Crimes in Florida and around the country are prosecuted as either misdemeanors or felonies. Misdemeanors are relatively minor crimes that carry a maximum custodial sentence of 12 months. Felonies are more serious offenses and are punishable by more than a year behind bars. When deciding whether an alleged offender should face misdemeanor or felony charges, prosecutors consider their actions and motivation as well as the crime they are accused of committing. Snatching a purse would normally lead to a misdemeanor charge in Florida, but an offender could face a felony count for committing this crime if they brandished a firearm or selected their victim based on their race or religion.
Felony charges in Florida
The Florida criminal code classifies felonies into five categories and sets maximum penalties for each of them. Offenses like stealing a car and smuggling contraband into a jail are third-degree felonies in Florida that are punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. More serious offenses like burgling a home or leaving the scene of a fatal accident are prosecuted as felonies in the second degree and carry a maximum custodial sentence of up to 15 years, and offenders who are convicted of committing first-degree felonies like carjacking or drug trafficking can be sent to prison for up to 30 years.
Life and capital felonies
The most serious crimes in Florida are punishable by either life imprisonment or death. These punishments are reserved for offenders who intentionally take the lives of others or kill one or more people during the commission of a crime. This means that less serious offenses like burglary or robbery can become capital crimes when victims lose their lives.
The totality of the circumstances
Some people commit crimes because their circumstances denied them options that most people take for granted. Not all people who commit felonies deserve to spend decades in prison, which is why prosecutors should consider all aspects of a criminal case including mitigating factors when they determine the appropriate charges.