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August 25, 2011

Split Florida Supreme Court finds fundamental due process error with sentencing judge's "round-up" policy

The Florida Supreme Court has a notable little sentencing ruling today in Cromartie v. Florida, No. SC09-1868 (Fla. Aug 25, 2011) (available here), that perhaps math majors should enjoy even more than others: the case concerns a sentencing judge's policy to round-up a suggested prison term to a whole number based on the applicable state guideline score.  In this case, the defendant ultimately "scored" a sentence of 6.16 years under the applicable guidelines, but the sentence judge gave him 7 years in prison based on her "round-up" policy.

A majority of the Florida Supreme Court found troublesome this approach to sentencing, and here is the key concluding paragraph from the per curiam majority opinion:

Here, the sentence imposed was within the legal guidelines — it was above the minimum required by the scoresheet and below the statutory maximum, but the trial judge’s stated policy "improperly extended" Cromartie’s incarceration in an arbitrary manner.  Because we find that this policy of "rounding up" violated Cromartie’s right to due process, we quash the decision below and remand with directions that the trial court be directed to enter a sentence at the bottom of the guidelines and consistent with the reasoning we have expressed herein.

Two Justices dissented, and the Chief Justice expressed the disagreement on these terms:

Because I conclude that the comments of the sentencing judge which are at issue here do not constitute fundamental error, I dissent.  The minor impact of the sentencing judge’s "rounding-up" methodology on Cromartie’s sentence does not rise to the level of error "that affects the determination of the length of the sentence such that the interests of justice will not be served if the error remains uncorrected."  Maddox v. State, 760 So. 2d 89, 100 (Fla. 2000).

We have warned that the fundamental error doctrine applies only rarely, Harrell v. State, 894 So. 2d 935, 941 (Fla. 2005) — that is, "where a jurisdictional error appears or where the interests of justice present a compelling demand for its application." Smith v. State, 521 So. 2d 106, 108 (Fla. 1988).  The error asserted here is not of this magnitude. Although I do not agree with the First District’s characterization of the asserted error here as "a denial of due process," I agree with the First District’s decision to affirm the sentence.  Cromartie v. State, 16 So. 3d 882, 883 (Fla. 1st DCA 2009).

August 25, 2011 at 05:32 PM | Permalink


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Isn't there a US Supreme Court majority opinion that says something to the effect of one day of unlawfully imposed incarceration is too much?

Posted by: c | Aug 26, 2011 10:21:36 AM

Sure, but here they agree that the sentence is within the lawful range. If the judge were to have come to the sentence based on something about the defendant it would have been fine, but here her policy is simply to round up the calculated range without any such consideration.

Just like Aprendi is concerned with what the statutory maximum is, not with what policy recommends as an actual sentence. A judge is still free to go above a recommended sentence so long as it is below the statutory maximum without falling afoul of Aprendi.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Aug 26, 2011 10:52:26 AM

true soronel but they are also required to have a somewhat ligitimate reason related to THAT defendant other than ...I pulled the number out of my ass!" which is what this nut is doing!

Posted by: rodsmith | Aug 26, 2011 5:02:17 PM

of course it might be interesting to pull ALL her cases and see if she every goes DOWN when she's doing her roudning. if she is in fact using math.... that should also happen. Which of course it hasn't or it would have made the news when the DA's started SCREAMING!

Posted by: rodsmith | Aug 26, 2011 5:03:34 PM

of course i realy doubt it concerning her numbers!

"a sentence of 6.16 years under the applicable guidelines"

since in match ANYTHING under 6.50 would have been rounded DOWN TO 6.0 not up to 7.0

if she's gonna use math the use it RIGHT!

Posted by: rodsmith | Aug 26, 2011 5:05:20 PM

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