Florida Court Discusses Determining if a Sentence is Illegal

In Florida, when sentencing a person convicted of a crime, the courts will rely on numerous factors when determining an appropriate penalty, including victim injury points. Thus, if a sentencing court improperly adds victim injury points, the resulting sentence may be illegal, and there may be grounds for vacating it, as demonstrated by a recent Florida opinion delivered in a sexual battery case. If you are charged with a crime of a sexual nature, it is important to understand your rights, and you should meet with a Tampa sex crime defense lawyer as soon as possible.

Facts and Procedure of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant filed a motion under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.800(a) to correct an allegedly illegal sentence. The defendant argued that his life sentences for two sexual battery offenses were illegal because victim injury points were improperly added. The offenses occurred in 1988, and under the law at that time, victim injury points could only be added once per victim per criminal episode.

Reportedly, the defendant contended that he received victim injury points for three offenses, but there were only at most two criminal episodes involving a single victim. Removing 40 penetration points for one sexual battery would reduce his permissible guidelines sentencing range from life to 40 years in prison. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion and he appealed.

Determining if a Sentence is Illegal

On appeal, the court agreed with the defendant’s argument and reversed the denial of his motion, remanding the case for resentencing. In doing so, the court rejected the State’s argument that the claim was procedurally barred, noting that the prior motion and appeal raised a different challenge regarding the scoresheet. Additionally, the court determined that collateral estoppel would not apply because failing to correct the illegal life sentences would be unjust.

The court noted that the State also argued that, pursuant to Florida precedent, an evidentiary hearing would be necessary to determine whether there were one or more criminal episodes. However, the court distinguished those cases and emphasized that sentencing errors dependent on the number of criminal episodes could be raised in a Rule 3.800(a) motion if the number of episodes could be discerned from the record itself.

In this case, the court found no genuine factual dispute regarding whether the offenses occurred in more than two episodes, as the victim’s trial testimony indicated at most two criminal episodes. Therefore, based on the record, the court concluded that the life sentences were indeed illegal, necessitating resentencing with a corrected scoresheet. The court advised the trial court to conduct prompt resentencing considering the possibility that the defendant might have already served more than the maximum permissible guidelines sentence with gain time.

Confer with an Experienced Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney

Sex crimes carry substantial penalties, but the punishments imposed by the courts are not always lawful, and in some instances, there may be grounds for overturning them. If you are charged with a sex offense, it is smart to contact an attorney about your potential defenses. The experienced Tampa sex crime defense lawyers of Hanlon Law can assess the facts of your case and set forth compelling arguments on your behalf. You can reach Hanlon Law by using the form online or by calling us at 813-228-7095 to set up a conference.

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