Tampa Felony Lawyer

Tampa Felony Lawyer | Helping You Find a Way Out of Deep Water

Lawyer for Tampa Felony Charges

If you are facing felony charges in Florida, it is imperative that you speak with an experienced Tampa felony lawyer as soon as possible. Navigating the complexities of Florida’s criminal justice system without a skilled criminal attorney can be daunting and overwhelming. The government spares no effort in prosecuting felony cases, deploying its most skilled and seasoned prosecutors from the State Attorney’s Office to ensure convictions. For these reasons, having a dedicated advocate in your corner is not just an advantage; it’s a necessity. As a Tampa felony lawyer with over a decade of experience, attorney William B. Wynne understands the seriousness and complexity of felony charges.

In Florida, a felony is legally defined as a “criminal offense that is punishable under the laws of this state, or that would be punishable if committed in this state, by death or imprisonment in a state penitentiary,” for a period exceeding one year. § 775.08(1), Fla. Stat. (2022). Felonies are divided into different categories: Capital Felonies, Life Felonies, and First, Second, and Third-Degree Felonies. Id. Each category carries a range of potential prison sentences and financial penalties. For example, a First-Degree Felony can result in up to 30 years in prison, while a Capital Felony can lead to a life sentence or even the death penalty. Financial penalties for felonies vary significantly, ranging from $5,000 to $15,000, and can exceed these amounts depending on the type and severity of the felony.

Examples of Felonies:

  • Aggravated Assault
  • Aggravated Battery
  • Burglary and Robbery
  • Dealing in Stolen Property
  • Child Abuse
  • Drug Possession
  • Felony Battery
  • Grand Theft
  • Homicide
  • Kidnapping
  • Sex Crimes
  • Statutory Rape

Why You Need a Tampa Felony Attorney

Former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once insightfully noted, “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” His reflection emphasizes that the practice of law is grounded in real-world applications and seasoned understanding, rather than purely theoretical or logical reasoning. This highlights the essential role of experience in navigating the legal system effectively.

An attorney’s approach to your case involves more than just understanding statutes and legal theories. While lawyers are trained to analyze legal cases dispassionately and strategically, their expertise extends beyond scholarly analysis to include practical courtroom experience and the application of strategies effective with judges and juries. Moreover, a skilled attorney focuses not only on the present legal issues but also on strategically planning for potential long-term consequences, thereby protecting your future. This forward-thinking approach is crucial in criminal law, where a conviction can have lasting harmful impacts on your ability to obtain employment, secure housing, exercise civil rights, obtain professional licenses, and more.

Holmes’ reflection highlights the necessity of seasoned legal representation. A experienced Tampa Felony lawyer brings a comprehensive understanding of both the theoretical and practical aspects of law—qualities that can significantly improve your chances of achieving a more favorable outcome.

Felonies vs. Misdemeanors

Under Florida law, misdemeanors and felonies have distinct legal processes, penalties, and long-term consequences. Considered less severe than felonies, misdemeanors are punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of one year. § 775.082(4), Fla. Stat. (2022). Misdemeanors are divided into first and second-degree categories and typically include offenses like petty theft, simple assault, and driving with a suspended license.

In contrast, criminal offenses that are punishable by more than a year in prison are classified as felonies. Felonies carry much steeper penalties, including life imprisonment or even the death penalty for the most serious offenses. Felony offenses also come with considerably higher fines, longer terms of probation, and long-term consequences, potentially impacting your ability to secure employment, find suitable housing, own or possess firearms, and more. Examples of felonies include murder, sexual battery, and drug trafficking.

In Florida, felony cases fall under the specialized jurisdiction of the Circuit Courts. § 26.012(2)(d), Fla. Stat. (2022). In contrast, County Courts generally address less severe criminal offenses like misdemeanors, certain civil matters, and local ordinance violations. Florida Circuit Courts—established by Article V, section 5 of the Florida Constitution—are the highest state trial courts in Florida and serve as the primary venues for felony offenses. This distinction is codified in Chapter 26 of the Florida Statutes and Rule 2.020 of the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration.

