Criminal Defense

Criminal Defense

Top 3 things people do not know about felonies in the State of Florida:

  1. The categories of felonies.
  2. The “Math” behind felony sentencing.
  3. Florida’s mandatory life-sentencing.


1. Felony Categories:

Felonies are offenses for which an individual can serve sentences greater than a year in custody.  

There are five (5) different classifications of felonies:  Third degree, second degree, first degree, life, and capital felonies.  

Third degree felonies (such as grand theft, aggravated assault, or possession of cocaine) carry sentences of up to 5 years in prison, 5 years of probation, $5,000 in fines, court costs, and other special conditions imposed by the judge. 

Second degree felonies (such as delivery of cocaine, burglary of a dwelling, dealing in stolen property, and aggravated battery) can be punished by up to 15 years in prison, $10,000 in fines, court costs and other special conditions imposed by the sentencing judge. 

First degree felonies (such as trafficking in heroin) can be punished by up to 30 years in prison, $10,000 in fines, court costs and other special conditions imposed by the sentencing judge. 

Life felonies (such as sex with a child 12 years of age or younger or 2nd degree murder) can be punished by up to life (there is no parole with a life sentence in Florida) in prison and $15,000 in fines.  

Capital felonies are those felonies for which a person could face the death penalty (such as premeditated murder). 


2. The “Math” behind felony sentencing:

The State of Florida mandates that Judges rank the severity of felony offenses using a scoresheet as a guide to calculate sentences consistently.

Although slated as a guide, this scoresheet is used as the proverbial “sentencing bible”.  Under this scoresheet system, when charged with a felony, each offense is weighted with a certain amount of points.  All prior offenses, including those for which a withhold was received, including misdemeanors, are also taken into account and weighted.  After adding all the points and undergoing a mathematical calculation, a final point total is derived. If this final total is above 44 points, then the accused is determined to have scored out to prison, and can only avoid prison if the Judge pronounces some statutorily acceptable reason for departing from the sentencing guidelines.

Drug offenders whose total sentence points are less than or equal to 52 points and are classified as non-violent offenders may also avoid prison by being sentenced to a post adjudicatory drug program.



In the state of Florida if a person commits an enumerated offense and possesses a firearm, the Judge MUST impose a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years prison.  If that firearm is discharged, the person MUST be sentenced to a minimum of twenty (20) years in prison.  If someone is shot, the offender MUST be sentenced to between 25 years and life in prison.


Felony offenses have harsh penalties.  An accused should always seek the representation of an accomplished and skilled trial attorney. The McLawrence Law Firm is trial tested, and jury proven, having navigated numerous felony cases to successful outcomes. If you are charged with a felony offense, Contact Us to learn how we can help. 

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Misdemeanors are criminal offenses punishable by a term of imprisonment no greater than one year.  There are two classifications of misdemeanors: 1st degree and 2nd degree.

2nd degree misdemeanors carry sentences up to 60 days in jail, $500 in fines, up to 6 months of probation, court costs, and possible other fines and other special conditions imposed by the sentencing Judge. 

First degree misdemeanors carry sentences of up to one year in jail, up to one year of probation, up to $1,000.00 in fines, court costs, and possible other fines and other special conditions that the Judge imposes. 

The repeated commission of certain misdemeanors may result in the reclassification of any new commission of that certain misdemeanor as a felony. For example, a third misdemeanor domestic battery offense, where there are two previous misdemeanor domestic battery convictions, may result in the third misdemeanor domestic battery being filed as a felony.

If you have been accused of committing a misdemeanor offense, you need a zealous advocate on your side. Contact Us to learn how we can help.

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Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

Generally, DUIs are much easier to defend when the accused has not given a breath or blood sample.

To establish DUI, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused was (1) in actual physical control of a vehicle, and was (2) under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, or other unlawful substance (3) to the extent that the accused’s normal faculties were impaired; or that the accused’s blood alcohol level was 0.08 or greater.

If the accused’s blood alcohol level was obtained, DUIs become very complex to defend.

The penalty for DUIs vary based on a number of different scenarios, such as the number of prior DUIs the accused possesses, whether a child was present in the vehicle, whether an injury occurred, etc… (we need to expand on the etc – it’s too much. Let’s leave it here, and if potential client has questions, let them call and ask)A first time DUI offender can be sentenced up to 6 months in jail, up to $1,000 (typically $500) in fines, 6 months ignition interlock (what is ignition interlock? – it’s an in-car breathalyzer that prevents a user from starting a vehicle until a breath alcohol test is taken. And if the breath alcohol content is too high, it prevents the car from starting), up to 1 year of probation (typically 9 months), 50 hours of community service, 10-day vehicle immobilization or impoundment, level 1 DUI school, 6 months driver license suspension, and court costs and other fees.


What can you expect if you get a DUI? 

You can expect to lose your license, possibly your vehicle, increased insurance rate and/or cancelation of your insurance policy. 

There are many strategies that can be applied to defend DUIs, including, but not limited to, attacking the stop, attacking the detention, attacking any field sobriety exercises, and attacking the implied consent instructions provided by the police.  Many of these strategies can be applied through pre-trial motions so as to avoid trial, and can also be applied at trial to convince a jury of the officer’s bias and improper actions.  

If you are charged with a DUI Contact Us to learn how we can help.

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Possession of illicit drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, etc.., in any amount is illegal.  In the State of Florida, all drug charges, with the exception of possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia, are felonies.  Even small, microscopic amounts of illicit drugs are classified as felonies in some counties. 

For example, in some Florida counties, one can be charged with possession of cocaine even if the amount of cocaine found is a residue amount with no weight and no value. Some Florida counties will seek prison sentences for some drug offenses,  regardless of whether or not the accused is a first time offender, or has a total sentence scoresheet that does not score out to prison (See The “Math” behind felony sentencing).

Most trafficking offenses carry a minimum mandatory prison sentence.  This minimum mandatory is increased depending on the weight of drugs attributed to the accused.  

If you are charged with a drug offense, contact us to learn how we may help you. Because of the harsh penalties that follow even petty amounts of drug possession, an accused should always retain the services of a skilled lawyer.  I have successfully taken several possession and drug delivery cases to trial. 

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These are typically the toughest offenses to defend in the criminal justice system.  Often, from the time the Judge reads the nature of the allegation to the jury, a casual observer can immediately note the change in body language of the prospective panel. They sit up in their chairs, take a look at the accused, cringe at the thought of the allegation, and most, if not all, immediately pronounce the accused guilty.  From here, the defense attorney has the seemingly insurmountable task of proving the accused’s innocence despite the numerous admonitions of innocence unless proven guilty.

These offenses include, but are not limited to, sexual battery (commonly referred to as rape), lewd and lascivious activity, and sexual assault.  Convictions of any of these offenses carry severe penalties. Penalties include incarceration for long periods of time, followed by possible involuntary civil commitment, designation as a sexual predator, lifetime registration as a sexual predator, community and public notification, along with various court fees and fines.

While extremely difficult, these allegations are not impossible to overcome.  If you have been accused of committing a sexual offense, you need a knowledgeable, experienced, attorney fighting in your corner. 


Contact Us to learn how we can help.

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