Many people suffer from the mistaken belief that first-time offenders cannot be sent to state prison for their crimes. While a first-time offender is more likely to receive probation or Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI), burglary of a dwelling, either occupied or unoccupied, is a second-degree felony that actually recommends a state prison sentence for even first-time offenders.
Most people consider burglary of a dwelling to be a non-violent property crime. However, Florida law considers burglary of a dwelling - again, occupied or unoccupied - to be a violent crime. In fact, if you are placed on probation for burglary of a dwelling and you violate, you will be considered a Violent Felony Offender of Special Concern (VFOSC). That is how serious our state legislature considers burglary of a dwelling to be.
First-time offenders for burglary of a structure or burglary of an unoccupied conveyance will probably not be sentenced to prison, but there is a strong likelihood that you will be sentenced to at least the 21 months that are recommended if you are found guilty.
Do not think for one minute that you cannot be sentenced to prison simply because you have no priors.
The Florida Criminal Punishment Code “scores” a burglary of a dwelling a Level 7 Offense. This means that without any prior criminal history, a first-time offender can expect a recommended sentence range of 21 months up to 15 years in state prison.
While the law in Florida is the same no matter which county you’re in, different counties are more likely to resolve cases below their guideline range. If you are charged with a burglary of a dwelling in Miami-Dade County, you are more likely to receive a plea “below guidelines” than if you are charged with the same offense in Broward County.
If you are arrested for burglary of a dwelling, it is important to remember that you have the right to remain silent and should not give a statement to police. Many times, burglary prosecutions are built on confessions. Without those confessions, many times there is no evidence linking the accused to the crime.
In the event there is physical evidence - video surveillance, fingerprints, DNA - a confession can make that type of case so strong that the State Attorney’s Office has no incentive to offer you a good deal.
As a former Miami-Dade prosecutor, I can tell you that one of the considerations prosecutors make when offering plea bargains is the strength of their evidence. Weak cases for the state result in better pleas for the accused. Strong cases for the state result in poor pleas, or no pleas at all.
Don’t let your friends tell you that you can’t go to prison for a first-time felony offense. Understand the seriousness of the situation if you are charged with burglary and contact a burglary lawyer.
Eric Matheny is a Miami burglary lawyer and Broward burglary lawyer representing clients charged with burglary in Miami-Dade County and Broward County.