Evidence Issues in Florida Criminal Sentencing

If you are convicted of a Florida theft crime, the sentencing stage can have a huge impact on not only your future but also your family’s future. Probation and alternative sentences are often available in criminal cases. Even if you’re looking at prison time, it’s important to make the strongest possible case for the shortest possible stretch behind bars. Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals recently explained that there are limits on the evidence that judges can take into account when making a sentencing decision.

Prison CellsThe defendant was arrested, charged, and convicted of robbery and carjacking stemming from an incident in Tampa. He was allegedly involved in a variety of other incidents while being held in a local jail, awaiting trial. Following his conviction, the judge held a hearing to determine how he would be punished for the crime. Prosecutors asked the judge to send him to prison for 15 years. They called several correctional officers who worked at the jail where the defendant was being held to testify. Those officers told the court that the defendant was involved in at least two physical altercations at the facility and that they found papers in his cell indicating that he was affiliated with the Latin Kings, a well-known jail gang.

The prosecutors also presented a statement from the carjacking victim, who talked about how the crime had affected her life. The victim asked the judge to give the defendant the maximum sentence allowable under the law. The judge eventually sentenced him to 12 years behind bars. On appeal, however, the Second District said the trial court wrongly relied on evidence of his misdeeds in jail in imposing the penalty. It cited the state Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in Norvil v. State, in which the high court said a court can’t use a person’s subsequent crimes without convictions to support a sentence for earlier, unrelated crimes.

“Even though there is no indication that [the defendant] was arrested for or charged with the incidents at the jail, the reasoning in Norvil applies here,” the Second District said. “Indeed, prior to Norvil, this court held that incidents of misconduct occurring after the charged offense, some of which did not result in charges or arrests, were impermissible sentencing factors.”

Although the trial court didn’t explicitly say that it relied on the jailhouse evidence to set the defendant’s sentence, the court noted that much of the proof presented to the judge concerned his alleged bad behavior behind bars. “The record may reasonably be read to suggest that the sentence was based, at least in part, on the impermissible factors argued by the State,” the Second District said. As a result, it sent the case back to the trial judge for resentencing.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a theft crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced attorney. Tampa theft crime lawyer Will Hanlon is a seasoned attorney who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (813) 228-7095 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.

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