Understanding Florida Criminal Sentence Enhancements for Prior Felony Offenders

Florida law imposes minimum mandatory sentences for certain serious or violent offenses. However, even someone who is convicted of a less serious offense may face severe penalties – if they had a prior conviction. Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney

In fact, the state legislature imposes several categories of sentencing enhancements for repeat offenders, which include:

  • Habitual felony offender
  • Habitual violent felony offender
  • Violent career criminal
  • Prison releasee reoffender

As our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys can explain, anyone previously convicted of a crime who now stands newly accused must take the potential consequences seriously. Investing in quality legal representation is an imperative when the stakes are so high for your freedom and future.

Habitual Felony Offender

Habitual felony offenders, as spelled out in F.S. 775.084(1)(A), are offenders who have been previously convicted of a combination of two or more felonies OR qualified offenses. These offenses include (but aren’t necessarily limited to) sexual battery, robbery, kidnapping, aggravated abuse or manslaughter of a child, elderly person, or disabled adult, armed burglary, aggravated battery or stalking, unlawful discharge of a bomb/destructive device, and manslaughter/murder. (Note that purchase or possession of a controlled substance doesn’t qualify.)

One can be considered a habitual felony offender if the current felony for which the person is about to be sentenced was committed either while the offender was in prison for a prior felony conviction OR within five years of the last prior felony conviction OR within five years of release from prison from a prior felony conviction.

In general, sentencing for someone who is a habitual felony offender is discretionary, but it can be significantly enhanced by this designation. For example, a third-degree felony in Florida is typically penalized by a maximum of five years in prison. However, for a person who is a habitual felony offender, it’s double that – 10 years. Maximum for a second-degree felony in Florida is 15 years. But if you’re a habitual felony offender, it’s again double – 30 years. If you commit a first-degree felony, it’s typically punishable by 30 years in prison. As a habitual felony offender, though, you’re now facing life in prison.

Habitual Violent Felony Offender

Per F.S. 775.084(1)(B), if they have been convicted of a violent felony – including attempt to commit and conspiracy to commit. This must be committed within five years of the previous date of conviction to be eligible.

In that case, the sentencing enhancements are even more significant than for habitual felony offenders. Not only can they receive 10 years for a third-degree felony (which typically carries a five-year sentence), but they aren’t eligible for release until five years – so it’s essentially a minimum mandatory 5-year sentence. For second-degree felony convictions, they face up to 30 years (of what is typically a 15-year-maximum penalty), with a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years. For a first-degree felony, there’s a 10-year minimum mandatory. If you commit a life felony conviction as a habitual violent felony offender, there is a 15-year minimum mandatory.

Violent Career Criminal

To be classified as a violent career criminal, as outlined in F.S. 775.084(1)(D), one must have adult convictions for three or more previous offenses such as:

  • Aggravated abuse of the elderly/disabled.
  • Aggravated child abuse.
  • Aggravated stalking.
  • Escape.
  • Felony use or possession of a firearm.
  • Forcible felony.
  • Lewd lascivious conduct.

To qualify, the felony for which one is about to be sentenced must be one of those offense, committed after 10/1/1995, and while serving for a conviction of one of the prior offenses OR within 5 years of one’s conviction of or release for said offense.

People labeled as violent career criminals face substantial sentencing enhancements. Those convicted of third-degree felonies – which normally carry a maximum penalty of five years – can face up to 15 years in prison, with a minimum mandatory of 10. If they’re convicted of a second-degree felony, which normally carries a 15-year maximum sentence, will instead face up to 40 years in prison, with a minimum mandatory of 30 years. If they’re convicted of a first-degree felony, typically punishable by a maximum of 30 years in prison, will receive life. Those convicted of life felonies will receive life in prison.

Prison Releasee Reoffender

The last of these draconian classifications is the prison releasee reoffender program.

In order to be classified under this umbrella, the court must find that the offense was committed either while imprisoned, while on escape status or within three years of one’s release from prison. The following attempted and/or committed offenses apply:

  • Aggravated assault or battery
  • Aggravated stalking
  • Aircraft piracy
  • Armed burglary
  • Arson
  • Burglary of occupied dwelling or structure
  • Carjacking
  • Home invasion robbery
  • Kidnapping
  • Robbery
  • Sexual battery
  • Murder/manslaughter
  • Treason
  • Throwing, placing, or discharging a bomb (or similar destructive device)
  • Any felony that involves the use or threat of physical force or violence

In this scenario, commission of a third-degree felony is punishable by a minimum mandatory five-year prison sentence (where five years would normally be the maximum allowable). For a second-degree felony conviction, the minimum mandatory is 15 years (again, typically the maximum allowable). Same with a first-degree felony conviction, which with this classification carries a 30-year minimum mandatory sentence, and life sentences. Conviction of life felonies will result in life served. This classification allows for no discretion from the judge.

Consult With a Skilled Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer

These are not cases you can leave to chance. If you are facing felony charges – and possible sentencing enhancements under these provisions – it is critical that you/your loved one immediately secure a strong criminal defense advocate. Do not presume that because you’re innocent or the evidence is exaggerated that “the truth will set you free.” More often than not, it’s a good lawyer who does that.

Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:

F.S. 775.084, Violent career criminals; habitual felony offenders and habitual violent felony offenders; three-time violent felony offenders; definitions; procedure; enhanced penalties or mandatory minimum prison terms, Florida Statutes

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