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How the Florida 10-20-Life Law Works in Criminal Cases


Politicians are eager to show they are “tough on crime” by passing harsh minimum sentencing laws. One famous example here in Florida is the so-called 10-20-Life law. Spearheaded by former Gov. Jeb Bush, this is a minimum sentencing law that requires a judge to impose minimum sentences of 10 years, 20 years, or life in prison based on the presence of a firearm during the commission of certain felonies.

Basically, if a defendant was in possession of a firearm during the commission of a qualifying felony, such as robbery or kidnapping, they must receive a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, even if the weapon was never used. If the firearm was fired at all, the minimum sentence is 20 years. And if the weapon was fired and caused “death or great bodily harm” to another person, then the required sentence is 25 years to life.

Appeals Court: Trial Judge Not Required to Impose Life Sentence for Murder

Although the 10-20-Life law has been on the books for more than two decades, there are still cases where a trial court may misapply the rules. Indeed, this happened just recently in a criminal case from Broward County, Sols v. State, where a state appellate court held the trial judge “misapprehended its discretion in imposing what it believed to be a mandatory life sentence” pursuant to the 10-20-Life law.

Here is what happened. A jury found the defendant in this case guilty of second-degree murder. The crime involved discharge of a firearm. At sentencing, the trial judge asked the attorneys, “The sentence is life in prison, correct?” Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney agreed this was the case. The judge then told the defendant, “So you’re sentenced to life in prison.”

The problem is that, as described above, the “life” tier of the 10-20-Life law is actually a minimum sentence of 25 years to life. And as the defendant here argued, this meant the trial judge actually had the discretion to impose a sentence of anywhere between 25 years and life in prison. In other words, contrary to what the judge and the attorneys said in court, the law did not automatically require the judge to order life in prison.

The Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed with the defendant that the trial court did not apply the 10-20-Life law correctly. The Court ordered a new sentencing hearing with the express instruction that the law “permits but does not mandate a life sentence.”

Contact Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyer Jose Baez Today

It may seem remarkable that a trial judge would fail to properly understand a commonly used sentencing statute. But mistakes happen in a courtroom just like any other workplace. The problem is that when judges err, it can have a serious impact on a defendant’s legal and constitutional rights. Working with an experienced Orlando homicide attorney can help ensure such mistakes do not harm your case. Contact the Baez Law Firm today if you are facing serious criminal charges and would like to schedule a consultation right away.



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