Florida Felony Classifications

As previously mentioned, felonies are categorized into five distinct classifications. Below are the different types of felony classifications in Florida, along with examples and the penalties one might face upon conviction:

  • Capital Felony: This is the most serious classification and is punishable by death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Crimes that fall under this category include first-degree murder, armed kidnapping, and high treason.
  • Life Felony: This classification is punishable by life imprisonment without the possibility of parole and a fine of up to $15,000. Examples of life felonies include murder, rape, and human trafficking.
  • First-Degree Felony: In Florida, a first-degree felony can result in a prison sentence of up to 30 years and, in certain instances, life imprisonment. Crimes such as aggravated child abuse are classified as first-degree felonies.
  • Second-Degree Felony: Punishable by up to 15 years in prison, second-degree felonies include crimes such as aggravated battery and unlawful sexual activity with certain minors, commonly known as statutory rape.
  • Third-Degree Felony: A third-degree felony is punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Examples include grand theft, possession of a controlled substance, and resisting arrest with violence.

While Florida’s felony classifications provide a general framework for the severity of the crime and its associated penalties, they are not the sole determinants of a defendant’s sentence. The Criminal Punishment Code adds another layer of complexity by considering various factors such as prior convictions, the use of a weapon, and the severity of harm to the victim. Furthermore, the individual circumstances of the case can significantly influence the final sentence. Therefore, despite these categories, the outcome can vary considerably based on a myriad of factors.

Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code

To ensure consistent and fair sentencing, the Florida Criminal Punishment Code (CPC) was introduced by the Supreme Court in the early 1980s. Prompted by federal guidelines and nationwide sentencing reforms, the CPC aimed to standardize sentencing and eliminate discrepancies caused by judicial discretion. Prior to its introduction, Florida relied on a parole-based system marked by significant variability, which led to public and judicial concerns over inconsistent sentencing outcomes.

History of Florida’s Sentencing Policy

In an effort to resolve the long-standing issues of inconsistent sentencing and to create a more standardized approach, Florida introduced its first Sentencing Guidelines in 1983. In re Rules of Criminal Procedure, 439 So.2d 848 (Fla. 1983). This early version featured nine different worksheets tailored for specific categories of offenses, including murder, sexual crimes, and drug-related offenses. The system utilized a points-based evaluation, factoring in the severity of the current offense, prior criminal record, and other pertinent issues such as victim injury. Although well-intentioned, these 1983 guidelines were eventually met with criticism due to several factors. The advent of the “crack” cocaine epidemic and other unforeseen social developments strained correctional resources, leading to a reduction in time served by offenders. By 1989, it was observed that the average percent of time served had plummeted to 34%, eroding public trust in the judicial system and creating an urgent need for reform.

Moving into the 1990s, the “Safe Streets Act” heralded the arrival of the 1994 Florida Sentencing Guidelines. See Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.702. Unlike its predecessor, this framework opted for a more consolidated approach, categorizing non-capital felonies into ten levels of offense severity, each carrying a specific point value. These points would then escalate based on the gravity of the crime, additional offenses, and criminal history. This new structure allowed for more nuanced judicial discretion, particularly when the total score ranged between 40 and 52 points, offering judges a choice between state and non-state prison sanctions. While the 1994 guidelines were a significant improvement, they still bore the weight of some structural inefficiencies, leading to further revisions.

In 1995, the Crime Control Act further refined Florida’s sentencing landscape. The structure from the 1994 guidelines was largely retained, but the point values were recalibrated to offer harsher sanctions for more severe or repetitive offenses. However, these 1995 guidelines faced legal challenges. Specifically, the Florida Supreme Court deemed the 1995 guidelines unconstitutional, citing a violation of the separation of powers doctrine. Heggs v. State, 718 So. 2d 263 (Fla. 2nd DCA 1998). As a result, these guidelines were considered invalid for offenses committed between October 1, 1995, and May 24, 1997, but remained in effect for offenses occurring between May 25, 1997, and September 30, 1998.

