Understanding the Sunshine State’s
Criminal Justice System

Florida’s Criminal Justice system is responsible for providing public safety by deterring and preventing crime, punishing offenders, and reintroducing those who have served their time back into the community. The criminal justice system is based on the body of laws that define crimes and offenses, and specify what punishments are appropriate for those crimes.

There are two types of crimes that are defined by Florida State law: felonies, misdemeanors.

  • Felonies are usually the most serious crime. An individual that is convicted of a felony may face jail time, though that time may be spent in either a county jail, or a state prison. Felonies cover crimes that are considered both serious, and/or violent. Commonly known felonies include murder, robbery, rape, burglary of a residence, and assault. Felony punishments vary in harshness depending on the nature of the crime, discretion of the court, and the offender’s criminal history. In Florida, felonies are divided into 5 categories.

    Capital Felony - punishment includes life sentences or death. This is usually associated with murder, armed kidnapping, and capital drug trafficking.

    Life Felony - punishable by life imprisonment and fines up to $15,000. This is usually associated with accomplice to murder, kidnapping, and sexual battery.

    Felony of the first degree - punishable by up to 30 years in prison and fines up to $10,000. Commonly associated with aggravated battery, to a law enforcement officer, rape, and burglary.

    Felony of the second degree - is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. This is normally associated with serious child abuse, possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell, and sexual battery.

    Felony of the third degree - punishable by up to 5 years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines. This is usually associated with cocaine possession, violently resisting arrest, and a third time DUI offense.

  • A misdemeanor is typically a less serious crime, and common punishments include probation, county jail time, fines, or a combination of all three. Common misdemeanors include assault, theft, and public drunkenness. In Florida, there are both first and second degree misdemeanors.

    First Degree Misdemeanor - punishable by up to one year in jail, 12 months of probation, and up to a $1,000 fine. Common first degree misdemeanors are cruelty to animals, possession of drugs, and battery.

    Second Degree Misdemeanor - punishable by up to 60 days in jail, six months of probation, and up to $500 in fines. These misdemeanors are usually associated with drunk and disorderly, trespassing, and driving with a suspended license.

In 1986, British citizen Krishna Maharaj was convicted of the double homicide of Duane and Derrick Moo Young.
In 1986, British citizen Krishna Maharaj was convicted of the double homicide of Duane and Derrick Moo Young. New evidence has connected the killings with infamous cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar.
New Capitol Building in Tallahassee

The New Capitol Building in Tallahassee stands behind the Old Capitol Building.

By DXR - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50283634

 

Florida’s criminal justice system is comprised of a Supreme Court, five district courts of appeal, 20 circuit courts, and 67 county courts. They had more types of court than any state with the exception of New York until 1973, when a reform movement reduced the courts to a simple two tier system. Most jury trials in Florida take place before a single judge in a circuit court, which are sometimes called Courts of General Jurisdiction, since most criminal and civil court cases begin at that level.

 

The highest court in Florida, the Supreme Court serves as the highest appellate court in Florida.

  • It was first established in 1845 after it’s introduction into the United States. Originally, justices held court in the historic Old Capitol Building in Tallahassee, but moved to the New Capitol Building in 1970. Since its first case in 1846 - Stewart v. Preston - the court has followed common law, and published it’s opinions for the public to review. Today, the court is located at 500 S Duval St in Tallahassee.

  • The Supreme Court of Florida consists of six court justices and one Chief Justice. Five members are selected from five districts throughout the state. Each justice serves for six years, and are appointed by the Governor of Florida. The Chief Justice is instead elected by members of the Court, and serve two-year terms. At least five justices must be attending court in order to carry out official functions, and at least four justices must agree on decisions made by the court.

  • The Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Florida, as stated in Article V of the Florida Constitution, establishes mandatory jurisdiction for certain types of cases. Cases in lower courts in which the death penalty is a factor are reviewed to make sure the law is upheld appropriately. Decisions a District Court of Appeals declaring an invalid status or constitutional provision are also reviewed. Finally, The Florida Constitution permits the Florida Legislature to provide for mandatory jurisdiction for final judgements involving validation of bonds or certificates of indebtedness, and for review of action of statewide agencies relating to rates of utilities like electric, gas and telecom services.

