Florida Sentencing Guidelines

Sentencing Guidelines developed for use in all courts sentences in Florida have evolved overtime. Crime in Florida may be as old as the state itself, but not until recently, the judicial discretion in sentencing has enjoyed wide boundaries.

Eventually, sentences had to be harmonized at the very least for fairness reasons. Convicted individuals need not be left all but for the countenance of the judge or jury. Of course, the jury and judge needed wiggle room to give appropriate sentences in tandem to the gravity of crime committed. Nonetheless, the room had to be what is now preferably referred to as “structured.”

The historical date is October 1, 1983. Before then, the sentencing guidelines were unstructured, and after that date, they were structured.

Unstructured Sentencing Guidelines

As has been noted in the previous chapter, the Florida Sentencing Guidelines were once unstructured. Sentences varied substantially for similar crimes under comparable circumstances. The other facet to this was that sanctions had a wide range. A convicted individual could get a slap in the wrist, in the form of a fine; or could get state prison incarceration.

In the table below, we describe the maximum statutory penalties of incarceration a convicted individual could get.

Offense Prison time (years)
Felony of the Third Degree 5
Felony of the Second Degree 15
Felony of the First Degree 30
Life Felony Life in Prison


A major drawback with the unstructured sentencing policy was that even though some offenders were deemed by law to be parole eligible, Parole as a practical concept during sentencing was a “discretionary early release policy.” Simply put, this use of parole had a significant impact on the actual amount of time and the percentage served.

Structured Sentencing Guidelines

The new nature of the sentencing guidelines covers mainly non-capital felony offenders. Over the years, the structure has been modified repeatedly, with each newer version featuring improvements over the most recent version.

Chronologically, there have been three versions of the structured sentencing guidelines. The appellation of each of these versions take on the year they went into effect. They include:

  • The 1983 Sentencing Guidelines
  • The 1994 Sentencing Guidelines
  • The 1995 Sentencing Guidelines

Additionally, all of these guidelines shared specific qualities, which are enumerated below:

  1. Provide a framework of standards with the necessary uniformity to guide sentencing decisions in the courts
  2. Serve as a hub to take into account predisposing factors that influence sentencing such as the nature of the offense(s) and criminal history of the offender
  3. Eliminate the needless discrepancy in sentencing decisions, and propel the far fairer notion of “truth in sentencing”
  4. Ensure that sentences are in tandem, proportionate, or commensurate with the offenses for which a defendant stands trial
  5. Ensure that there is replicable consistency, evident with the arithmetical nature of the sentencing policy; such that the guidelines are effective in addressing several legal policy areas

The 1983 Sentencing Guidelines

The 1983 Florida Sentencing Guidelines were the very first of the Structured Sentencing Guidelines. They were sanctioned on October 1, 1983. Going ‘structured’ with the guidelines was the thankful consequence of deepening concerns regarding:

  • Percentage and actual prison time to be served by an offender
  • Lack of uniformity in the sentences received by defendants of comparable crimes

Active Period

Although, one could yet find the details of these guidelines, they are not effective as of today. They were in effect at a time though, specifically between October 1, 1983 and December 31, 1993.

Perhaps, the sharpest attribute of these guidelines besides that they were the first structured guidelines was that through its ‘active period,’ eligibility for parole was abolished for virtually all crimes.


In establishing the sentencing guidelines, groupings had to be actualized of offense types, degree of offenses, criminal history, and sentences. First off, all offenses were grouped into “offense categories.” These categories include drug offense, murder, sexual offenses etc.

The structure for the guidelines comprises nine different worksheets for the offense categories. Points were assigned within each worksheet based on the following factors:

  • Number of offenses
  • Felony degree of each offense
  • Legal status
  • Degree of injury to the victim

These points were tallied to obtain a total score that may fall into one of several sentencing cells or ranges, for each worksheet.


  • Minimum Sentencing Range: Non-state prison sanction
  • Maximum Sentencing Range: Prison time of 27 years to life in prison

If valid written reasons were provided, departures from the guidelines during sentencing were permissible.


The 1983 Florida Sentencing Guidelines were not perfect. In any case, several dints in the guidelines were noted to be worthy of improvement. Most of it, however, was traceable to perceived erosion of integrity of the “truth in sentencing” aspect of the guidelines. A succinct example is the epidemic of conducts involving cocaine, which eventually had an unanticipated weight on correctional resources. Another good example was the state’s population was rising, at a fast-paced scale.


Owing to the factors discussed in the last section and other factors, the actual time served and percentage of time served reduced, even though there was no comparable decline either in the number or severity of crimes committed.

Consequently, only 6 years into the introduction of the guidelines, by 1989 to be exact, the average percent of time served was 34 percent. Furthermore, citing these “kinks in the armor,” the next version of Structured Florida Sentencing Guidelines was developed and enacted.

The 1994 Sentencing Guidelines

The next installation of the guidelines, the 1994 Sentencing Guidelines, came into effect via the “Safe Streets Act.” The major differences between the 1994 and 1983 guidelines were:

  1. The recognition that prison resources are finite; and
  2. That the state incarceration should be pinged on defendants who had perpetrated serious or violent offenses, or had perpetrated offenses repeatedly

The major plus point of these guidelines, however, was that the grant of basic gain time was repealed.

Active Period

January 1, 1994 to September 30, 1995.


Comparatively, the structure of the 1994 guidelines was a radical departure from the structure of the 1983 guidelines. Features of the previous structure that were axed include the crime categories, nine different worksheets, and lack specific detail for each offense.

