Thursday, October 17, 2013


As Americans we often may lay claim to the notion that we want fairness in our criminal justice system. In truth what we want is consistent applications of our laws when applied to others but something less consistent when applied to us or the people we care about. Only when the ugly head of the law bites us do we fully understand that in the application of justice we really require some wiggle room. 

For Tampa Bay criminal defense lawyers justice should be fair except when a client faces a fair result which will also ruin his life, then what? Here are five effective arguments to leverage a judge's discretion to make sentencing findings running against the grain of harsh laws dictating excessive punishment while finding the best possible sentence.

First, look to the law's intended consequences to show that they are irrational when applied broadly. Even the best written laws should be narrowly construed so as not to ensnare those who may never have intended to do wrong at least in the broadest definition of the crime. 

Second, show that the law has unintended consequences that could result in unduly harsh sentencing results. Establish that the facts and circumstances of a case are unique outliers in the law's true intent.

Third, follow up the argument on the law's intended and unintended consequences by finding and presenting evidence of the legislative history of the law. In Florida the legislative history often includes information from committee hearings, debates, votes and amendments made during the legislative process. This evidence can establish that the law maker's intent was not to target the actions under consideration with significant punishment.

Fourth, establish that the harsh punishment for a broken law was not readily foreseeable by the average citizen. This is especially easy when the sentencing judge on the record expresses some surprise when told by the prosecutor where the Florida guideline scoresheet range of prison is for a defendant.

When Defendants were first being sentenced to the initial set of harsh minimum mandatory sentences for drugs some twenty years ago, the best judges were reluctant to sentence people to that much time. They looked for every possible avenue to avoid the law. As a prosecutor at the time I even observed a judge grant a new trial to force prosecutors and defense lawyers to come up with a non-minimum mandatory sentence. 

But as the sentences became more common habit displaced sympathy. With every additional minimum mandatory sentence issued, it became that much more difficult for judges to ignore the heft of the law for others in a misplaced notion that simple fairness dictated heartless sentences for everyone. No, simple fairness means that every judge best honors the law by finding the least possible punishment, despite sentencing guidelines, that provides deterrence and protects the public based on the facts of each case with the unique personal qualities of every defendant. 

And that leads to the the fifth argument which is to appeal to the sentencing judge's sense of wanting to do what is right, which is the most effective argument of all.

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