2013, George Zimmerman was put on trial for the murder of 17-year-old Treyvon Martin.
In 2013, George Zimmerman was put on trial for the murder of 17-year-old Treyvon Martin. The case sparked national interested and protests over the shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

 

Florida’s court system has been reformed a number of times, but the most influential was in the 1980s. Violent crime had been on the rise since the 1970s, and in response, harsher sentences were implemented. Yet instead of curbing crime, this instead led to an overpopulation in jails, leading to federal courts granting an injunction that required Florida to stymie the prison overcrowding problem. Yet by the time of the 1980s, Florida’s prisons were still overflowing, resulting in tents and other shelters being erected on prison grounds to hold the excess prisoners.

Several solutions were attempted to solve this problem, including reducing the time prisoners had to serve of their sentence, with some seeing only 20 to 37 percent of their sentence before being released. This unfortunately rendered the sentencing structure ineffective, as most would receive their sentence only to have it reduced while in prison.

In 1987, prison expansion began, but crime reached an all time high due to the early releases. Yet in 1988, with bed capacity nearly doubled, early release was replaced with conditional releases.

Viewing this trend, and the results of the decision that were made, Florida’s lawmakers reevaluated the incarceration of prisoners. Incarceration is a serious commitment on taxpayers, and due to these factors, Florida has opted more recently to reserve the harshest sentences for repeat and violent offenders only. The criminal justice system is also instituting more robust juvenile rehabilitation programs in an effort to keep them out of jail.

Florida has also taken further steps to improve public safety and crime prevention. For example, sexual offenders are more likely to pose a continuing threat even after incarceration. This led to the development of the Florida sex offender registry. Florida is also one of the first states to institute a law permitting the carrying of concealed weapons for the purpose of self defense.

The state continues to improve it’s prison incarceration problem, and improve its public safety and crime prevention services. Below is a table of crime from 1970 to 2016. For more information about an offender in your area, visit a records accumulation and amalgamation website to learn more.

Year Population Index Violent Property Murder Forcible
Rape
Robbery Aggravated
assault
Burglary Larceny-
Theft
Vehicle
Theft
1971 7,041,000 399,439 38,575 360,864 933 1,708 13,422 22,512 118,175 215,037 27,652
1972 7,259,000 390,306 40,252 350,054 924 1,920 13,745 23,663 116,516 206,962 26,576
1973 7,678,000 457,631 46,419 411,212 1,180 2,447 17,069 25,723 142,597 234,073 34,542
1974 8,090,000 597,636 54,821 542,815 1,191 2,910 22,263 28,457 185,042 318,708 39,065
1975 8,357,000 645,263 57,540 587,723 1,130 2,986 20,031 33,393 196,358 354,374 36,991
1976 8,421,000 590,880 54,597 536,283 903 3,055 15,695 34,944 164,609 343,069 28,605
1977 8,452,000 569,546 58,052 511,494 859 3,348 15,885 37,960 157,195 324,601 29,698
1978 8,594,000 607,552 65,792 541,760 949 3,960 17,701 43,182 170,061 338,299 33,400
1979 8,860,000 681,162 73,881 607,281 1,084 4,576 22,097 46,124 190,884 378,099 38,298

 

Year Population Index Violent Property Murder Forcible
Rape
Robbery Aggravated
assault
Burglary Larceny-
Theft
Vehicle
Theft
1980 9,567,112 803,825 94,095 709,730 1,387 5,439 34,015 53,254 239,825 424,223 45,682
1981 10,166,000 816,579 98,109 718,470 1,522 5,707 35,473 55,407 241,536 431,222 45,712
1982 10,416,000 777,577 93,411 684,166 1,409 5,587 31,002 55,413 211,932 427,462 44,772
1983 10,680,000 724,226 88,292 635,934 1,199 5,170 28,126 53,797 191,902 400,796 43,236
1984 10,976,000 748,699 95,270 653,429 1,264 5,570 30,311 58,125 198,446 408,153 46,830
1985 11,366,000 860,889 106,971 753,918 1,296 6,004 35,506 64,165 228,402 465,792 59,724
1986 11,675,000 960,664 121,013 839,651 1,371 6,152 42,822 70,668 259,331 510,496 69,824
1987 12,023,000 1,022,335 123,168 899,167 1,371 6,032 42,869 72,896 271,346 546,466 81,355
1988 12,377,000 1,106,212 138,343 967,869 1,416 6,154 49,916 80,857 283,960 589,215 94,694
1989 12,671,000 1,115,617 140,575 975,042 1,405 6,299 51,188 81,683 289,254 583,702 102,086

