A downward departure sentence allows a judge to impose a sentence that is less than what Florida law requires in some circumstances. There are no automatic criteria that guarantee you a downward departure. Instead, you must convince a judge that you deserve a lighter sentence.
How Sentencing Works in Florida
Anyone convicted of a felony in Florida will be sentenced according to the Florida Criminal Punishment Code (CPC). The CPC uses a scoring system that considers the crime and other factors and gives the judge a number. If the number exceeds the prison threshold, the person convicted of the crime faces a mandatory prison sentence. The judge must sentence the person to prison unless the judge implements a downward departure sentence.
Qualifying for a Downward Departure Sentence in Florida
Your Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer will advise you about whether you may qualify for a downward departure sentence. According to Florida Statute 921.0026, you may qualify for a downward departure if there are mitigating circumstances. Mitigating circumstances include, but are not limited to:
- The downward departure was part of a fair and legitimate plea bargain.
- You were an accomplice to the crime, and your role was as a relatively minor participant.
- Your ability to appreciate the criminal nature of your conduct was substantially impaired for reasons other than drugs or alcohol.
- You require specialized treatment for a mental disorder unrelated to substance abuse or addiction or for a physical disability, and you are willing to get treatment.
- The court finds that the need for you to pay restitution to the victim outweighs the need for you to serve prison time.
- The victim initiated, willingly participated in, or provoked the incident that led to the criminal charges against you.
- You were under extreme duress at the time of the alleged crime.
- You were under the domination of someone else at the time of the alleged crime.
- The victim received substantial compensation before you were identified as the defendant.
- You cooperated with the state to resolve this case or any other criminal offense.
- The crime was an isolated incident conducted in an unsophisticated way, and you have shown remorse.
- You were too young to understand the consequences of the crime when you committed it.
- You are being sentenced as a youthful offender.
- The crime was a nonviolent felony, your CPC score was below the point threshold (60 points in 2023), the court determines that you are agreeable to the services of a post-adjudicatory treatment-based drug court program, and you are otherwise qualified to participate in that program as part of your sentence.
- You made a good-faith effort to get or provide medical assistance for someone suffering from a drug-related overdose.
- Another compelling reason that convinces a judge you deserve a downward departure
If you believe that you qualify for a downward departure, you will need to present evidence of your mitigating factor(s) in court and convince the judge that the downward departure is the most appropriate sentence for you.
The judge has discretion about granting a downward departure unless the court finds that you have issues with substance abuse or were intoxicated at the time of the alleged crime. In those cases, the judge has no legal authority to grant a downward departure sentence.
How to Get a Downward Departure Sentence in Your Florida Case
A downward departure is not guaranteed. However, you can maximize your chances of reducing your sentence by:
- Accepting responsibility for the crime
- Paying extraordinary restitution
- Presenting convincing evidence to the court
- Hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer
Most judges require your criminal defense lawyer to file a written motion with the court if you request a downward departure. This motion should be comprehensive, presenting detailed arguments based on relevant facts, citing legal grounds for the downward departure, and including references to appropriate case law.
Together, these steps may help convince the court to reduce your criminal sentence.