Many times in Jacksonville, criminal defendants enter into plea agreements with the state attorney and return for sentencing at a later date. As long as they return on the scheduled date, their sentence will be what was agreed to. If they fail to appear and the failure is willful, the plea will stand but the sentence may not. The prosecutor has to prove that “more likely than not”, the failure to appear was willful.
In a criminal case this year in Florida, the defendant entered into a plea agreement to a Grand Theft charge and a Schemes to Defraud charge. The agreement was that the defendant was going to be placed on probation to pay restitution in the case. Sentencing was set for a later date. The defendant did not appear at that date and later turned himself in because a warrant was issued. The judge then sentenced the defendant to 15 years in prison, drastically more than the probation sentence that was originally agreed to.
The appellate court reversed the sentence and ordered the lower court to sentence the defendant to the original probation sentence. The appellate court said that the prosecutor presented no evidence that even suggested the willfulness of the defendant’s non-appearance. The only evidence the state attorney put on was a court baliff to testify that the defendant did not come to court on the scheduled date. The defendant’s criminal defense lawyer put on the defendant, his uncle, and his bail bondsman to testify that the defendant misread the date and had made all other court appearances in the case.