 

Year Population Index Violent Property Murder Forcible
Rape
Robbery Aggravated
assault
Burglary Larceny-
Theft
Vehicle
Theft
1990 12,937,926 1,139,934 160,990 978,944 1,379 6,781 53,928 98,902 280,832 591,210 106,902
1991 13,277,000 1,134,813 157,243 977,570 1,248 6,865 53,083 96,047 266,313 607,222 104,035
1992 13,488,000 1,127,360 162,827 964,533 1,208 7,310 49,482 104,827 254,755 598,093 111,685
1993 13,679,000 1,142,338 164,975 977,363 1,224 7,359 48,913 107,479 251,063 603,784 122,516
1994 13,953,000 1,151,121 160,016 991,105 1,165 7,301 45,871 105,679 237,341 626,578 127,186
1995 14,166,000 1,090,999 151,711 939,288 1,037 6,887 42,485 101,302 215,657 612,311 111,320
1996 14,400,000 1,079,623 151,350 928,273 1,077 7,508 41,643 101,122 219,056 605,448 103,769
1997 14,654,000 1,065,609 149,996 915,613 1,012 7,599 40,459 100,926 213,926 594,492 107,195
1998 14,916,000 1,027,123 140,016 887,107 967 7,404 36,198 95,447 203,105 579,752 104,250
1999 15,111,244 937,718 129,044 808,674 859 6,990 31,969 89,226 181,378 534,105 93,191

 

Year Population Index Violent Property Murder Forcible
Rape
Robbery Aggravated
assault
Burglary Larceny-
Theft
Vehicle
Theft
2000 15,982,378 910,154 129,777 780,377 903 7,057 31,809 90,008 172,898 518,298 89,181
2001 16,373,330 913,230 130,713 782,517 874 6,641 32,867 90,331 176,052 516,548 89,917
2002 16,691,701 905,957 128,721 777,236 911 6,753 32,581 88,476 177,242 511,478 88,516
2003 16,999,181 881,976 124,280 757,696 924 6,727 31,523 85,106 170,644 505,489 81,563
2004 17,385,430 850,895 123,754 727,141 946 6,612 29,997 86,199 166,332 482,484 78,325
2005 17,768,191 838,965 125,957 712,998 883 6,592 30,141 88,341 164,783 472,912 75,303
2006 18,089,888 849,879 128,795 721,084 1,129 6,475 34,147 87,044 170,873 473,774 76,437
2007 18,251,243 878,227 131,880 746,347 1,201 6,151 38,162 86,366 181,833 490,858 73,656
2008 18,423,878 885,166 126,260 758,906 1,169 5,972 36,269 82,850 188,475 506,914 63,517
2009 18,537,969 825,551 113,541 712,010 1,017 5,501 30,911 76,112 181,884 479,867 50,259

 

Year Population Index Violent Property Murder Forcible
Rape
Robbery Aggravated
assault
Burglary Larceny-
Theft
Vehicle
Theft
2010 18,838,613 771,004 101,969 669,035 987 5,373 26,086 69,523 169,119 458,454 41,462
2011 19,082,262 769,398 98,198 671,200 984 5,273 25,622 66,319 170,171 461,408 39,621
2012 19,320,749 727,075 94,087 632,988 1,009 5,260 23,889 63,929 153,563 442,095 37,330
2013 19,600,311 699,163 91,993 607,170 972 4,765 23,200 61,054 138,915 433,344 34,911
2014 19,905,569 675,119 91,345 583,774 982 5,038 21,621 61,610 121,379 426,197 36,198
2015 20,244,914 663,895 93,625 570,270 1,041 5,396 21,137 63,895 109,268 420,341 40,661
2016 20,612,439 642,512 88,700 553,812 1,111 5,528 20,175 59,816 100,325 410,352 43,135