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Florida’s “10-20-Life” Sentencing Law

In August, 2010, Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville fired a gunshot into the wall near her allegedly abusive husband during a confrontation. According to the Florida Times-Union’s account, his children, then ages 10 and 13, were in the vicinity at the time – prosecutors charged that they were standing next to him, while Alexander maintained they were in another room. Convicted of three counts of aggravated assault, Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Because of Florida’s so-called “10-20-Life” law, which mandates harsh minimum sentences for certain crimes committed while the accused has a gun, the judge had no discretion to impose a lesser sentence, despite Alexander’s claim that she was defending herself from her husband’s abuse.

What is the 10-20-Life law?

The phrase “10-20-Life” refers to Florida statute section 775.087. This law requires courts to impose mandatory minimum sentences when a person is convicted of the following crimes while possessing a firearm:

  • murder;
  • sexual battery;
  • robbery;
  • burglary;
  • arson;
  • aggravated assault;
  • aggravated battery;
  • kidnapping;
  • escape;
  • aircraft piracy;
  • aggravated child abuse;
  • aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult;
  • unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb;
  • carjacking;
  • home-invasion robbery;
  • aggravated stalking;
  • trafficking of certain drugs; or
  • possession of a firearm by a felon.

If a person is convicted of any of these crimes while carrying a gun, the mandatory minimum sentence is 10 years. There is an exception for convictions of aggravated assault, possession of a firearm by a felon, or burglary of a conveyance, with a minimum sentence of three years, unless the defendant has a previous felony conviction. If the defendant actually fires the gun while committing the crime, as Marissa Alexander did, the minimum sentence is 20 years. If the victim is killed or suffers great bodily harm because the gun was fired, the sentence is 25 years to life. If the gun in question is a semiautomatic or machine gun, the sentence increases.

Ironically, as the Times-Union points out, manslaughter is not one of the enumerated offenses in the statute. Thus, had Alexander actually killed her husband and been convicted of manslaughter, she could well have received a lesser sentence. In fact, her conviction was overturned on appeal, and thereafter she reached a plea agreement with prosecutors under which she was sentenced to three years. She was released from prison to house arrest in January 2015.

Proposed changes to the 10-20-Life law

Currently, the Florida Senate is considering a bill, CS/SB 228, amending the statute to delete aggravated assault as one of the crimes subject to the mandatory minimum sentences. The idea behind this change, according to the staff of the Senate’s Committee on Criminal Justice, is to prevent individuals who may be convicted of aggravated assault after acting in self-defense (as Alexander claimed she was) from being subject to mandatory minimum sentencing. The bill has passed through the relevant committees and is now headed to the Senate floor.

Consult an Orlando Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been arrested and accused of a crime, whether or not a gun was involved, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side to fight for your rights. The Orlando criminal defense attorneys of The Baez Law Firm have extensive experience defending misdemeanor and felony cases throughout Florida. Contact The Baez Law Firm for a consultation today.

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