Saturday, September 6, 2008

Alternative Sentencing: Youthful Offender Downward Departures

A “youthful offender” (YO) is any person who is sentenced as such by the court or is classified as such by the Department of Corrections pursuant to section 958.04.[FN1] There are two ways by which a defendant can become entitled to the benefits of the YO statute. Either the trial court can sentence the defendant as a YO, or the Department of Corrections can designate a defendant who was sentenced as an adult to be a YO.[FN2]


Pursuant to section 958.04, F.S., the court may sentence as a YO any person:

(a) Who is at least 18 years of age or who has been transferred for prosecution to the criminal division of the circuit court pursuant to chapter 985;

(b) Who is found guilty of or who has tendered, and the court has accepted, a plea of nolo contendere or guilty to a crime that is, under the laws of this state, a felony if the offender is younger than 21 years of age at the time sentence is imposed; and

(c) Who has not previously been classified as a youthful offender under the provisions of chapter 985; however, a person who has been found guilty of a capital or life felony may not be sentenced as a YO under the Youthful Offender Act.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Chemical Castration for Rapists

Chemical castration is the use of hormonal medication used to suppress the sexual drive. It is used mainly by countries as a preventive measure or punishment on people who violate their laws on sexual behavior. The term “chemical castration” is a misnomer: It should be more appropriately called “hormonal androgen depletion” or “anti-hormone treatment.” Its effects are completely reversible. Medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), the drug mandated by the Florida Legislature for use in chemical castrations, is more commonly known as Depo-Provera. In men, the drug reduces the production of the hormone testosterone in the testes and the adrenal glands, and, therefore, reduces the level of testosterone circulating through the bloodstream. As testosterone levels drop, so does the putative sex drive in most men. The physiological effects of Depo-Provera thus include temporary diminution of erections and ejaculations and a reduction in sperm count.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Sentencing Multipliers Under the Criminal Punishment Code: Use of Juvenile Priors for the Grand Theft Motor Vehicle Multiplier

There is a lot of misunderstanding about sentencing multipliers under Florida's Criminal Punishment Code, particularly when it comes to the Grand Theft Motor Vehicle multiplier and the use of juvenile priors as predicate offenses.

The Grand Theft Motor Vehicle multiplier is applicable where the primary offense charged is grand theft of a motor vehicle and the defendant's prior record includes three more grand thefts of a motor vehicle. The confusion is usually over whether juvenile priors can be used as predicate offenses, and if so, whether or not there has to have been an adjudication of delinquency. Typical is the following question I received a few days ago from an Assistant State Attorney in the 15th Circuit, reproduced verbatim:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

No Death Penalty for Child Rapists

The United States Supreme Court today in a 5-4 opinion in the case of Kennedy v. Louisiana,(1) authored by Justice Kennedy and joined in by Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer, ruled that the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment clause prohibits states from imposing the death penalty for the rape of a child where the crime did not result, and was not intended to result, in the child's death. The Court also ruled that the application of this law to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment renders the Louisiana statute under which petitioner Patrick Kennedy was sentenced to death for the brutal rape of his eight-year-old stepdaughter unconstitutional. As for the death penalty in Florida, however, it will be business as usual.

The facts of Kennedy were compelling: Patrick Kennedy brutally raped his eight-year-old stepdaughter on March 2, 1998 and coached her to lie about it to the police. That morning, the victim was transported by ambulance to Children’s Hospital where she was examined in the emergency room. The victim’s predominate injury was vaginal with profuse bleeding. Her entire perineum was torn and her rectum protruded into her vagina. A pediatric surgeon was called in to repair the damage, which was repaired successfully. However, as a result of pain, the victim had to be fed gallons of stool softener through a tube to permit her to begin defecating again. At trial, the defendant was convicted of aggravated rape and a unanimous jury recommended that Kennedy receive the death penalty, which the sentencing court imposed. He appealed his conviction and sentence and the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed both, reasoning that the death penalty was proportionate in the circumstances because

