Consequences of a “Hammer Clause”

In State v. Rojas, 48 Fla. L. Weekly D62a, the Third District Court of Appeals decided whether the trial court erred by mitigating the defendant’s sentence pursuant to Rule 3.800(c) immediately after imposing a sentence to which the defendant agreed as part of a negotiated plea agreement with a so-called “hammer clause.”

In that case, the hammer clause, included in the plea agreement, set out a stipulated mandatory minimum sentence in the event the defendant violated community control.

The alleged violation of community control included allegations of deviating from his schedule and approved routes without permission, leaving his GPS tracking device behind, and failing to be home at curfew.

The court mitigated the sentences and the state attorney’s office appealed after contending the trial court had no authority or discretion to deviate from the previously approved and agreed-upon sentences.

The parties’ written agreement included the following terms:

“The Defendant acknowledges and agrees that should he be found in violation, the Defendant will be sentenced to no less than ten (10) years state prison in F17-20909 and to five (5) years state prison in F19-10646.”

“The defendant’s guidelines are 88.5 [months] at the bottom to a maximum sentence of LIFE in prison.”

“The Defendant shall not file a motion to set aside guilty plea, or motion to mitigate.”

“The Defendant acknowledges that the State is entering this agreement based on the mitigation provided by the Defendant. The Defendant also acknowledges that this mitigation will not be available to assist him in his case in any subsequent violation of probation.”

Finding that a plea agreement creates a binding contract subject to the rules of contract law that are applicable to plea agreements. For example, in Garcia v. State, 722 So. 2d 905, 907 (Fla. 3d DCA 1998), the court held:

“A defendant will not be relieved of an obligation that was included as a specific component of a plea agreement that was bargained for and voluntarily entered into by the defendant.”

As a result, the appellate court reversed and remanded the case back to the trial court with instructions to vacate the orders mitigating the sentences and reinstating the sentences originally imposed by the trial court.

Read more about violation of probation cases in Florida.

Contact an attorney at Sammis Law Firm to discuss your violation of probation case. Call 813-250-0500.

This article was last updated on Wednesday, January 4, 2023.