Jacksonville newspaper examines another 20-year minimum mandatory in a “warning shot” case

A judge in Clay County tried to take the “mandatory” out of a “minimum mandatory” sentence for an elderly man who fired two warning shots, but was instead shot down himself by a higher court. Ronald Thompson, a 65-year-old Keystone Heights man, was convicted by a jury in 2010 of four counts of aggravated assault with a firearm in Clay County, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Police said Thompson was at a neighbor’s home visiting a woman and fired two shots into the ground near a teenager and his friends after the teen got in an argument with his grandmother. Because Thompson fired a weapon, he was subject to a 20-year minimum mandatory sentence under Florida’s 10-20-Life laws. But the trial judge disagreed, sentencing Thompson to three years in prison – the last offer on the table before the case went to trial. The state appealed that sentence and it was overturned by the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. The judge then filed an order mandating that State Attorney Angela Corey herself attend a December 2011 sentencing hearing. The state again cried foul to the higher court and asked for the judge to be pulled off the case, the newspaper reported. The court agreed and another judge in Clay County sentenced Thompson to 20 years in March.

The standoff is the boldest Northeast Florida pushback against the 10-20-Life laws, which have garnered media attention and protests in recent months. The most high-profile case was of Marissa Alexander, a woman who said she was a Jacksonville domestic assault victim and fired a warning shot at her now ex-husband but was sentenced to a mandatory 20 years in prison. In Florida, if a firearm is used in commission of a felony the following minimum mandatory sentences apply: 10 years for showing a gun, 20 years for firing a gun and up to life if someone is hurt or killed. Prosecutors have the right to waive those minimum mandatories, but have rarely done so under Corey, who in 2008 took over as state attorney for Clay County, Duval County and Nassau County. Judges and criminal defense attorneys have argued that the laws take the discretion out of the judges’ hands – which was clearly the case in the Thompson aggravated assault case. Prosecutors argue that if the cases go to trial, the price of poker goes up – especially if a jury of ones’ peers finds the defendant guilty. One often unknown fact in criminal law is the jury is not told of the punishment a person faces during a trial – nor are they even told if it is a Clay County felony or a misdemeanor. The purpose is so the jurors follow the letter of the law and nothing else. But you could make the argument that both the Thompson and Alexander juries may have gone another direction if they knew both were looking at 20 years in prison. The Thompson case shows that even a judge is powerless in minimum mandatory cases. In these serious Duval, Clay and Nassau County gun crimes, the defendant must think long and hard about whatever deal the state is offering, knowing there is no wiggle room at sentencing. Our Clay County Gun Crimes Lawyer is well-versed in the Florida minimum mandatory gun laws and can help lay out all of your options, including taking the case to trial.

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 Clay County Gun Crimes Lawyer, Victoria “Tori” Mussallem is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.