FAMM: Marissa Alexander Case Shows Need to Reform 10-20-Life Law

Post Date: July 19, 2013

GAINESVILLE, FL. — FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) Florida Project Director Greg Newburn today called on Florida lawmakers to prohibit the application of the state’s “10-20-Life” mandatory minimum gun sentence law in self-defense cases. 

“A lot of attention has been paid to Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law and far too little to the state’s extreme, one-size-fits-all sentencing laws. Florida’s mandatory 10-20-Life gun law force courts to impose arbitrary, unjust and completely inappropriate sentences,” Newburn said. “As long as Florida keeps its inflexible gun sentencing laws, we will continue to see cases like Marissa Alexander’s.”

Alexander, a 32-year-old mother of three, was convicted of aggravated assault after firing a warning shot during an attack by her abusive husband and sentenced to a 20-year mandatory minimum prison term. Her sentence is just one in a series of excessive, mandatory sentences imposed on individuals who sincerely believed they were acting in self-defense. Over the past few years, FAMM has also highlighted the cases of: 

  • Orville Lee Wollard, a SeaWorld employee and father of two who in 2009 was sentenced to 20 years after firing a gun into a wall of his home to stop his daughter’s boyfriend from further abusing her; 
  • Erik Weyant, a 22-year-old man who fired shots into the air after being surrounded by a group of angry men outside a bar. Weyant was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2007; 
  • Ronald Thompson, a disabled veteran with 14 years of service in the U.S. Army who fired two warning shots into the ground to scare away his friend’s 17-year-old grandson, who was threatening his grandmother. Thompson received a 20-year sentence and his poor health has worsened since he began his two-decade prison sentence.  

Said Newburn, “While reasonable people can disagree on whether Mr. Wollard, Ms. Alexander, Mr. Weyant, and Mr. Thompson deserve any prison time for their conduct, no one can honestly believe that these were the types of cases the legislature had in mind when it passed the 10-20-Life automatic gun sentence.  In fact, the great irony of 10-20-Life is that people who think they’re innocent of the crime take their chances at trial, and they get the really harsh prison sentences. People who know they are guilty take a plea deal and get out much earlier. So the law certainly isn’t working the way it was intended.”

The judges who sentenced Alexander, Wollard, Weyant and Thompson all stated that their hands were tied by the 10-20-Life gun law, and three of the judges made clear they would have given shorter sentences had they been allowed to take into account the mitigating circumstances of the crimes.

“Florida’s courts are not being allowed to impose appropriate sentences. Unfortunately, the judges’ total lack of discretion leads to massive injustices – injustices like a battered spouse, a protective father, a scared young man in a bar fight and a disabled vet all being sentenced to 20 years in prison despite hurting no one. If we want to protect Floridians, judges need discretion in cases like Ms. Alexander’s,” Newburn concluded.

FAMM is a national, nonpartisan nonprofit organization advocating for fair and proportionate sentences that protect public safety. In 2010, FAMM launched a Florida project to reform state mandatory minimum sentencing laws. For more information, visit http://famm.org/state/Florida.aspx.  To schedule an interview with Florida Project Director Greg Newburn, please contact Monica Pratt Raffanel at media@famm.org.   

##