criminal defense attorneys fight day in and day out for the rights of our clients. But magicians
we are not. Sometimes, clients come to us with cases where the proof of
guilt is strong. There may be ample amounts of physical evidence, eyewitnesses, even a
confession. While skilled criminal lawyers can file motions to suppress where the
law warrants such an attack on the State's evidence, sometimes, the
best thing to do is work toward the best possible plea resolution for a client.
A plea agreement, or plea bargain, is an agreement between the client,
the State Attorney's Office, and the Court, whereby the client pleads
"guilty" or "no contest" to the charge in exchange
for what's typically a lighter sentence than the maximum they could
receive if they were found guilty at trial.
Believe it or not, most cases are resolved by way of plea agreements. Plea
agreements may mean
instead of prison.
is a right of everyone charged with a crime, but trial also subjects the
accused to the statutory maximum penalty for their charge.
Plea agreements are formulated by prosecutors. Believe me, prosecutors
love pleas because it allows them to get rid of some of their cases. I
should know. I once worked for the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office.
But in Florida, every accused person is given a "score" by way
of a mathematical matrix designed by the legislature, and permitted by
the Florida Criminal Punishment Code. Each crime is assigned a numerical
value, and coupled with the defendant's prior offenses, comes out
to a score. If the score exceeds a certain number, the lowest offer (bottom
of the guidelines) is non-state prison (such as county jail, probation,
or credit for time served). If the score exceeds a certain number, then
that number is the lowest permissible prison sentence.
Scoresheets are only calculated for felony offenses, which are prosecuted
in our circuit courts.
, prosecuted in our county courts, do not involve the use of scoresheets.
You should know, however, that if you are charged with a felony but have
misdemeanor priors, those misdemeanor priors will count toward your overall score.
If you score state prison, the State Attorney's Office can go "below
guidelines" and make you a plea offer. For example, if you are charged
with burglary of an unoccupied dwelling but have no priors, the State
can make you a probationary plea offer with
to the victim and other conditions. Prosecutors are more likely to offer
a below-guidelines plea in Miami-Dade than in Broward. Personally speaking,
I find Miami-Dade to be a more reasonable jurisdiction than Broward.
However, there are some instances in which the prosecutor will not go below
guidelines. In this situation, I can file a motion with the Court, asking
the judge to depart downward from the bottom of the guidelines and impose
a sentence that is lower than what the State is offering.
Also, certain enhancements will prevent a judge from imposing a downward
departure sentence. If the accused is designated a
PRRP (prison releasee reoffender)
, the judge is not allowed to go below the guidelines.
However, if the accused is a habitual offender (H.O.), there is no mandatory
sentence (only increased maximums), so the judge can impose a downward
When I have a downward departure situation, I usually begin by having my
client evaluated for a mental health condition. Florida law permits a
downward departure when the accused suffers from a mental illness that
requires specific treatment. If the client is in jail, the doctor will
go and visit them. If the evaluation comes back showing that the client
suffers from a mental health disorder, I contact treatment centers throughout
Miami-Dade County and begin proposing an alternative sentence. This may include
probation with the condition that the client complete mental health treatment
or dual-diagnosis treatment (treatment for a mental health disorder and
As a criminal attorney with a practice that includes Miami and Broward
cases, I handle many downward departure situations. I have also been extremely
successful in getting clients excellent plea offers from the Court. In
some of these situations, the client was facing life in prison. While
I cannot publish specific case results on my website according to the
Florida Supreme Court, I will be happy to tell you about these cases if
you contact my office and speak with me personally.
if you want to discuss your case, or the case of a loved one.