482 U.S. 423 (1987), 86-5344, Miller v. Florida

Docket Nº:No. 86-5344
Citation:482 U.S. 423, 107 S.Ct. 2446, 96 L.Ed.2d 351, 55 U.S.L.W. 4814
Party Name:Miller v. Florida
Case Date:June 09, 1987
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 423

482 U.S. 423 (1987)

107 S.Ct. 2446, 96 L.Ed.2d 351, 55 U.S.L.W. 4814




No. 86-5344

United States Supreme Court

June 9, 1987

Argued April 21, 1987



Florida's sentencing guidelines law assigns points for particular offenses and other factors and provides a presumptive sentence range for a defendant's composite score, within which the sentencing judge has unreviewable discretion to fix a sentence without written explanation. If the judge wishes to depart from the range, however, he must give clear and convincing written reasons based on facts proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and the sentence he imposes is subject to appellate review. At the time petitioner committed the sexual battery and other crimes for which he was convicted, the sentencing guidelines would have resulted in a presumptive sentence of 3 /2 to 4 1/2 years' imprisonment. However, the guidelines were subsequently revised to increase the number of points assigned to sexual offenses, and, at the time petitioner was sentenced, called for a presumptive sentence of 5 1/2 to 7 years for his crimes. The sentencing judge, rejecting petitioner's ex post facto argument, applied the revised guidelines to impose a 7-year sentence. The State District Court of Appeal vacated the sentence, but the State Supreme Court reversed.

Held: Application of the revised guidelines law to petitioner, whose crimes occurred before the law's effective date, violates the Ex Post Facto Clause of Article I of the Federal Constitution. The revised law evidences all of the elements necessary to bring it within the ex post facto prohibition. Pp. 429-435.

(a) The revised guidelines law is retrospective, in that it changes the legal consequences of acts committed before its effective date. The State's argument that there was no ex post facto violation, since the law provides for continuous review of the guidelines, and thereby gave petitioner "fair warning" that he would be sentenced under the guidelines in effect on his sentencing date is not persuasive, since the law did not warn petitioner of the specific punishment prescribed for his crimes. The ex post facto prohibition cannot be avoided merely by adding to a law notice of the obvious fact that it might be changed. Pp. 430-431.

(b) The revised guidelines law is more onerous than the law in effect at the time of petitioner's crimes, in that it substantially disadvantages petitioner and similarly [107 S.Ct. 2448] situated sexual offenders and has no ameliorative features. The State's contention that the change in laws is not disadvantageous because the trial judge could have imposed a 7-year

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sentence under the old guidelines by departing from the presumptive sentence range then in existence is without merit, since the revised law foreclosed petitioner's ability to challenge the sentence on review because it is within the new presumptive range. Pp. 431-433.

(c) The revised guidelines law is not merely a procedural change, since it increases the quantum of punishment for sexual offenses. The State's contention that the increase operates only as a "procedural guidepost" for the exercise of judicial discretion within the same statutorily imposed sentencing limits is not persuasive. The Court of Appeals decisions cited as authority, which sustained the United States Parole Commission's guidelines against ex post facto claims, are inapposite. Unlike the federal guidelines, Florida's revised sentencing law was enacted by the state legislature, and has the force and effect of law. Nor do the revised guidelines simply provide flexible "guideposts," but instead create strict standards that must be met before the sentencing judge can depart from the presumptive sentence range. Moreover, the revised guidelines directly and adversely affect the sentence petitioner receives. Pp. 433-435.

488 So.2d 820, reversed and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

O'CONNOR, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

At the time petitioner committed the crime for which he was convicted, Florida's sentencing guidelines would have resulted in a presumptive sentence of 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 years' imprisonment. At the time petitioner was sentenced, the revised guidelines called for a presumptive sentence of 5 1/2 to 7 years in prison. The trial court applied the guidelines in effect at the time of sentencing, and imposed a 7-year sentence. The question presented is whether application of these amended

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guidelines in petitioner's case is unconstitutional by virtue of the Ex Post Facto Clause.


