The Florida Three Strikes Law

Florida Career Criminal Sentencing

Will the Prosecutor Seek a Sentence Enhancement?

As of July 1, 1999 Florida has imposed tough new laws requiring that so called “career criminals” serve mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment. Perhaps the statute that has received the most attention is the “three-time violent felony offender” law, referred to as Florida Three Strikes Law, which requires a judge to impose terms ranging from five years to life in state prison depending upon the severity of the crime.

In order for the accused to be exposed to the mandatory minimum penalties under the new law, the State must show that the accused meets five separate criteria.

  1. The accused has been convicted of a violent felony twice before. For purposes of the statute, even a withhold of adjudication counts as a conviction.
  2. Each conviction took place on a separate occasion, including the third offense for which the defendant is presently being sentenced.
  3. The present offense is a violent felony (i.e., arson, sexual battery, robbery, kidnapping, murder, etc.).
  4. The present offense was committed while serving any sentence imposed as a result of being convicted of another violent felony or within five years of being convicted of a violent felony, or within five years of finishing a sentence imposed for a violent felony.
  5. The accused has not been pardoned for a prior violent felony conviction or had a prior violent felony conviction overturned on appeal or other post conviction proceeding.

Once these criteria are satisfied a judge is obligated to impose the minimum mandatory term of imprisonment specified by law. If the third conviction is for a life felony, the court must hand down a term of life imprisonment. A third conviction for a first degree felony mandates a thirty year prison term; a second degree felony results in a fifteen year sentence; a third degree felony results in five years. It is important to note, that although the court must impose a sentence at least as long as that specified by the law, the judge is still given discretion to impose a longer sentence if the law allows it.

Other “Career Criminal” Laws

Families Against Mandatory Minimums

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) was founded as a response to the harsh and often unreasonable sentences imposed by the mandatory minimum sentences.  Members of this organization include attorneys, judges, criminal justice experts, and the families of those who have been incarcerated under a minimum mandatory law.

FAMM seeks to bring proportionality, flexibility, and individual consideration of circumstances back into the courtroom when a judge imposes sentence.  FAMM promotes a repeal of minimum mandatory sentences due to the high-cost of minimum mandatory sentencing laws and works to return sentencing power to judges instead of prosecutors.

If you wish to become involved with FAMM, visit their website at or call 202-822-6700 to reach FAMM’s national office in Washington, D.C.

The “three-time violent felony offender” law is not the only minimum mandatory law based on the “three strikes and you’re out” philosophy. Presently on the books are laws that remove sentencing discretion from the judge when a person is shown to be a “violent career criminal,” a “prison releasee reoffender,” or a “repeat sexual batterer”. For the most part, the state must make a showing similar to the showing required by the “three-time violent offender” law. Depending on the designation, however, the requirements vary as to the number of prior offenses necessary, the prior felonies committed, and the length of time after release before the present offense was committed. As with the “three-time violent felony offender,” possible minimum mandatory sentences range from a low of five years in state prison all the way up to a life term, depending on the seriousness of the instant offense and the offender designation given by the state.
There are also two offender designations that are discretionary; that is, the court may choose whether to impose a sentence in accordance with the reoffender statute or impose a sentence from the traditional Criminal Punishment Code. The first of these is the “habitual offender statute.” Although the criteria for classifying an individual as a “habitual offender” is similar to the other “career criminal” laws, the judge has discretion as to whether an individual should be sentenced as a “habitual offender” (with terms ranging from a maximum of 10 years to life in state prison) or as a traditional offender. Similar in design is the “habitual violent offender” classification, which allows the judge sentencing discretion even after the state proves that the necessary criteria in the statute have been met. Therefore, the judge may decline to sentence a qualified habitual violent offender as such and can refuse to impose the minimum mandatory penalties set out in the law. With both of these designations, the court must make a finding that the minimum mandatory penalties are not necessary to protect the public before declining to impose the mandatory sentence.


As you can probably tell, the Florida Legislature as removed a good deal of a judge’s discretion when it comes to dealing with repeat felony offenders. In many cases, once a conviction is secured, a criminal defendant faces extremely long minimum terms of incarceration with no hope of mercy or reprieve. Since these laws have only been in effect for a short time, it is impossible to tell what effect, if any, the new statutes have had on crime rates or the state prison population. However, one thing is clear: for repeat felony offenders, the days of having the punishment tailored to fit the crime are over.

If you are facing a felony charge that carries a “three strikes” career criminal sentencing enhancement, call our office for a free consultation at (727) 578-0303