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Apprendi and Blakely Cases

On June 26, 2000, the United States Supreme Court in its review of the case of Charles C. Apprendi against the State of New Jersey ruled that, consistent with the Sixth Amendment, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum, other than the fact of a prior conviction, must be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.(1) In a subsequent review of the case of Ralph Howard Blakely against the State of Washington, the Court clarified Apprendi further by ruling that the “statutory maximum” for Apprendi purposes is the maximum sentence a judge may impose solely on the basis of the facts reflected in the jury verdict or admitted by the defendant, that a defendant can waive his Apprendi rights, and that when a defendant pleads guilty, the State is free to seek judicial sentence enhancements so long as the defendant either stipulates to the relevant facts or consents to judicial fact finding.(2) In other words, the relevant “statutory maximum” is not the maximum sentence a judge may impose after finding additional facts, but the maximum he or she may impose without any additional findings.

When a judge inflicts punishment that the jury’s verdict alone does not allow, the jury has not found all the facts which the law makes essential to the punishment, and the judge exceeds his or her proper authority.(3) The application of the principles of Apprendi to guidelines sentencing schemes was reaffirmed by the Court in United States v. Booker,(4) which held that the imposition of a sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines based on additional facts that the sentencing judge found by a preponderance of the evidence violated the Sixth Amendment.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sample Questions for Judicial Candidates

What would you ask a judicial candidate if you had the opportunity to question him or her?

The quality of our judiciary has a direct correlation to the quality of what goes on in our courts of law, including our sentencings in criminal court. Although slightly off-topic for a sentencing blog, the following is a complilation of sample questions to ask those who would be our judges:

I. Knowledge.

1. Do you believe the composition of juries adequately and fairly reflects society at large? Why or why not? If not, what can we do to change this? What are the pros and cons of using drivers license registration as a source of jurors?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Vindictive Sentencing

The issue of vindictive sentencing can arise at original sentencing or at resentencing. A vindictive sentence is imposed where the defendant is punished for exercising his or her appellate rights or where any judicially imposed penalty needlessly discourages assertion of the Fifth Amendment right not to plead guilty and deters the exercise of the Sixth Amendment right to demand a jury trial, and such a sentence is patently unconstitutional.(1) Vindictiveness in sentencing does not mean that the trial judge affirmatively intends to punish the defendant for rejecting a plea. “Vindictive” in this context is a term of art which expresses the legal effect of a given course of action, and does not imply any personal or subjective animosity between the court and the defendant.(2)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Increased Punishment Upon Resentencing

The constitutions of Florida and the United States impose no limitations whatever upon the power to retry a defendant who has succeeded in getting his or her first conviction set aside.(1) A corollary of the power to retry a defendant is the power, upon the defendant’s reconviction, to impose whatever sentence may be legally authorized, whether or not it is greater than the sentence imposed after the first conviction.(2) That a defendant’s conviction is overturned on collateral rather than direct attack is irrelevant for these purposes.(3) A defendant who has previously been sentenced may thus be resentenced upon remand from an appellate court, upon the trial court’s granting of a motion to correct a sentencing error pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.800, or upon vacatur of the sentence for fraud or misrepresentation, without running afoul of due process, equal protection, or double jeopardy considerations. These constitutional guarantees also impose no restrictions upon the length of a sentence imposed upon resentencing.

Friday, February 1, 2008

What "Before the Court for Sentencing" Means

A court may not impose sentence for an offense unless the offense is before the court for sentencing. The matter of whether an offense is, or is not, pending before the court for sentencing often leads to considerable debate. As a general rule, an offense should not be considered as "pending" before the trial court for sentencing unless a verdict of guilt or a plea of guilty or nolo contendere has been obtained; offenses for which the defendant has entered a not guilty plea or denial, and is awaiting trial or a final hearing, are not considered pending for sentencing purposes.(1) One scoresheet must be used for every pending case that meets this definition.(2) As a corollary, a presumption then arises that sentencing should not be delayed merely because other cases that fail to meet this definition are pending against the same defendant in the same court.(3) In other words, a judge does not have to wait for disposition of a pending case before imposing sentence in a case that has been resolved by plea or trial.(4)

