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Proposed Legislation Would Alter Mandatory Minimum Sentences
Florida has some of the harshest criminal sentencing laws in the United States. However, two bills currently before the Florida House of Representatives and Senate would both make significant reforms to those laws, allowing nonviolent and first-time offenders to “gain time” while bringing Florida law into line with other states’ norms. It is important to keep these potential changes in mind if you or a loved one is serving a sentence in Florida.
Strict Mandatory Minimums
Florida’s criminal sentencing penalties are very stiff, with several offenses carrying mandatory minimum sentences even for first-time offenders. Prior to 1983, the state sentenced offenders by allowing judges quite a bit of discretion, to weigh the evidence and determine the sentence that they felt was the most appropriate (whether prison time or another alternative). October 1, 1983 saw the passage of the Florida Sentencing Guidelines, which placed a structure on every offense. Along with this structure came mandatory minimum penalties for crimes that offend the public conscience, or other crimes deemed to warrant them.
As of this writing, Florida has what is called the Truth in Sentencing Law, which states that every offender convicted of a crime must serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before any kind of release can be contemplated. However, this effectively constitutes a mandatory minimum sentence even when none exists for a particular offense, which has caused Floridians to begin speaking out. The current House and Senate bills being debated would seek to make alterations to the state Sentencing Guidelines, which could allow many nonviolent and first-time offenders to be released earlier than planned.
Several Reasons To Change Sentencing Laws
The current legislation being advanced would retroactively lower the percentage that an inmate would have to serve (from 85 percent of their sentence down to 65 percent). This would let some nonviolent inmates be released early upon a showing of good behavior, which in turn would free up space in the overburdened Florida system. The change would also hopefully reduce recidivism (the chance to re-offend), particularly in those who have not committed violent crimes, as there is evidence to suggest that this does happen.
Despite all this, the prime reason being put forward for the change is monetary. Releasing more nonviolent offenders early saves the state’s Corrections Department significant amounts of money, which could then be reinvested in state prisons or public safety initiatives. In addition, it can affect individual people’s lives for the better – not only prisoners, but family members who will have more free time and discretionary income if they do not have to cover for the loss of another family member’s income. Time will tell as to the fate of the bills, but state lawmakers have already shown themselves receptive to the arguments used to create them.
Call A West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
Even if the “gain-time” bill is not passed, it is always a good idea to be aware of Florida’s sentencing laws and any changes to them. If you or a loved one is serving time and have questions about your case, contacting a West Palm Beach criminal lawyer may help to get them answered. Contact the firm of Perlet, Shiner, Melchiorre & Walsh, P.A. to speak to an attorney.