Felonies, punishable by more than a year in prison, are split into 4 degrees:
- First degree felonies punishable by up to five years or $5,000 in fines
- Second degree felonies punishable by up to 15 years and $10,000 in fines.
- Life felonies punishable by 40 years to life
- Capital felonies punishable by either life imprisonment or death. Capital punishments include only murder, sexual battery and capital drug trafficking.
A third class of crimes, common law crimes, including violations like contempt of court that are not specifically classified as felonies or misdemeanors in statute.
Felony sentences are determined by a combination of judicial discretion and a points system. The points system provides guidelines based on the type of crime committed and the circumstances surrounding the crime.
This process results in mandatory minimum sentences for many crimes. While judges can sometimes depart from these minimums, it is generally easier to order harsher punishments than more lenient ones, according to The Florida Bar Association.
The primary state agency that executes these laws is the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. FDLE is responsible for coordinating multijurisdictional investigations, conducting its own independent investigations, processing and analyzing forensic evidence and training and monitoring other law enforcement agencies.
For juvenile offenders, criminal cases are usually handled by the Department of Juvenile Justice, led by a governor appointed secretary. DJJ operates 21 detention centers and is responsible for a wide range of programs designed to redirect and rehabilitate delinquent youth.
Florida, however, allows prosecutors to decide whether to try most juveniles as adults, and the state now leads the nation in such cases, according to Human Rights Watch.
The country generally and Florida specifically has seen a steep drop in the past decade. FDLE estimates that from 1993 to 2013 both the rate and total number of crimes committed dropped by 55.8 and 37.4 percent, a decrease that was even more dramatic for violent crimes. Juvenile delinquency has also declined significantly and is at its lowest rate in 30 years.
This drop in crime coincided with a massive increase in incarceration caused by laws like Gov. Charlie Crist's "Truth In Sentencing" proposal, which mandates all offenders complete at least 85 percent of their sentence before they are eligible for release.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, however, rising incarceration accounted for 0 to 10 percent of the drop in crime, with factors like increased police presence, data driven enforcement techniques and social movements driving most of the change.
Many reform proposals have focused on reducing incarceration rates by expanding special court programs and introducing new sentencing guidelines.
In 2015, the Legislature passed SB 378, which gives police more authority to issue warnings to juveniles and encourages them to use civil citations instead of arrest and incarceration. Lawmakers also moved toward creating a regulatory system for police body cameras. That included passing several public record exemptions for body camera obtained recordings despite the misgivings of advocates like the ACLU, who said the exemptions undermined the accountability cameras were supposed to bring to police.