Rather, on the backdrop of the restructuring were:

  1. The use of offense severity levels, starting at Level One and maxing out at Level Ten
  2. The use of three elements in points scoring—primary offense, additional offense(s), and criminal history (prior record). In this regard, the following specifics were observed:
    1. The value of points increase with the severity of the offense level
    2. Emphasis of points are in the area of primary offense
  3. Incorporating the influence of other factors—using points—in sentencing, including but not limited to; legal status, victim injury, and supervision violations


Sentences under these guidelines revolved around the total number of points accumulated; with specific inferences on the type of penalty and the permissible range of length of sanction when imprisonment is applicable. The table below provides an overview of the total score in relation to the penalty stipulated:

Number of Points Penalty
≤40 Non-state Prison Sanction
41 to 52 Discretionary or Non-State Prison Sanction
>52 State Prison Sanction


Furthermore, prison time under these guidelines is determined by the simple arithmetic formula, “Total Point Score minus 28.” The guidelines also allowed for a narrow range of 25% in either direction (increase or decrease) for flexibility in sentencing.

The 1995 Sentencing Guidelines

The “Crime Control Act of 1995” heralded substantial amendments to the 1994 guidelines, thus birthing the 1995 sentencing guidelines.

Active Period

October 1, 1995 to September 30, 1998. Within this period, use of the guidelines was unconstitutional between October 1, 1995 and May 24, 1997, courtesy of the Heggs ruling.


Changes in structure were not “radical” per se. They were substantial though. The major amendment had to do with reevaluating the point values for a variety of areas. In addition, the possibility for higher penalties to be dispensed by the courts was also built into the guidelines via the creation of additional policy levers.

Furthermore, slight modifications to the guidelines occurred in 1996 and again in 1997. On both instances, the edited guidelines gravitated towards increased sanctions and sanction length in certain instances.

The Criminal Punishment Code

The current version of guidelines is referred to as the Criminal Punishment Code. It was enacted on the October 1, 1998; and forthwith became effective for offenses perpetrated on or after this date.

The Code is a hybrid of both structured and unstructured forms of sentencing, drawing the plus points of each form, while maintaining many of the goals of drafting sentencing guidelines.

However, in comparison with previous guidelines, the Code gifts the court greater upward discretion during sentencing. In plain terms, penalties could be stiffer, and mandatory prison thresholds were lower.


The structure of the code may be torn between two starkly different forms; however, to understand the progress made in sentencing via the Code, it is pertinent to discuss the important changes that were effected in the Code. Of peculiar interest are two notable changes.

The first is, as already mentioned, the significant expansion of the upward sentencing discretion permissible by the Code. The most recent version of the guidelines, the 1995 version, permitted upward discretion of up to 25 percent. Under the code, statutory maximums were established as the farthest the courts could go for any felony offense. The table below details these maximums.

Degree of Felony Prison Time (Maximum Years)
Third 5
Second 15
First 30
Life Life in Prison


This change was notable for two reasons:

  • It marked a major step in sentencing where all felony offenders could potentially serve time. By contrast, under the guidelines, this possibility did not exist for many such felony offenders.
  • Sentences could be longer which inevitably will increase the percentage and actual amount of time served—two metrics that had met sharp declines in the period during which the guidelines were effective

The second significant change is the revamp in the manner of ascertaining when a prison sentence becomes mandatory. The points system still found its way into the Code, as did the basic structure of determining the point score. However, the point thresholds for calculating sentences were revised downwards.

  • When the total point score adds to 44 or less, the lowest permissible sentence is a non-state prison sanction
  • When the total point score exceeds 44, the lowest permissible sentences is determined by first subtracting 28 from the total point score, in other words, using the exact same formula as the 1995 guidelines—“Total Point Score minus 28.” Secondly, this remaining value is reduced by 25% or one-fourth to get the end result value of prison time in months. Therefore, the lower threshold of sentences under the Code was 25% less than comparable sentences under the guidelines.

Conclusively, aside the 25% lower threshold under the Code, the minimum point score for receiving mandatory state prison incarceration is 44. By comparison, under the guidelines, the minimum was 52.

Responsibilities of the Department of Corrections

As regards the sentencing policy in the state of Florida, the Department of Corrections has a role, or more accurately, several roles to play. The department took on these roles starting with the 1994 version of the guidelines, and these roles have remained important with each subsequent version of guidelines, including the Criminal Punishment Code. These responsibilities include:

  1. To carry out development of the score sheet and any revisions of the score sheet. These drafts are sent to the Supreme Court for approval. After approval, the department must then supply the sentencing guideline and Code score sheets to the appropriate criminal justice entities in the state.
  2. Prepare score sheets. The department shares this responsibility with state attorneys. Accordingly, the department primarily prepares score sheets in 10 of the 20 judicial circuits of the state.
  3. By assisting the Criminal Justice Estimating Conference, estimate the correctional impact of proposed changes to the code
  4. Develop an annual report of:
    1. The rate of compliance of each judicial circuit in providing score sheets to the department,
    2. The trends in sentencing and an analysis of referenced trends, and afterwards send both reports to the legislature by October 1 of each year.

In 1994, the Department of Corrections developed the Sentencing Analysis and Guidelines Entry Systems (SAGES) Database. The database functions as:

  1. The storage point of completed score sheets
  2. Allow for more legible, accurate, and time efficient score sheet preparation

Fort Lauderdale Criminal Attorney

If you have been charged or believe you may be charged with a crime in the near future, contact Broward criminal lawyer, Kenneth Padowitz, for a free consultation. Our goal at Kenneth Padowitz, P.A. is to provide you with sophisticated representation no matter how complicated the criminal case may be.