Sunday, June 24, 2012

Some Comparative Statistics on Florida Sentencing

Sentencing is the post-conviction phase of the criminal justice process in which the court imposes certain sanctions on the defendant. It is a critical step in the process and one that is both complex and susceptible to error.

Florida courts do a lot of sentencing. According to data kept by the Florida Supreme Court, in the period from January 1986 through June 2011 (the last month for which statistics have been published) the cases of 4,530,332 defendants involving 8,791,733 separate criminal counts were disposed of in the circuit courts of the state, the cases of 10,900,786 criminal defendants were disposed of in the county courts, and 10,962,695 criminal cases were disposed of in the traffic courts. In that time, there were 3,531,714 pleas before trial in the circuit courts and 6,779,757 pleas before trial in the county courts, while the cases of a total of 284,785 defendants were resolved upon conviction after trial in both courts.

The volume of sentencing is increasing. In calendar year 1986, when the Court started keeping statistics, the cases of 119,639 defendants involving 212,557 separate criminal counts were disposed of in the circuit courts, the cases of 350,419 criminal defendants were disposed of in the county courts, and 632,908 criminal cases were disposed of in the traffic courts. In that time, there were 83,247 pleas before trial in the circuit courts and 220,422 pleas before trial in the county courts, while the cases of a total of 6,445 defendants were resolved upon conviction after trial in both courts. In the year spanning July 2010 through June 2011, by way of comparison, the cases of 195,325 defendants involving 389,070 separate criminal counts were disposed of in the circuit courts, the cases of 405,618 criminal defendants were disposed of in the county courts, and 446,221 criminal cases were disposed of in the traffic courts. In that time, there were 146,454 pleas before trial in the circuit courts and 226,600 pleas before trial in the county courts, while the cases of a total of 4,607 defendants were resolved upon conviction after trial in both courts.  This translates to an average of more than 1,500 sentencing events every working day in Florida's trial courts.

The increasing complexity of Florida sentencing law has added to the challenges faced by prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges in their efforts to resolve their cases. The state has separate and sometimes overlapping sentencing schemes for juveniles, youthful offenders, regular adult offenders, habitualized offenders, and persons convicted of capital crimes. There also are a variety of pre- and post-conviction diversion programs. Statutory law is ever-changing, and a steady stream of appellate court rulings add to this complexity. These factors, in combination with overloaded criminal court dockets, overburdened prosecutors, and criminal justice system resource issues, make Florida sentencing susceptible to mistakes, often constituting reversible error.

The Florida Supreme Court does not keep statistics on reversed sentences, and so it is difficult to state with accuracy the rate of sentencing error in Florida. Anecdotal evidence can be found, however, by reviewing the opinions issued every week by Florida's District Courts of Appeal and Supreme Court, which on a weekly basis issue opinions either reversing sentences for reversible error or upholding sentences in which the error is not deemed to be reversible. This does not, of course, include either county court sentences reviewed by the circuit courts in their appellate capacity or sentencing errors addressed by the county or circuit courts pursuant to their authority under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedeure 3.800.

Proper administration of the laws is a condition precedent to achieving justice in the courts. A reversed sentence is, by definition, an unjust sentence. Every reversed sentence also is a hidden tax borne by the taxpayers, representing the additional state resources required to identify, litigate, and rectify the error. This is why it is important to get sentencing right the first time around.

1 comment:

David Moore said...

Just love it & really it is helpful

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