In our last post, we looked very briefly at the general structure of the Florida Criminal Punishment Code, particularly at mandatory minimum sentences. Although we cannot go into a level of detail that really does justice to the process, it is enough to say that there is a mixture of strict requirements and discretion that judges exercise in the sentencing process.
Experienced representation is necessary throughout the criminal process, and this is no less true of sentencing than it is for a defendant’s first-appearance in court and for trial. In sentencing, the fact that the calculation of the sentencing range determination depends on accurate information regarding numerous factors means that advocacy is necessary to ensure the judge handling the case is not misled or mistaken.
Also, the fact that judges have the ability to depart from assigned sentencing ranges under certain circumstances, and that these departures must be reasonably justifiable, means there is room for a strong advocate to affect the outcome of sentencing in the defendant’s favor. Minimization of penalties is an important goal of criminal defense, even when there has been a conviction.
Strong advocacy is all the more important given that mandatory minimum sentences can be burdensome, particularly in cases where the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. This can happen, for instance, in cases where those who become addicted to narcotic pain medications are subjected to unduly harsh mandatory minimum sentences despite the fact that they are neither violent, nor drug dealers.
The need to satisfactorily address such situations has led some to advocate for legislation giving judges discretion to dispense with mandatory minimum sentences when they are inappropriate for the case and the offender. Short of the passage of such legislation, the best a defendant can hope for is to work with an experienced attorney who knows how to build a strong criminal defense, hold the state to its full burden of proof, and ensure that the criminal code is applied as accurately as possible in sentencing, with due consideration for factors dictating a minimization of penalties in sentencing.