Jacksonville “warning shot” case sparks debate on Florida’s 10-20-Life law

A 20-year prison sentence for a Jacksonville woman convicted of aggravated assault for firing a warning shot at an allegedly abusive husband has sparked a debate about the Florida law that led to her sentence. Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison after a jury found her guilty earlier this year of three counts of Jacksonville Aggravated Assault for firing a shot while her now estranged husbands and two of his children were present. At the sentencing, the judge made a point of saying he did not have a choice in the matter and his hands were tied by the state’s 10-20-Life law, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union.

The well-publicized law has been plastered across billboards along Florida highways and was a focal point of many public service announcements on radio and television. If someone shows a gun during the commission of a felony, there’s a 10-year minimum mandatory sentence. If the gun is fired, it’s 20 years. If someone is shot, it’s 25 years to life. The Times-Union spoke with a key prosecutor, Jacksonville criminal defense attorneys and a local law professor to look at the effects of the law, along with the results compared to intent that then-Governor Jeb Bush campaigned on in 1998 and went into effect the following year. The main complaints from Duval County defense attorneys are that the laws do not account for people with no criminal records and that the laws take the decisions out of the judges’ hands and essentially allow the state to impose the sentence. The minimum mandatory sentences become a bargaining chip for the state to get people to plead to a charge rather than risk significant mandatory time if convicted. In the Alexander case, she turned down a three-year sentence that was available to her until right before the trial.

While the prosecutor the Times-Union spoke with did not deny that the state uses the minimum mandatories in negotiations, he stressed that for the sentence to be imposed the defendant must be found guilty in a trial – which Alexander was. And it’s not the conviction, but the sentence that riled people up in the Alexander case, which received national headlines. What the state doesn’t like to say is that prosecutors have the ability to waive the minimum mandatory sentence in these Florida guns cases. They do, but they choose not to. One of the pillars of State Attorney Angela Corey’s successful campaign in 2008 was not waiving the minimum mandatories and she has stuck by that pledge. And, as judges and criminal defenses attorneys said in the Times-Union article, it keeps all of the cards in the state’s hands when it comes to negotiations. Florida minimum mandatory sentences are also exempt from any reduction for good behavior. In most cases, people do 85 percent of their sentence. So a 10-year sentence is essentially 8-1/2 years. With a minimum mandatory, 10 years equals 10 years. Period.
Our Jacksonville Gun Crimes Attorney knows the ramifications of Florida’s 10-20-Life laws and has represented hundreds of clients subject to those laws. Our Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer can examine all of the evidence against you and lay out all of the facts so you can make the best decision possible.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County violent crimes lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.