a mentally defective victim, one count of lewd and lascivious behavior, and one count of unlawful sexual activity with a minor. He was convicted and sentenced.  Following his sentencing, he filed a motion to correct a sentencing error in which he contested three prior convictions that contributed to his scoresheet. Among these convictions were two counts of burglary of an unoccupied conveyance, a conviction for lewd or lascivious molestation on a person under 12 years of age, and a grand theft auto conviction. The trial court failed to issue a ruling on the motion within the mandated 60-day period, though, and it was deemed denied pursuant to Florida law. The defendant appealed.

Contesting Prior Convictions in Florida Criminal Matters

On appeal, the court explained that in cases where a defendant contests the veracity of their prior convictions, the State is required to provide competent evidence corroborating these convictions. Unfortunately, in this instance, the trial court did not demand such evidence despite the defendant’s assertions that his prior convictions were improper. As such, the court determined that an evidentiary hearing was warranted to assess the contested prior convictions. The goal of the hearing is to ascertain whether the appellant’s scoresheet requires correction based on the accuracy of the prior convictions. Continue Reading ›

Although there are sentencing guidelines for violations of both state and federal law, the courts have significant leeway when determining what constitutes an appropriate sentence. The penalties they deliver must be reasonable, however, and if they are not, they may be overturned. In a recent Florida opinion issued in an identity theft case, the court discussed factors weighed in determining the reasonableness of a sentence. If you are accused of a theft offense, it is important to understand the penalties you may face if you are convicted, and you should speak to a St. Petersburg theft crime defense attorney as soon as possible.

Procedural History of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant was charged with multiple counts of aggravated identity theft and having fifteen or more unauthorized access devices in violation of federal law. He agreed to plead guilty to one count of aggravated identity theft and one count of possessing unauthorized access devices under a plea agreement.

It is reported that the presentence report stated that during his arrest, the defendant destroyed multiple devices that contained evidence of his theft and that the funds he diverted included COVID unemployment benefits. The Government sought a sentence of 51 months due to the egregiousness of the defendant’s crimes, his destruction of evidence, and his prior criminal history, while the defendant argued that the court should impose a 45-month sentence. The court agreed with the Government and sentenced the defendant to 51 months in prison, after which he appealed, arguing that the sentence was unreasonable. Continue Reading ›

If a person is convicted of a sex crime, their rights may be impacted long after any penalties imposed for the crime are served. For example, sex offenders are often prohibited from entering certain areas where children are present and, in some cases, may be barred from having contact with children altogether. In a recent case decided by the District Court of Appeals of Florida, Fourth District, the court analyzed a court’s jurisdiction to modify the terms of restrictions of probation imposed on a person convicted of a sex crime. If you are a resident of St. Petersburg faced with charges of a sex crime, it is in your best interest to speak with a trusted St. Petersburg sex crime attorney regarding your rights.

Facts Regarding the Underlying Case

It is reported that the defendant was charged with over thirty counts of controlling, possessing, or intentionally viewing photographs depicting sexual conduct involving a child. The defendant pleaded guilty to three of the counts, and the State agreed not to prosecute the remaining counts. The defendant was then sentenced to a term of imprisonment for eighteen months, to be followed by ten years of supervised sex offender probation. One of the conditions of the defendant’s probation was that he was barred from having any unsupervised contact with a child under the age of eighteen.

Allegedly, in 2018, over a year after the probationary sentence was imposed, the defendant filed a motion asking the court to clarify the condition regarding unsupervised contact with a child. Essentially, the defendant’s motion asked the court to remove the condition as a term of his probation so that he could reside with his wife and two minor children following his release from prison. The court held a hearing, after which it granted the defendant’s motion. The State appealed.

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In Florida sex crime cases, the defendant is permitted to enter whatever plea he or she chooses. In some cases, a defendant may choose to plead guilty, in exchange for a reduced sentence or penalty. While a defendant is free to enter any plea he or she chooses at the outset of a sex crime case, changing a plea at later stages of the case can be very difficult.

In a recent Florida appellate case, the court ruled that a defendant who pleaded guilty to sex crimes did not meet the burden of proof required to show he should be permitted to change his plea following sentencing. If you are charged with a sex crime in St. Petersburg, it is in your best interest to meet with a capable St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to discuss your case and available defenses.

Facts Regarding the Defendant’s Alleged Crime

Reportedly, the defendant engaged in sexual activity with his 13-year-old stepdaughter. He was charged with sexual battery by a person in familial authority and lewd or lascivious molestation. He pleaded guilty to the charges in exchange for concurrent terms of time served to be followed by sex offender probation. Following his sentencing, however, the defendant filed a motion to withdraw his plea, due to the fact that he was not advised that he would be subject to electronic monitoring as part of his probation. The trial court denied his motion, after which the defendant appealed.

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Florida sets forth sentencing guidelines that provide minimum sentences that must be imposed and allows for enhanced sentences if certain elements are met. The State bears the burden of proving that an enhanced sentence is appropriate, and an enhanced sentence imposed without justification may be vacated.

