Florida’s Youthful Offender Sentencing System

Florida law allows a person who is under the age of 21 and commits certain crimes to be sentenced as a “youthful offender,” eligible for a reduced prison sentence and/or supervised release. To be eligible for youthful offender status, you must be convicted of a noncapital crime that doesn’t carry the possibility of a life sentence. If you are treated as a youthful offender, the maximum sentence that you can serve is six years in prison. Still, as a recent case out of the Fourth District Court of Appeal shows, a youthful offender who is given the opportunity to complete probation instead of prison time can still be thrown behind bars following a Florida burglary offense or another serious crime if he or she doesn’t live up to his or her end of the deal.

Legal News GavelThe defendant was under 21 when he was arrested, charged, and later convicted of burglary of a dwelling. He was sentenced as a youthful offender and originally ordered to serve probation. The defendant violated the terms of that probation multiple times, however, including by being caught using drugs. In a hearing in which a judge considered revoking his probation, he allegedly told the judge that he had previously perjured himself on instruction from an attorney in order to get a better sentence.

The judge eventually sentenced the defendant to 15 years in prison, the maximum sentence for the crime. He said that the defendant “showed a flagrant disregard for the law” by violating the terms of probation and lying in court. “All I see is an individual who is willing to say and do and manipulate anything in order to get his own way,” the judge said. “And that once he does get his own way, he doesn’t follow through on his commitments.” As a result, the judge found that the defendant was a “violent felony offender of special concern posing a danger to the community.”

The Fourth District affirmed the decision on appeal, finding that the judge did not abuse his discretion by giving the defendant the maximum sentence. The court explained that judges have a lot of leeway in considering the “very broad” factors they are expected to weigh when deciding whether to revoke probation. Those factors include the nature and circumstances of the violation and any new criminal charges, the person’s “present conduct,” the weight of the evidence against the person, and whether the person has shown that he or she is amenable to punishment other than incarceration.

In this case, the court said the judge was justified in finding that the defendant should be imprisoned. The court noted, however, that he should have been sentenced as a youthful offender, since the original probation sentence was based on youthful offender status. That meant that he could be sentenced to a maximum of six years behind bars.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced defense lawyer. Clearwater burglary defense attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.

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