MEDIA CONTACT: Greg Newburn, firstname.lastname@example.org
GAINESVILLE, FLA – Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) is relieved to learn that Marissa Alexander has accepted a plea offer to serve three years in prison with credit for time served, plus two years of home confinement. This plea deal means Alexander will avoid the prospect of a 60-year mandatory minimum sentence for three counts of aggravated assault, a possible outcome if she’d gone to trial.
“From the beginning, Marissa Alexander’s case was a glaring example of the unintended consequences inherent to mandatory minimum laws,” said Greg Newburn, FAMM’s Florida-based State Policy Director. “While there was disagreement about Alexander’s guilt or innocence, no one outside the State Attorney’s office believed that 60 years in prison—or even the original 20 years—was an appropriate sentence for a first-time offender and a crime where no one was injured,” Newburn added.
The very fact that the State Attorney’s office offered a plea deal to Alexander suggests that not even they believed a lengthy sentence was appropriate—just useful as leverage in extracting a guilty plea.
Motivated by Alexander’s case and others like it, FAMM and allies like the NRA and Florida Carry helped pass a reform to 10-20-Life. The “Threatened Use of Force Act” provides immunity from prosecution for threatening the use of force where the actual use of force would be justified under the law. The bill also created a “safety valve” in aggravated assault cases, which allows sentencing judges to depart from the otherwise applicable mandatory minimum upon making certain findings.
“Representative Neil Combee , Representative Katie Edwards, and Senator Greg Evers put together a strong bipartisan coalition to fix a clear problem with 10-20-Life. And they did the work to fix it. 10-20-Life is still a bad law, but the Threatened Use of Force Act will go a long way to preventing future injustices,” Newburn said.
Marissa’s case highlights an often overlooked aspect of mandatory minimum laws, called the “trial penalty.”
“Marissa Alexander took a plea deal for three years in prison,” Newburn said. “If she’d exercised her constitutionally guaranteed right to a trial by jury and was convicted, the judge would have no choice but to sentence her to 60 years in prison. That amounts to a 57-year sentence for exercising a right the framers of the U.S. Constitution thought was paramount to protecting liberty. If prosecutors can offer three years in a plea deal, a judge should be able to impose the same sentence after conviction at trial.”
Alexander’s case is symptomatic of larger problems with 10-20-Life. “Even one injustice is one too many, but Marissa’s case serves to highlight a larger issue,” Newburn said. “From otherwise law abiding people sent to prison for 20 years over warning shots to people forced to take pleas while maintaining their innocence, 10-20-Life has produced more than its fair share of injustice in Florida.”
Newburn pointed to three such cases, and noted that the Threatened Use of Force Act encourages anyone sentenced to mandatory minimums for threatening the use of force to apply for executive clemency.
“Orville Lee Wollard, Ron Thompson and Erik Weyant committed the same crime as Marissa Alexander, and all have already served longer sentences than her plea deal requires. None is a public safety threat, and every day they spend in prison is a waste of money and a massive injustice. We hope the Clemency Board will take seriously what the legislature recommended and grant them all clemency at the earliest possible time.”