Florida law allows criminal defendants who are also chronic substance abusers to ask a court to withhold judgment and sentencing and instead place the person on drug offender probation or into a treatment-based drug court program. In McGrill v. State, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals explains that persons charged with drug possession can seek such alternative sentencing even if their sentencing guidelines “score” exceeds the maximum statutory level.

Appellant Curtis McGrill was charged with cocaine possession under a number of state drug laws, including section 893.13(6)(a), Florida Statutes (2008). He plead no contest and also filed a motion for an alternative sentence under section 948.20, Florida Statutes (2009). The statute allows a court to impose an alternative sentence:

If it appears to the court upon a hearing that the defendant is a chronic substance abuser whose criminal conduct is a violation of s. 893.13(2)(a) or (6)(a), or other nonviolent felony if such nonviolent felony is committed on or after July 1, 2009, and notwithstanding s. 921.0024 the defendant’s Criminal Punishment Code scoresheet total sentence points are 52 points or fewer….

Prepared by the State Attorney’s office, a Criminal Punishment Code (CPC) scoresheet is used to “score” a criminal defendant based on state criminal sentencing guidelines, which take into account a wide variety of factors including the nature of the crime committed, any injuries caused as a result and the defendant’s prior criminal record. The maximum CPC score in section 948.20 has since been raised to 60.

On appeal, the Fourth District overturned a lower court’s ruling that McGrill was not eligible for an alternative sentence under section 948.20 because his CPC scoresheet tallied 78.4 points. In so doing, the Court found the maximum CPC score provision applies only to those defendants seeking an alternative sentence under the “other nonviolent felony” portion of the statute.

Finding the statute ambiguous on this issue, the Court looked to the statute as drafted prior to its amendment in 2009. This version allowed only those defendants charged for drug possession under sections 893.13(2)(a) or (6)(a) to seek an alternative sentence and did not take into account these defendants’ CPC scores. Thus, the Court found that the legislature intended that the maximum CPC score provision in the amended statute apply only to those defendants seeking an alternative sentence under the “other nonviolent felony” portion of the statute.

In stating its opinion, the Court made clear that it was not ruling that McGrill is necessarily entitled to an alternative sentence, only that he may seek one. “We hold only that McGrill’s scoresheet does not bar him from obtaining an alternative sentence; it is simply a factor the trial court should consider before deciding whether or not to impose an alternative sentence,” the Court stated.

A drug possession charge is a serious offense that can put your entire future in jeopardy. If you are facing a drug possession charge in Florida, you should seek the advice of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who will advocate for your rights and interests. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine have years of experience handling drug possession cases and will work to develop an effective legal defense to get your charges dismissed or reduced.