A broad exception to this rule is that defendants are allowed to move a trial court to delay sentencing so that a single scoresheet can be used in two or more cases pending against the same defendant in the same court at the same time, regardless of whether a plea of guilty or nolo contendere or a conviction has been obtained. The trial court must grant the motion when the defendant can show that the use of a single scoresheet would not result in an unreasonable delay in sentencing. For each sentence that would not be unreasonably delayed, the trial court must order simultaneous sentencing.(5) There is, however, no requirement that a trial court delay sentencing on a completed case while awaiting the outcome of future trials where it is only speculative that those other cases might be ready for disposition soon and where those cases in fact might not be ready for disposition for many months or years.(6)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Pre-Plea Downward Departure Sentencing Hearings

One of the most practiced ways to mitigate a defendant’s sentence, where no other alternatives are available, is through a downward departure from the Criminal Punishment Code sentencing "floor." It is, in fact the practice of some defense counsel to seek a "departure hearing" before a defendant enters a plea to test the court for leniency, although some courts will not entertain such a hearing until the defendant has pled.

Pre-plea "departure hearings" comprise an unauthorized blending of plea discussion and agreement with the conduct of a sentencing hearing, and the creation of a legal fiction that an offense is not "before the court for sentencing," so as to evade requirements of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure and statutory law. Such hearings are a means for the defendant to get a commitment from the presiding judge as to whether and how much of a downward departure sentence he or she will impose if and when the defendant decides to plea without making any commitment in return. Typically, these hearings are used by the defendant to put on evidence in mitigation without the defendant accepting any responsibility for having committed any wrongful act, which is a contradiction the Rules of Criminal Procedure are designed to prevent. This technique also places a legally unrecognizable burden on the prosecutor and any victim or victims involved to overcome such mitigation and persuade the judge not to depart downward in the event that the defendant does decide to enter a plea. Under the former guidelines, where upward departure was a possibility, the prosecutor would often try to blunt the defense request for downward departure by putting on evidence in aggravation and requesting an upward departure during the same hearing. Additionally, the conduct of a pre-plea departure hearing tends to invert and short-circuit the trial process by substituting the defendant’s case for leniency for the prosecutor’s presentation of all relevant evidence of guilt before a jury in a trial. Such a procedure is also contrary to principles of judicial economy and entails the potential for otherwise unnecessary and avoidable recusal consequences.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Violent Felony Offenders of Special Concern (VFOSC)

In response to questions about Florida's "Anti-Murder Act" and the creation of the designation "Violent Felony Offender of Special Concern," or VFOSC, I am posting the following summary:

On March 8, 2007, the Florida legislature passed the "Anti-Murder Act," which was signed into law by the Governor on March 12, 2007 as Chapter 2007-2, Laws of Florida. The Act amended section 948.06(4), F.S., to create six classes of "violent felony offender of special concern" (VFOSC). For purposes of sections 903.0351 (bail), 948.064 (notification), and 921.0024 (scoresheet), the term "violent felony offender of special concern" means a person who is on:

1. Felony probation or community control related to the commission of a qualifying offense committed on or after March 12, 2007.

2. Felony probation or community control for any offense committed on or after March 12, 2007, and has previously been convicted of a qualifying offense. "Convicted" in this regard means a determination of guilt which is the result of a trial or the entry of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, regardless of whether adjudication is imposed or withheld.

3. Felony probation or community control for any offense committed on or after March 12, 2007, and is found to have violated that probation or community control by committing a qualifying offense. Note that only a "finding," and not a conviction, is required.

4. Felony probation or community control and has previously been found by a court to be a habitual violent felony offender as defined in section 775.084(1)(b), and has committed a qualifying offense on or after March 12, 2007.

5. Felony probation or community control and has previously been found by a court to be a three-time violent felony offender as defined in section 775.084(1)(c), and has committed a qualifying offense on or after March 12, 2007.

6. Felony probation or community control and has previously been found by a court to be a sexual predator under section 775.21, and has committed a qualifying offense on or after March 12, 2007.

For purposes of section 948.06, the term "qualifying offense" means any of the following: