If you are charged with a felony offense in Florida, the Criminal Punishment Code requires that you be sentenced in accordance with a “score sheet.” Essentially, the score sheet contains the following information: 1) a criminal history of any criminal act, for which the Defendant has been convicted; 2) a list of the current charges pending against the defendant; and 3) any cases, for which Defendant was serving a term of probation or community control, that he or she is now accused of violating.
Understanding what goes on a score sheet is extremely important because it determines the minimum sentence that the defendant faces, and dictates whether the court MUST sentence him or her to prison time. If the Defendant’s total point value (when adding up the primary, secondary, and prior history sections) exceeds forty-four (44) points, then the Court MUST sentence the Defendant to prison, absent some viable reason for a downward departure. If the Defendant scores less than forty-four (44) points the court may sentence the Defendant to probation, community control, jail time, or some combination of all three.
This blog post is meant to serve as a practical guide to understanding, and interpreting the score sheet. It should be noted that probation violations and their impact on the score sheet will not be addressed in this post, but will be addressed in a Part Two of this blog. It should also be noted that this post will make more sense if you have a score sheet in front of you. The front page of a score sheet can be found by clicking: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-2hraEE9Jl0M/UNxhiIVrxoI/AAAAAAAAAEM/92FrBRxRgK4/s1600/cpc_manual+25A.png, and the last page of the score sheet can be found by clicking: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-0SrHJeFCeVQ/UNxhito3ZQI/AAAAAAAAAEU/jBPDiMbu-gU/s1600/cpc_manual+26A.png.
Now that you have your score sheet in front of you, lets get down to the basics:
Who does the score sheet apply to? As stated before, any person charged with a criminal felony offense in Florida must have a score sheet. Generally, the prosecutor on the case is charged with creating a score sheet and disclosing it in discovery. It is important to remember that misdemeanor offenses, when not charged in conjunction with a felony offense, are not governed by a score sheet; the sentence that the defendant will receive for a misdemeanor is completely within the discretion of the court, and the State Attorney.
How does the prior criminal history of my client play into the sheet? Every offense, including misdemeanor charges, have been assigned a “level” by the legislature. The level of the offense directly correlates with how “serious” the legislature believes the crime to be. The higher the level of the offense, the more “points” will be assessed to the Defendant. For example: all misdemeanor crimes are assigned “no level” and have a point value of “.2”. On the other hand, Aggravated Battery is a level seven, which receives a higher point value (dependent on the category of offense, discussed below). You can determine the point value of any offense in the criminal punishment code by clicking the link: http://www.dc.state.fl.us/pub/sen_cpcm/cpc_manual.pdf.
In order to complete the score sheet the prosecutor will need to list every offense for which the defendant has been “convicted”, the level of the offense, and the number of points connected to the offense on the score sheet. The prior criminal history goes under the section, which is labeled “prior record.” It is important to remember that “conviction” means a withhold of adjudication or an adjudication, and also includes cases for which the defendant has pled “no contest” rather than guilty. On the other hand, cases for which the Defendant was arrested, but was never convicted are NOT included on the score sheet.
How do you determine the “primary” offense? The “primary offense” is the pending charge against the Defendant with the highest level. No matter how many charges the Defendant has, only one can be listed as the primary offense. For example, if the Defendant was charged with three counts: burglary, possession of cocaine, and misdemeanor battery; the burglary would be the primary offense because it is a level seven (7). The possession of cocaine is a level (3), which is lower than seven, and the misdemeanor adds only .2, again lower than seven.
How do you determine the “secondary” offense? The “secondary offense(s)” is/are any offenses that are not the primary offense, and which are pending before the court. So in our first example above, Defendant is charged with Burglary, possession of cocaine, and a misdemeanor. We know the burglary is the primary offense, but what happens to the other two charges? These two remaining charges become the “secondary offense(s)”. It should be noted that if the defendant is charged with multiple counts of the same offense, for example three burglary charges you pick one and make it the primary, the remaining offenses are secondary (even though they are all the same offense level). The same concept applies where the Defendant is charged with multiple offenses, and two of the offense or more are the same level; for example possession of cocaine and felony DUI are both level three offenses – either can be the primary offense it doesn’t matter.
Why does it matter which offense is “primary” or “secondary”? It may seem immaterial which offense is primary, or secondary, or listed as a prior for that matter, but if you look at the score sheet itself, the primary, secondary, and prior offense categories assign a different point value to each offense level. For example, a level seven (7) offense, when listed as the “primary offense” scores fifty-six (56) points, when scored as a “secondary offense” it scores twenty-eight (28) points, and when scored as a prior it scores fourteen (14) points. You can see why it is important to assure that the correct offenses are listed in each category. In our example above with the burglary, cocaine, and misdemeanor the correct score (assuming that the Defendant has no priors) would be 58.6 points. This would equate to minimum sentence of 37.6 months in Florida State Prison [58.6 minus 28 multiplied by .75 as reflected on the second page of the score sheet]. If the score sheet was incorrectly calculated and the primary offense was listed as possession of cocaine (a level three offense) the total number of points would be 44.2 which would equal a minimum sentence of 12.15 months in Florida State Prison [44.2 minus 28 multiplied by .75 as reflected on the second page of the score sheet].
Practical Take Away: As an attorney you may have the urge to simply “trust” that the score sheet has been completed correctly. However, it is critical that you take time to scrutinize the offenses on the page, the level assigned to each, the point value subsequently added, and whether the offenses are in the correct category. Even a very minor mistake can be the difference between a discretionary sentence (meaning a score of less than forty-four (44)) or a prison sentence (meaning a score of more than forty-four (44)) for the client. Be diligent.