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Does Race Impact Sentencing Outcomes in Florida?


As much as we’d all like to think that racism is a thing of the past, the fact of the matter is that racial disparity is all too real in many critical aspects of Florida living, not the least of which is the criminal justice system.

Inequity Perpetuated in the Courtroom 

The data is clear: whites and blacks who face charges for indistinguishable crimes face vastly different sentences. In Florida, sentencing guidelines are determined based on a point system that considers the use of weapons, whether or not innocent people were injured, and previous brushes with the law. Even with equivalent scores, black defendants received longer sentences for felonies—an average of 60 percent longer—than their white counterparts. In many instances, white defendants were sentenced to probation while black defendants in equivalent circumstances went to prison.

Statewide, Inconsistencies Abound 

If the inequities were localized, it might be easier to attack the issue. Sadly, though, racism seems prevalent statewide. Consider sentencing rates for whites and blacks for the same crime: 

County Crime White Black
Manatee Felony drug possession 140 days 370 days
Okaloosa Battery 145 days 290 days
Flagler Armed Robbery 900 days 2500 days


While each county demonstrates sentencing inconsistencies between black and white defendants, that is only part of the problem. Sentences vary widely when one county is compared to another for the same crimes. Consider the sentences for white and black defendants across several counties for the same crime of felony drug possession:


County White Black
Okeechobee 250 days 700 days
Indian River 260 days 690 days
Gulf 240 days 680 days
Nassau 260 days 600 days
Marion 220 days 500 days
Collier 250 days 480 days
Sarasota 140 days 300 days


Reasons Behind the Problem 

A number of factors impact Florida’s broken system:

  • The lack of any monitoring system to examine bias;
  • Implicit bias based on stereotypes that have subtly been engrained through media, upbringing, and education, which ultimately impacts the thinking of judges and others in the justice system;
  • A lack of diversity on the bench;
  • Plea deals arranged by court authorities who either purposefully or unwittingly negotiate disparate deals;
  • A lack of transparency regarding sentencing habits and records;

Attempting to Achieve Justice 

While it is widely believed that most judges do strive for justice, the numbers tell a story showing racism rearing its ugly head in the Florida justice system. Whether defendants are relying on a legal team to negotiate a deal or on a judge to levy a sentence, the outcome should be based on the facts of the case, not the color of the defendant’s skin.  At the office of Deric Zacca, P.A, ethics and experience are the tools used to fight to achieve the best outcome for every client, regardless of race. Contact us in Fort Lauderdale today for a confidential consultation.