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Is it possible for me to 'buy my way out' of prison time?

Answer: Yes, if you've committed a financial or theft-related crime, and restitution is an issue.  The single-most important factor for Judges is that victims of financial crimes be made whole. While the courts are supposed to balance the severity of the crime, the accused's background, and their ability to pay a fine or restitution, it really comes down to money.  In U.S. v. Plate, a Florida bank officer embezzeled $142,000. from some clients.  She was able to come up with about $40,000. in restitution.  The Judge sentenced her to 27 months imprisonment, but told her that if her friends and supporters "step up and pay" her restitution, her prison sentence would be converted to probation.

Most Judges won't voice this sentiment, but it's what they're thinking. A higher court ruled that it violated equal protection principles to incarcerate a person solely because he or she lacked the resources to pay restitution.  So Ms. Plate will be re-sentenced.  However, in my experience, if you are able to pay restitution, it often means the difference between prison and freedom.          

In other cases, the judge can select to suspend a sentence before the defendant is sentenced. Should defendant request the suspension, the judge can consider granting this request. This decision occurs at the judge's election; it is not required as part of the sentencing process. In this ruling, the judge will not sentence the defendant, although the conviction is still entered on the criminal record.

These suspensions can be declared conditional or unconditional. Those that are unconditional require no further action on behalf of the defendant. Those that are conditional have obligations attached, such as paying restitution, completing a drug treatment program or steering clear of criminal activity.

In Florida, defendants seeking a suspended sentence must agree to participate in a community control plan. Included in this plan are these community-based sanctions:

1. Restitution

2. Curfew

3. License suspension

4. Community service

5. Limitation of activities considered "non-essential"

Should the defendant agree to satisfy the commission's requirements and be deemed safe for discharge, he may be offered an early release.

As we mentioned at the beginning of the blog, these scenarios typically apply to nonviolent offenders. Prosecutors take the defendant's criminal history into account when determining whether to enter the suspended sentence into a plea bargain.

While suspended sentences are rare occurrences, judges do have the right to exercise this form of punishment. Those interested in applying for option should meet with a knowledgeable attorney to discuss the best course of action to take.

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