In Florida, as in other states, criminal defendants may be able to reduce their sentence if there are mitigating factors surrounding the case at issue.
Many defendants mistakenly believe that mitigating factors should only be a consideration later on in the litigation process, and only once their bargaining position has been weakened to the point that a conviction is hanging over their head like a guillotine. This is, however, a poor strategy. Skilled criminal defense attorneys understand how to take advantage of every opportunity to minimize the risk of liability for their clients and to paint their client in a more favorable light.
Understanding and affirming the mitigating factors early on can give a significant advantage in negotiations with prosecutors. Even if prosecutors believe that they have a solid case against you, they could possibly be convinced to withdraw the charge if you can show that the mitigating factors would reduce the sentence significantly enough. Alternatively, they might offer a favorable plea deal.
Let’s take a quick look at Florida criminal sentencing and mitigating factors.
Mandatory Minimums and Judicial Discretion
In Florida, judges have significant discretion to depart from sentence recommendations, but this discretion (except to increase the sentence) will no longer apply if there is a mandatory minimum sentence. Mandatory minimum sentences apply to certain severe crimes, such as felony drug, firearm, and sex offenses.
If you’ve been charged with a crime that has a mandatory minimum sentence, however, all is not lost. If you can successfully have those charges dismissed, or negotiate a downgrade of the charge with prosecutors, then the judge may use their discretion to consider mitigating circumstances.
Section 921.0026 of the Florida Statutes describes a non-exhaustive list of mitigating circumstances that can reduce your sentence and possibly lead to the imposition of probation rather than a term of imprisonment. These mitigating circumstances include, but are not limited, to the following:
- Defendant negotiated a plea bargain with prosecutors.
- Defendant was only an accomplice.
- Defendant lacked the capacity to fully understand the criminal nature of the conduct.
- Defendant has a mental disorder that requires specialized treatment and is willing to undergo treatment.
- Restitution to the victim is more important than a prison sentence.
- The victim of the crime provoked the defendant, was an aggressor/initiator, or was a willing participant.
- Defendant was under duress or was otherwise coerced by another person.
- Defendant cooperated with the government throughout the process.
- Defendant is a youthful offender.
- And more
These mitigating factors can not only lead to a downward departure from sentencing recommendations but can only help you during the trial itself — jurors tend to be more willing to accept a defendant’s innocence when certain mitigating factors are present.
If you’ve been accused of or charged with a criminal offense in the state of Florida, then you could be exposed to significant penalties that include a term of imprisonment. Given the high stakes involved, it’s important that you seek the assistance of a qualified criminal defense attorney who can advocate on your behalf and secure a favorable resolution (under the circumstances).
Do not delay. The sooner you can begin to work with an attorney, the better prepared you will be for the litigation process.