Today’s Criminal Punishment Code

The Criminal Punishment Code (CPC), effective for offenses committed on or after October 1, 1998, succeeded the repealed sentencing guidelines. While retaining some elements of structured sentencing, the CPC introduced several significant changes that deviated from its predecessors, affecting the exercise of judicial discretion and the calculation of penalties.

One of the most notable shifts is the expanded scope for upward discretion in sentencing. Under the earlier guidelines, judges were limited to exceeding the calculated state prison months by only 25%. In contrast, the CPC defers to statutory maximums outlined in section 775.082, Florida Statutes, for each felony degree. This change has two major implications. First, it increases the possibility of prison sentences for all felony offenders, even those who might have been exempt under the previous guidelines. Second, it allows for much longer sentences than were permitted under the earlier frameworks.

Another critical change is the recalibration of sentencing point thresholds that dictate when a prison sentence becomes mandatory. Under the CPC, if the total points are 44 or less, the lowest permissible sentence can include a non-prison sentence, though state prison up to the statutory maximum can be imposed. However, if the total points exceed 44, a formula determines the minimum state prison sentence. This represents a shift from the prior guidelines, where the threshold for mandatory incarceration was 52 points.

Although the CPC aims to provide more latitude for judicial discretion while also introducing harsher penalties, it hasn’t been without controversy. Critics point out that the expansive upward discretion and mandatory prison thresholds may not account for the unique circumstances of each case, echoing concerns that have been persistent throughout Florida’s history of sentencing reform.

Calculating Sentences Under the CPC

Operating under the CPC framework, each felony offense is assigned a numerical value determined through a ranking system established by the Florida Legislature. This numerical value, along with other relevant factors, contributes to a cumulative score. If a defendant’s cumulative score falls below 44 points, a judge retains discretion over whether to impose a prison sentence, although the possibility of such a sentence remains.

For a clearer understanding of this procedure, think of the CPC as a computer or calculator. It takes in numerous inputs—such as the gravity of the offense, the defendant’s record, and the seriousness of injury to the victim—processes these factors, and then provides an output: the defendant’s minimum prison sentence, in months, if they are convicted or found guilty. This minimum sentence, referred to as the ‘lowest permissible prison sentence’ under the CPC, serves as a metaphorical floor, below which the judge cannot go.

Consider the following scenario involving a defendant named John Doe, who has been charged with felony battery. The defendant’s Criminal Punishment Scoresheet is completed in accordance with the Scoresheet Preparation Manual, and it is determined that Mr. Doe’s lowest permissible prison sentence is 18.5 months in the Department of Corrections. In other words, if Mr. Doe is found guilty (or otherwise convicted), either by a plea to the court or after trial, the court must sentence him to at least 18.5 months in prison, absent a downward departure. However, it’s important to note that this minimum is just the starting point, as the court also has the authority to impose a sentence up to the statutory maximum for the offense. Felony battery is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. This means that while Mr. Doe’s lowest permissible sentence is 18.5 months, the court has the discretion to sentence him to up to five years in prison.

A Tampa Felony Attorney Can Help

An experienced Tampa felony lawyer can meticulously review a defendant’s calculated CPC sentence for potential errors or inaccuracies, and even advocate for a downward departure when appropriate.

Sentencing Enhancements for Repeat Offenders

To provide harsher punishments for repeat offenders, the Florida Legislature created specific sentencing designations targeting those who repeatedly engage in criminal activities. Section 775.084, Florida Statutes, identifies three classes of offenders subject to enhanced penalties: Habitual Felony Offenders (HFO), Habitual Violent Felony Offenders (HVFO), and Violent Career Criminals. Section 775.082(9)(a) identifies a fourth such designation known as a Prison Releasee Reoffender (PRR). These sentencing enhancements are discussed in further detail below.