In 1983, the Florida Legislature enacted legislation replacing Florida's system of indeterminate sentencing with a sentencing guidelines scheme intended "to eliminate unwarranted variation in the sentencing process." Fla. Rule Crim. Proc. 3.701(b) (1983). See 1983 Fla. Laws, ch. 83-216. Under the sentencing statute, a guidelines commission was responsible for "the initial development of a statewide system of sentencing guidelines." Fla.Stat. § 921.001(1) (1983). Once the commission had made its recommendation, the Supreme Court of Florida was to develop a final system of guidelines. These guidelines were to become effective for crimes committed on or after October 1, 1983. Fla.Stat. § 921.001(4)(a) (1983).

The sentencing statute authorized the guidelines commission to "meet annually or at the call of the chairman to review sentencing practices and recommend modifications to the guidelines." Fla.Stat. § 921.001(3) (1983). Before the convening of the legislature each year, the commission was to make its recommendations regarding the need for changes in the guidelines. The Supreme Court of Florida then could revise the sentencing guidelines to conform to an or part of the commission's recommendations. The sentencing law provided, however, that such revisions would become effective "only upon the subsequent adoption by the Legislature of legislation implementing the guidelines as then revised." Fla.Stat. § 921.001(4)(b) (1983).

[107 S.Ct. 2449] In accordance with this legislation, the Supreme Court of Florida developed sentencing guidelines that went into effect on October 1, 1983. See In re Rules of Criminal Procedure (Sentencing Guidelines), 439 So.2d 848 (1983). Under the scheme, offenses were grouped into nine "offense categories" (e.g., "robbery" and "sexual offenses"). A single sentencing

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"scoresheet" would be prepared based on the defendant's "primary offense," defined as the crime "with the highest statutory degree" at the time of conviction. Fla.Rule Crim.Proc. 3.701(d) (1983). In scoring a defendant's guidelines sentence, points would be assigned based on the primary offense, additional offenses at the time of conviction, prior record, legal status at the time of the offense, and victim injury. The defendant's total point score then would be compared to a chart for that offense category, which provided a presumptive sentence for that composite score.

The presumptive sentence range was "assumed to be appropriate for the composite score of the offender" Fla.Rule Crim.Proc. 3.701(d)(8) (1983). Within the recommended range, the sentencing judge had discretion to fix the sentence "without the requirement of a written explanation." Ibid. If the sentencing judge wished to depart from the guideline range, however, the judge had to give clear and convincing reasons in writing for doing so:

Departures from the presumptive sentence should be avoided unless there are clear and convincing reasons to warrant aggravating or mitigating the sentence. Any sentence outside of the guidelines must be accompanied by a written statement delineating the reasons for the departure. Reasons for deviating from the guidelines shall not include factors relating to either instant offense or prior arrests for which convictions have not been obtained.

Fla.Rule Crim.Proc. 3.701(d)(11) (1983). The "clear and convincing" standard was construed as requiring reasons "of such weight as to produce in the mind of the judge a firm belief or conviction, without hesitancy, that departure is warranted." State v. Mischler, 488 So.2d 523, 525 (Fla.1986). Only those sentences that fall outside the guidelines' range are subject to appellate review. See Fla.Stat. § 921.001(5) (1983).

Petitioner was convicted in August, 1984, on counts of sexual battery with slight force, a second-degree felony, Fla.

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Stat. § 794.011(5) (Supp.1984); burglary with an assault, a felony of the "first degree punishable by . . . life," Fla.Stat. § 810.02 (1983); and petit theft, a misdemeanor, Fla.Stat. § 812.014(2)(c) (1983). On April 25, 1984, when these offenses were committed, the sentencing guidelines adopted October 1, 1983, were still in effect. On May 8, 1984, however, the Supreme Court of Florida proposed several revisions to the sentencing guidelines. See Florida Bar: Amendment to Rules of Criminal Procedure (3.701, 3.988 -- Sentencing Guidelines), 451 So.2d 824 (1984). In June, 1984, the Florida Legislature adopted the recommended changes, see 1984 Fla. Laws, ch. 84-328, and the legislation implementing the revised guidelines became effective July 1, 1984. When petitioner was sentenced on October 2, 1984, therefore, these revised sentencing guidelines were the guidelines then in effect.

Only two changes made in the revised guidelines are relevant here. First, the guidelines changed the definition of "primary offense" from the offense with "the highest statutory degree," to the offense which results in "the most severe sentence range." See 451 So.2d at 824, n. This changed petitioner's primary offense from burglary with assault -- the offense with...

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