Court Discusses Illegal Sentences Under Florida Law

The state staunchly prosecutes violent crimes, and people convicted of such offenses are often sentenced to lengthy prison terms. There are statutory limits pertaining to sentences for violent crimes, however, and if a sentence imposed by a court exceeds the statutory guidelines, it may be illegal. Recently, a Florida court discussed what constitutes an illegal sentence in a case in which the defendant sought to correct a sentence imposed for aggravated assault. If you are charged with a violent crime, it is smart to consult a Sarasota criminal defense attorney to assess your options for pursuing a good outcome.

Procedural Background

Allegedly, the defendant was charged with manslaughter and aggravated assault. A jury convicted him following a trial, and the jury explicitly found that he discharged a gun when he committed the crimes. The trial court then issued a sentence of twenty years in prison for the aggravated assault count and thirty years for the manslaughter count, which were the statutory minimums. The court relied on the jury’s findings in issuing the sentences.

It is reported that the defendant then appealed, arguing that the sentence for his aggravated assault conviction was illegal. He also filed a motion arguing that because a firearm was an essential element of both crimes, his convictions were improperly reclassified, and therefore, his sentences exceeded the statutory limit.

Illegal Sentences Under Florida Law

The court upheld the defendant’s sentence on appeal. The court explained that a trial court can correct illegal sentences at any time, but such relief may only be granted when the records demonstrate a prima facie entitlement to such relief. Further, motions to correct illegal sentences may be resolved as a matter of law without the need for an evidentiary hearing.

The court noted that the Florida Supreme Court set forth a narrow definition for what constitutes an illegal sentence. Namely, it is one that imposes a penalty or punishment that no judge bound by the entire body of laws and sentencing statutes could impose under any set of facts. Illegal sentences include those that clearly fail to abide by constitutional or statutory limits.

In the subject action, the court stated that the defendant correctly asserted that aggravated assault was not subject to reclassification because a firearm was an essential element of aggravated assault. Reclassification was not the court’s basis for imposing the twenty-year sentence for aggravated assault, however. Rather, Florida Statutes obligate trial courts to impose mandatory minimums for firearm crimes. In other words, once the court learned that the defendant discharged a firearm, it was required to impose a twenty-year sentence. Thus, the sentence was not illegal, and the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Talk to a Dedicated Sarasota Criminal Defense Attorney

Convictions for violent crimes typically carry substantial penalties, but simply because a person has been charged with a crime does not mean that they will be found guilty. If you are accused of a violent offense, it is in your best interest to talk to an attorney as soon as possible. The dedicated Sarasota criminal defense lawyers of Hanlon Law can assess the circumstances surrounding your arrest and help you to seek the best legal result possible under the facts of your case. You can contact Hanlon Law via the online form or by calling 941-462-1789 to set up a conference.

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