For example, a Florida District Court of Appeal recently vacated a life sentence that was imposed following a conviction for aggravated battery with a firearm, on the grounds that the State failed to provide sufficient evidence that a sentencing enhancement was proper. If you are a St. Petersburg resident and are facing criminal charges, it is in your best interest to speak with an experienced St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to assist you in fighting to retain your rights.

The Defendant’s Conviction and Sentence  

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with attempted first-degree murder with a firearm and aggravated battery with a firearm. The jury found that the defendant had actual possession of a firearm and discharged the firearm, inflicting great bodily harm on his victims under both counts. The court subsequently sentenced the defendant to two concurrent life sentences under section 775.087(2), often referred to as the 10-20-Life statute, due to the fact that he was a prison releasee reoffender. The defendant filed a motion to correct the life sentence imposed on him as to the battery count, on the grounds that the sentence was illegal. The trial court denied his motion, after which the defendant appealed.

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The criminal legal system treats juvenile defendants differently than adult defendants. Juveniles are generally granted more protection of their rights and are often subject to different sentencing. For example, the United States Supreme Court held in Graham v. Florida that any life sentence imposed on a juvenile offender who was convicted of a non-homicide offense must provide a meaningful chance for the offender to be released before the end of the sentence.

The Supreme Court of Florida recently ruled in Franklin v. State, that the Graham holding did not prohibit a court from imposing a 1,000-year sentence with parole eligibility. If you are a juvenile charged with a crime in St. Petersburg, it is in your best interest to meet with an experienced St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to assess the potential penalties for the crime you are charged with and help you to formulate a defense.

Alleged Facts Regarding Crimes and Sentencing

Allegedly, the defendant committed several violent crimes when he was seventeen. He was charged with several crimes in three separate cases, including kidnapping, armed robbery, and aggravated assault. During the trial in one of his cases, a physician who treated the victim testified the victim suffered the most severe injuries he had ever witnessed.

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It is important for any defendant who pleads guilty to or is convicted of a crime to understand how previous convictions for sex crimes may be weighed against him or her. In the Florida courts, prior to sentencing, a Presentence Investigation Report (PSI) is issued, setting forth a defendant’s criminal and personal history. The PSI aides judges in determining an appropriate sentence. It is essential that the court accurately understand information in a PSI, as an incorrect assessment of prior convictions can result in an inappropriate sentence.

This was illustrated in a recent Florida appellate court case, where the court found that the trial court committed an error of law in requiring a defendant to register as a sex offender and imposing a greater than guideline sentence due to a misunderstanding of the information in the PSI and the applicable law. If you were previously convicted of a sex crime and currently face criminal charges in St. Petersburg, it is in your best interest to consult an experienced St. Petersburg sex crimes defense attorney as soon as possible.

Defendant’s Sentencing Hearing

Purportedly, the defendant pled guilty to bank robbery and taking a hostage during a bank robbery. Prior to his sentencing, a PSI was issued that included information regarding the defendant’s prior adjudication as a juvenile for sexual misconduct. The sexual misconduct conviction was based on the defendant allegedly forcing a seven-year-old girl to have oral sex with him when he was thirteen.

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Part of why it is so important to have a skilled Florida criminal defense attorney on your side is that they may know about plea options that most people don’t know about. In other words, they may be able to ask the prosecutor for a plea deal that can help a defendant avoid some of the most harmful consequences of a conviction. Asking the judge to withhold adjudication is one of these potential options.

Withholding Adjudication

Florida law has a statute that allows judges to withhold adjudication in some circumstances. When adjudication is withheld, the defendant will usually have some kind of penalty, but since it is not a conviction it will not be on their record. The penalties vary but frequently include some kind of diversion program, counseling, probation, and/or community service hours. Of course the defendant needs to complete all of the requirements imposed by the court or else they will be convicted.

The main benefit of a withholding of adjudication is that the defendant will still have a clean record if this is their first offense. This can be a huge benefit when looking for employment, as many employers will ask applicants whether they have been convicted of a crime. If your adjudication has been withheld, you can honestly answer “no.” However, applicants should read the question closely because sometimes potential employers will ask instead whether applicants have been arrested, which defendant would then have to answer “yes” even if the conviction was withheld.

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The defendant in this case was convicted for the first-degree murder of a correctional officer while he was an inmate in a correctional institution. He was sentenced to the death penalty. This appeal was based on a case that was decided after the defendant was convicted. In a case called Hurst, it was found unconstitutional for defendants to be sentenced to death when the sentence is not reached by a unanimous jury verdict. It also addressed the use of aggravating factors. This case relies on that precedent to argue that the defendant here should also not be sentenced to death.

Aggravating Factors

Florida death penalty laws are somewhat complicated. As part of the decision to penalize someone with death, the jury must consider certain aggravating and mitigating factors. Obviously, aggravating factors weigh toward a sentence of death and mitigating factors do not. Here, the court gave five different aggravating factors great or very great weight. They were: that the defendant was convicted of a felony before, and the felony involved violence, the crime was intended to disrupt a lawful governmental function, it was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, and it was cold, calculated, and premeditated. Conversely, the court found no statutory mitigating factors and eight non-statutory mitigating factors that were given little to some weight.

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