After a person is convicted of a crime in Florida, whether as a result of a guilty or no contest plea or a jury trial, it is up to the judge to determine the defendant’s sentence. Of course, if the criminal defense lawyer and the prosecutor work out a deal as part of a guilty or no contest plea, the judge still has to agree to accept the deal, but judges will normally go along with a deal worked out by the two sides. Minimum mandatory penalties for some crimes in Florida can limit a judge’s discretion in sentencing. However, if a defendant enters a plea without a deal with the state or a person is found guilty at a trial, the judge will usually be the one to decide the defendant’s sentence without any limitations.
The sentence in such cases is usually determined at a sentencing hearing. This is a hearing at which both sides can present witnesses, evidence and arguments to convince the judge to sentence the defendant as they see fit. The parties can present a wide variety of information in aggravation or in mitigation to convince the judge of their position. The judge is permitted to consider many different facts and opinions when determining a defendant’s sentence.
However, some facts are not appropriate for consideration at sentencing. It is not uncommon for a sentencing hearing to take place several weeks, or even months, after a defendant enters a guilty or no contest plea or loses a trial. Events that occur in between can be considered by the judge, for better or worse. Examples of positive developments in between a plea and sentencing might be that the defendant obtained a new job or started a rehabilitation program. On the other hand, if a defendant fails to appear at his/her sentencing hearing, that will almost always result in a higher sentence once the defendant is arrested on a warrant.
Obviously, an arrest is always bad, but a defendant getting arrested while awaiting a sentencing hearing is particularly bad. It can cause the state to move to revoke the defendant’s bond, and judges will often agree unless the new arrest is for a very minor charge. One thing the state cannot do is argue for a higher sentence based on the defendant’s new arrest. The judge is not permitted to consider a new arrest when determining an appropriate sentence for a defendant. The reason is obvious. As we all know, an arrest is not evidence of guilt. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. In other words, until a defendant enters a guilty or no contest plea or is found guilty at trial, that defendant is innocent of those new charges. Judges are not entitled to consider a charge, of which a defendant is constitutionally determined to be innocent until proven otherwise, to increase a person’s sentence in a different case. And the state is not permitted to make that argument. If the state does consider an arrest without a conviction, the defendant is entitled to a new sentencing hearing in front of a different judge. However, if the state moves quickly on the new case and obtains a conviction before sentencing on the prior case, the judge can consider the subsequent conviction and sentence the defendant accordingly.