Habitual Felony Offenders

Under section 775.084(1)(a), Florida Statutes, before determining that a defendant qualifies as a Habitual Felony Offender (HFO), the court must find that the following apply:

  1. The defendant has previously been convicted of any combination of two or more felonies.
  2. The offense triggering the HFO classification was committed while the defendant was serving a prison or probation sentence for a felony offense, OR within five years of a prior conviction for a felony offense, OR within five years of the defendant’s release from a prison or probation sentence for a felony.
  3. The felony triggering the HFO classification, and at least one of the two prior convictions do not involve controlled substance-related offenses under section 893.13, Florida Statutes.

Under the HFO designation, a defendant’s maximum sentence is substantially increased. For example, a third-degree felony with a five-year maximum under normal circumstances becomes 10 years, second-degree felonies with a 15-year maximum become 30 years, and first-degree felonies with a 30-year maximum can result in life imprisonment.

Habitual Violent Felony Offenders

Pursuant to section 775.084(1)(b), a defendant can be classified as a Habitual Violent Felony Offender (HVFO) if the following requirements are met:

  1. The defendant has a previous felony conviction, and at least one of the defendant’s prior convictions was for a specified offense. Specified offenses are outlined in section 775.084(1)(b)1., and include aggravated assault, arson, murder, robbery, among others.
  2. The current felony triggering HVFO status was committed while the defendant was serving a prison or probation sentence for a prior conviction of an enumerated offense, OR within five years of a conviction for a prior enumerated offense, or within five years of being released from any form of supervision based on a conviction for an enumerated offense.

The HVFO designation substantially increases an offender’s maximum sentence and also adds mandatory minimum sentences. For third-degree felonies, the maximum sentence increases to 10 years, with no eligibility for release until five years have been served. For second-degree felonies, the maximum sentence increases to 30 years in prison, with no eligibility for release until 10 years have been served. For first-degree felonies, the maximum sentence increases to life in prison, with no eligibility for release until 15 years have been served. Finally, for life felony convictions, the offender is not eligible for release until 15 years have been served.

Violent Career Criminals

To be classified as a Violent Career Criminal (VCC) under section 775.084(1)(d), the following requirements must be met:

  1. The defendant has three or more prior convictions for an enumerated offense, including aggravated child abuse, escape, forcible felonies, and others. See section 775.084(1)(d)1, for the full list.
  2. The defendant has previously served time in prison.
  3. The felony offense triggering the VCC status is on one of the enumerated offenses and was committed while the defendant was serving a prison or probation sentence for a prior conviction of an enumerated offense OR within five years of a conviction for a prior enumerated offense, or within five years of being released from any form of supervision based on a conviction for an enumerated offense.

The VCC designation increases a defendant’s potential maximum sentence, and adds harsh minimum mandatory sentences. For third-degree felonies, the maximum sentence increases to 15 years in prison with a 10 year minimum mandatory sentence. For second-degree felonies. the maximum sentence increases to 40 years in prison with a 30 year minimum mandatory sentence. For life felonies and first-degree felonies, the sentence is life in prison.

Prison Releasee Reoffenders

Under section 775.082(9)(a), a defendant can be classified as a Prison Releasee Reoffender (PRR) if the court finds that any of the following apply:

  1. The defendant committed an enumerated offense while serving time in prison for a felony offense.
  2. The defendant committed an enumerated offense while on escape status from prison for a felony offense.
  3. The defendant committed an enumerated offense within three years of being released from prison for a felony offense.

The PRR classification leaves little room for judicial discretion and imposes harsh mandatory sentences. For third-degree felonies, the mandatory minimum sentence is five years, which is also the maximum penalty for typical third-degree felonies. For second-degree felonies, the mandatory minimum sentence is 15 years, which exceeds the typical maximum penalty for second-degree felonies. For first-degree felonies, the mandatory minimum sentence is 30 years, and for life felonies, the mandatory minimum sentence is life imprisonment.

