Florida 10-20-Life Law Changing: State Finally Does Away with Rigid Gun Penalties

Last week, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 228 that put a stop to the rigid Florida 10-20-Life law. And it is about time, too. The law was a longtime target of criticism for its strict and often excessive mandatory minimum sentencing in criminal cases involving guns. It tied judges’ hands when it came to sentencing, forcing them to dole out overly harsh prison sentences without discretion. This is a major step in the right direction for commonsense reform of Florida gun laws.

What was the old 10-20-Life law?

Florida enacted its 10-20-Life law [Florida Statute § 775.087] in 1999 to reduce gun crimes in the state. It mandated judges sentence defendants to a minimum of:

  • 10 years if they displayed a gun
  • 20 years if they fired a gun (even if it was a warning shot and nobody sustained injury)
  • 25 years to life if they shot and injured someone

Greg Newburn, the state policy director for Families against Mandatory Minimums, pointed out the disadvantages of the law: “Unintended consequences are inherent to mandatory minimums. No one anticipated 10-20-Life would be used to put citizens in prison for 20 years for warning shots, but that’s exactly what happened.”

Since the law was put into place, the state has sentenced over 15,000 people under it, reported the Miami Herald – some deserving of the harsh sentences, others certainly undeserving. Case in point: Orville Lee Wollard III is currently serving a 20 year prison term he received in 2008 after firing warning shots in the air of his home to ward off his daughter’s boyfriend. The 10-20-Life law forced the judge to sentence Wollard to two decades behind bars.

What does the new law mean for those accused of gun crimes?

Senate Bill 228 essentially nullifies the 10-20-Law. It lets judges use their discretion when sentencing.

But the new law is not retroactive. Those currently serving prison sentences that fell under the old 10-20-Life law will not benefit from the change. Although Gov. Scott signed the bill, he denied Wollard’s recent appeal for clemency. You can share your thoughts and concerns with the Governor here.

The enactment of this bill will, however, affect the outcome of cases for defendants currently involved gun crime cases in Florida. If you need legal counsel or help fighting gun charges in St. Petersburg, contact us at Goldman Wetzel by calling 727-828-3900 to schedule a one-on-one free consultation.

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