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Sentencing Enhancements For Habitual Felony Offenders and Habitual Violent Offenders

Florida law provides for sentencing enhancements for offenders who have been designated as "career criminals."

A "career criminal" may be a Habitual Felony Offender (HO), Habitual Violent Offender, Violent Career Criminal (VCC), Three-Time Felony Offender, or Prison Releasee Reoffender (PRRP). An offender can have more than one designation.

I will address only the "HO" and "HVO" enhancements in this entry.

Florida law sets forth the criteria for a "career criminal" enhancement. Each category has different requirements, although many offenders can qualify for more than one enhancement. However, only one enhancement can apply. In other words, enhanced sentences or mandatory minimums cannot be "stacked," or imposed consecutively.

Here is how the scheme for enhanced "career criminal" sentencing works in the State of Florida with regard to Habitual Felony Offenders and Habitual Violent Offenders:

Habitual Felony Offender

Also known as an "HO," a Habitual Felony Offender faces no mandatory sentencing, only double the exposure of an ordinary offense. The judge is not mandated to impose any enhanced sentence, but may at his or her discretion. The judge also may make written findings that the offender does not need to be sentenced within their guideline range and make make a downward departure, effectively sentencing the offender below the bottom of their recommended guideline range.

For example, a third-degree felony normally carries a maximum of 5 years in prison. If designated an "HO," the offender faces 10 years in prison. That is true for all offenses. An "HO" enhancement increases the exposure on a second-degree felony from 15 to 30 years. For first-degree felonies, first-degree punishable by life (PBL) felonies, and life felonies, the maximum sentence that a judge may impose is life.

Again, the "HO" enhancement carries no mandatory minimum.

Habitual Violent Offender

The "HVO" enhancement carries mandatory sentencing. However, the "HVO" min-man is discretionary. The statutory language says that the judge "may impose an extended term of imprisonment." If an offender is designated an "HVO," they face a maximum of 10 years with a 5-year mandatory prison term for a third-degree felony, a maximum of 30 years with a 10-year mandatory prison terms for a second-degree felony, a maximum of life in prison with a 15-year mandatory prison term for a first-degree felony, first PBL, and life felony.

Most, if not all, State Attorneys' offices have "career criminal" units that handle only cases where enhanced sentencing applies. In other words, these cases are treated as the most serious offenses by prosecutors.