Tampa Felony Lawyer: The Consequences of Conviction

In addition to the possibility of imprisonment and fines, a felony conviction in Florida carries a host of other devastating consequences:

  • Inability to Rent an Apartment: Many landlords conduct background checks and may be hesitant to rent to someone with a felony conviction.
  • Ineligibility for Federal or State Financial Aid: This can severely impact your educational opportunities.
  • Inability to Find and/or Hold Employment: Many employers conduct background checks and may be unwilling to hire someone with a felony on their record.
  • Loss of Civil Rights: This includes the right to vote and the right to own a firearm.
  • Ineligibility to Obtain State Licenses: This could affect your ability to work in certain professions.
  • Ineligibility to Hold Public Office: Your options for civic participation are restricted.

Make no mistake—being convicted of a felony will severely limit your employment opportunities, your ability to secure suitable housing, and your freedoms in many other aspects of life, including travel and securing loans. This also means a loss of civil rights like voting and owning firearms.

If you’re facing such dire circumstances, it is imperative to seek the assistance of an experienced Tampa felony lawyer. Not only can proper legal representation help you navigate the complicated legal system, but a skilled attorney can also significantly affect the outcome of your case. Should your attorney successfully avoid a conviction—and provided you have no prior convictions—you can then discuss the possibility of sealing or expunging your felony criminal record. Don’t let a felony charge define your future. Contact a Tampa felony lawyer today to discuss your options.

Frequently Asked Questions

Navigating felony charges can be an intensely challenging and complex process, especially if you don’t have a Tampa felony lawyer on your side. Below we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions pertaining to felony charges along with their corresponding answers.

What is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?

n Florida, the key difference between misdemeanors and felonies primarily lies in the severity of the punishment. Misdemeanor offenses are punishable by not more than one year of incarceration. In contrast, felonies are more serious offenses with penalties that exceed one year of incarceration. The most severe felonies can result in life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

What are the different classifications of felonies?

Florida categorizes felonies into five classes: Capital Felonies, Life Felonies, First-Degree Felonies, Second-Degree Felonies, and Third-Degree Felonies, each with varying degrees of severity and associated penalties.

How are felony sentences calculated in Florida?

In Florida, felony sentences are calculated using the Criminal Punishment Code (CPC), a scoring system that assigns points based on several factors like crime severity, prior convictions, and the nature of the offense. These points determine a minimum prison sentence. Although the CPC provides a guideline for sentencing, judges have the discretion to impose a sentence below this minimum—known as a “downward departure,” provided certain statutory requirements are met.

Can a felony conviction affect my civil rights?

Yes, a felony conviction can lead to the loss of several civil rights, including the right to vote, own firearms, hold public office, and serve on a jury. These rights can sometimes be restored through a clemency process, although success in this endeavor is not guaranteed.

What are sentencing enhancements?

Florida law provides enhanced sentencing for certain categories of repeat offenders, including habitual felony offenders, habitual violent felony offenders, violent career criminals, and prison releasee reoffenders. These sentencing enhancements significantly increase penalties based on the number and severity of prior offenses, as well as the context and timing of those offenses.

What should I do if I am charged with a felony?

If charged with a felony, it’s important to seek legal representation immediately. An experienced Tampa felony lawyer can provide guidance, help navigate the legal system, and work to secure the best possible outcome in your case.

What are the long-term consequences of a felony conviction?

Beyond prison time and fines, a felony conviction can affect your ability to secure employment, housing, and financial aid. It can also lead to the loss of professional licenses and significantly impact your social and family life.

Are there any alternatives to prison for felony convictions?

Depending on the specifics of the case and the defendant’s criminal history, alternatives such as probation, house arrest, or participation in rehabilitation programs might be available. These alternatives are generally at the discretion of the court.

Contact a Tampa Felony Lawyer Today

Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney William B. Wynne represents clients in all criminal matters, including felony cases. Consultations are free of charge, and we offer payment plans to those who qualify. Call today to speak with a Tampa felony lawyer! (813) 532-5057.