Florida Criminal Sentencing Law

Sentencing Overview

A sentencing hearing is conducted after a person enters a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, or is found guilty at trial.

In Florida, a criminal sentence consists of two parts: a written judgment regarding the person's guilt and a sentencing order outlining the penalties the person will have to serve.

However, the terms and conditions that a judge will impose at a sentencing hearing will depend on whether:

  1. A Negotiated Plea was entered;
  2. An Open Plea was entered (meaning no sentencing agreement was reached); or
  3. A Guilty Verdict was returned.

Additionally, if the sentencing is for a first time felony offense, a judge will order a comprehensive background evaluation known as a Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI).

Negotiated Plea

If a plea was entered pursuant to an agreed upon resolution, then sentencing is straightforward and the judge will impose the agreed upon sentence. As a result, it will be unnecessary to present any character evidence or mitigation during the hearing.

If portions of the agreed upon resolution are objectionable to the judge, then the sentencing will be stopped and the parties will either adjust the terms to satisfy the judge or agree to any additional terms the judge would require before accepting the plea.

Open Plea

An open plea means that there has been no agreed upon sentence reached with the prosecutor. As a result the judge will be given the responsibility of determining an appropriate sentence.

Open pleas are usually utilized in two situations:

  1. The prosecutor will not make an offer; or
  2. The defense attorney believes a judge will impose a more reasonable sentence than what the prosecutor is offering.

Importantly, when an open plea is entered, a judge can impose any sentence, so long as it falls between the minimum and maximum penalties authorized by law.

Guilty Verdict

If you are found guilty by a jury, it will be necessary to present witnesses to testify to your character and to what type of sentence would be appropriate. If you are convicted of a felony offense, and it is your first offense, a judge will order a Pre-Sentence investigation.

It is at the sentencing hearing where mitigation and character evidence will be presented to the judge and an appropriate sentence will be requested.

Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI)

If a first time offender enters an open plea or is found guilty at trial for a felony offense, a judge will postpone sentencing and order what is called a Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI). The purposes of the PSI is for a Probation Officer to investigate your background and make an individualized sentencing recommendation to the judge.

The PSI is a comprehensive background check conducted by a Florida Department of Corrections probation officer. The officer will question you, your family, friends, witnesses in the case, and your attorney in order to prepare the PSI.

The PSI includes the cause and circumstances of the crime, prior criminal history, if any, character references, and background about family, education, employment and health. The PSI will also include information about future goals and career plans of the defendant.

Florida Sentencing Options

At a sentencing hearings, a judge can impose any combination of the following sentencing penalties:


Although they are generally reserved for misdemeanor and drug crimes, a judge can always impose a fine as part of any sentence.


Judges often consider probation sufficient to punish an individual and protect society; especially for first time, non-violent offenders.

A person placed on probation must report at least once a month to a probation officer who will supervise them to make sure that fines are paid, restitution is paid, community service is performed, and special conditions are completed.

Probation is a privilege -- not a right. If placed on probation, a probationer must abide by the following general requirements in addition to any special conditions:

  • Report regularly to a probation officer;
  • Notify probation before changing residences, employment, or traveling out of the county; and
  • Lead a law-abiding life and not committing any other crimes.

Community Control

Community Control, also known as House Arrest, is similar to probation except it is more intense and requires a greater amount of supervision on the part of the Probation Officer. Many times people call community control house arrest. This is not completely accurate but it helps to illustrate the greater degree of supervision required in a community control sentence.


By its very definition, any crime is as an offense that is punishable by the possibility of incarceration. If a person is found guilty, pled to the bench, or violated probation, the judge will always have the ability to sentence the person to jail, limited only by the maximum penalty set by law for the underlying offense.

Violation of Probation

If you violate any of these probation conditions, or any special conditions required by the judge, the judge may sentence you to prison.

If the violation of probation is a crime committed by you while on probation, the judge can revoke your probation without waiting until you are convicted of the new charge. A probation violation hearing will be held by the judge without a jury.

Contact Criminal Defense Lawyer Richard Hornsby

If you have been arrested or charged with a crime in Central Florida or the Greater Orlando area, please contact Criminal Defense Lawyer today.

The initial consultation is free and I am always available to advise you on the proper course of action that can be taken.