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Can Someone Be Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Florida?

By Hager & Schwartz, P.A.

January 10, 2022

In Florida, a person can be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. That means the individual must serve 100% of their court-imposed prison term in confinement. They have no opportunity to seek early release.

Two circumstances exist where a person may be sentenced to life without parole upon a conviction. The first is if the individual was convicted of a capital felony and a jury or the court decides to impose life without parole instead of the death penalty. The second is if the individual is considered a prison releasee reoffender.

At Hager & Schwartz, P.A., we recognize the serious consequences of a conviction. That is why we work hard to help our clients seek to avoid severe punishments. If you have been charged with an offense in Fort Lauderdale, contact us at (954) 840-8713.

Keep reading to learn more about the situations that can lead to a sentence of life without parole.

Life without Parole for Capital Felonies in Florida

As noted above, a defendant may be sentenced to life without parole if convicted of a capital felony. Capital felonies are considered the most severe offenses and include, but are not limited to, first-degree murder and sexual battery upon a person under 12 years of age.

In Florida, capital felonies can be penalized by either death or life without parole. If a person is convicted of this level of offense, the next step is to determine which punishment will be imposed. The court must hold a separate sentencing hearing where the defense and prosecution may present evidence supporting their arguments concerning whether the death penalty is warranted.

All evidence relevant to the matter may be admitted, even if it would normally be deemed inadmissible under the exclusionary rule. However, the defendant must have the opportunity to challenge hearsay statements, and no evidence can be presented if it violates the defendant’s constitutional rights.

During the sentencing hearing, the prosecution will argue that the defendant should be subject to more stringent penalties. The prosecutor may submit as evidence aggravating factors that speak to the nature of the offense and the defendant’s characters.

Aggravating factors include:

  • Any previous felony convictions for which the defendant was sentenced to prison, community control, or probation;
  • Any previous capital felony convictions or convictions for offenses involving the use or threat of violence against a person;
  • Whether the defendant put multiple people at risk of death;
  • Whether the defendant committed the capital felony while engaged in or attempting to commit any of the following:
    • Robbery,
    • Sexual battery,
    • Aggravated child abuse,
    • Abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult and great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement was caused,
    • Arson,
    • Burglary,
    • Kidnapping,
    • Aircraft piracy, or
    • Throwing, placing, or discharging a destructive device or bomb;
  • The defendant committed the capital felony to avoid or prevent arrest or escape custody;
  • The defendant committed the capital felony for money;
  • The defendant committed the capital felony to prevent government business or law enforcement;
  • The defendant engaged in especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel conduct;
  • The defendant committed premeditated and calculated murder with no moral or legal justification;
  • The defendant committed the capital felony against a law enforcement officer or elected or public official engaged in their official duties;
  • The defendant committed the capital felony against a person under 12 years of age or a vulnerable person;
  • The defendant was a criminal gang member;
  • The defendant was designated a sexual predator or previously had this designation but it had been removed;
  • The defendant was under an injunction when they committed the capital felony

If the prosecution is seeking the death penalty, they must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that at least one of the factors listed above was present.

While the prosecution is attempting to show what factors aggravated the offense for which the defendant was convicted, the defense will be arguing that mitigating circumstances were present. In other words, the defense will attempt to demonstrate that certain variables concerning the defendant’s history or the facts of the case warrant leniency in sentencing.

Mitigating circumstances that may be presented include, but are not limited to:

  • The defendant’s lack of a substantial criminal history;
  • The defendant was extremely mentally or emotionally disturbed when they committed the offense;
  • The victim participated in or consented to the offense;
  • The defendant was an accomplice to the capital felony and only had a minor role in its commission; and/or
  • The defendant’s age at the time of the offense

The jury or the court will weigh all the evidence presented to decide whether the death sentence or life without parole should be imposed. When a jury determines the sentence, the jurors must unanimously decide whether at least one aggravating factor was present and that the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating circumstances.

Life Without Parole for Prison Releasee Reoffenders

The second way a person may be sentenced to life without parole in Florida is if they are designated a prison releasee reoffender. To receive this designation, the defendant must have committed or attempted to commit a specified felony within 3 years of being released from prison for an offense punishable by more than 1 year of imprisonment.

Specified felonies include the following:

  • Treason
  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Sexual battery
  • Carjacking
  • Home-invasion robbery
  • Robbery
  • Arson
  • Kidnapping
  • Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon
  • Aggravated battery
  • Aggravated stalking
  • Aircraft piracy
  • Throwing, placing, or discharging a destructive device or bomb
  • Using or threatening violence against another person (felony level)
  • Armed burglary
  • Burglary of a dwelling or occupied structure
  • Felony violation of any of the following:
    • Weapons offense
    • Lewd or lascivious offenses committed upon or in the presence of a person under 16 years of age
    • Abuse, aggravated abuse, or neglect of a child
    • Sexual performance by a child
    • Computer pornography or traveling to meet a minor

When the State pursues life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a prison releasee reoffender, the prosecution must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the designation is warranted.

If the State meets its burden, the defendant must be sentenced to life imprisonment. They are not eligible for any form of early release, including parole.

Speak with a Criminal Defense Attorney About Your Case

Although life without parole is an option in Florida, it is not certain that someone accused of an offense carrying this term will receive this sentence. It may be possible to challenge the accusations and seek to have charges dropped or reduced, allowing the defendant to avoid this severe penalty.

Pursuing a favorable outcome requires developing an aggressive defense. A criminal attorney familiar with the law is instrumental in crafting an appropriate legal strategy. They can ensure that their client’s rights are protected, address any injustices, and present compelling arguments in and out of court.

For the legal representation you need in Fort Lauderdale, call Hager & Schwartz, P.A. (954) 840-8713 or submit an online contact form today.