In Florida, when sentencing a person convicted of a crime, the courts will generally rely on statutory guidelines. The courts have the discretion to deviate from the guidelines, however, if the party seeking an upward or downward sentence demonstrates that a departure is warranted. In a recent opinion issued in a Florida case in which the defendant was convicted of multiple crimes following a deadly accident, the court discussed when a downward departure sentence is appropriate. If you are charged with manslaughter or any other crime following an accident, it is in your best interest to talk to a Sarasota criminal defense attorney about your rights.
Factual and Procedural History
It is reported that the defendant was charged with manslaughter and numerous other crimes after she was involved in a fatal car accident. A jury ultimately found her guilty of driving without a license causing serious bodily injury or death. She moved for a downward departure sentence, arguing that she was not the proximate cause of death as the other driver caused the accident. The trial court denied her motion, however, stating that it did not have the discretion to issue a downward departure sentence based on comparative liability for the injuries. Consequently, the defendant was sentenced to the minimum scoresheet of approximately 15 years in prison. She appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in concluding that it was prohibited from considering her comparative fault as a potential basis for a downward departure sentence.
Determining Whether a Downward Departure Sentence is Appropriate
The court explains that determining the appropriateness of a downward departure sentence involves a two-step process. First, the court must ascertain whether there is a valid legal ground for the departure, as set forth in a statute or case law, and supported by facts proven by a preponderance of the evidence. Second, if a valid legal ground exists, the court must determine whether the departure is the best sentencing option by evaluating the totality of the circumstances.