« "Plea-bargaining cases: Form over substance" | Main | Detailing declines in capital indictments and sentences in Ohio »

May 20, 2012

Extreme sentence in warning shot case drawing more criticisms of mandatory minimums

I am pleased to see that the extreme mandatory minimum sentence given to Marissa Alexander in Florida is continuing to generate controversy and criticism in the MSM.  This AP article, headlined "Critics hit mandatory-minimum law after woman gets 20 years in prison for firing warning shot," highlights some of the buzz:

Marissa Alexander had never been arrested before she fired a bullet at a wall one day in 2010 to scare off her husband when she felt he was threatening her.  Nobody got hurt, but this month a northeast Florida judge was bound by state law to sentence her to 20 years in prison.... Because she fired a gun while committing a felony, Florida’s mandatory-minimum gun law dictated the 20-year sentence.

Her case in Jacksonville has drawn a fresh round of criticism aimed at mandatory-minimum sentencing laws.  The local NAACP chapter and the district’s African-American congresswoman say blacks more often are incarcerated for long periods because of overzealous prosecutors and judges bound by the wrong-headed statute.  Alexander is black.

It also has added fuel to the controversy over Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which the judge would not allow Alexander to invoke.  State Attorney Angela Corey, who also is overseeing the prosecution of shooter George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case, stands by the handling of Alexander’s case.  Corey says she believes Alexander aimed the gun at the man and his two sons, and the bullet she fired could have ricocheted and hit any of them.

At the May 11 sentencing, Alexander’s relatives begged Circuit Judge James Daniel for leniency but he said the decision was “out of my hands.” “The Legislature has not given me the discretion to do what the family and many others have asked me to do,” he said.

The state’s “10-20-life” law was implemented in 1999 and credited with helping to lower the violent crime rate.  Anyone who shows a gun in the commission of certain felonies gets an automatic 10 years in prison.  Fire the gun, and it’s an automatic 20 years.  Shoot and wound someone, and it’s 25 years to life.

Critics say Alexander’s case underscores the unfair sentences that can result when laws strip judges of discretion.  About two-thirds of the states have mandatory-minimum sentencing laws, mostly for drug crimes, according to a website for the Families Against Mandatory Minimums advocacy group. “We’re not saying she’s not guilty of a crime, we’re not saying that she doesn’t deserve some sort of sanction by the court,” said Greg Newburn, Florida director for the group.  Rather, he said, the judge should have the authority to decide an appropriate sanction after hearing all the unique circumstances of the case....

Victor Crist was a Republican state legislator who crafted the “10-20-life” bill enacted in 1999 in Gov. Jeb Bush’s first term.  He said Alexander’s sentence — if she truly did fire a warning shot and wasn’t trying to kill her husband — is not what lawmakers wanted.  “We were trying to get at the thug who was robbing a liquor store who had a gun in his possession or pulled out the gun and threatened someone or shot someone during the commission of the crime,” said Crist, who served in the state House and Senate for 18 years before being elected Hillsborough County commissioner....

“The irony of the 10-20-life law is the people who actually think they’re innocent of the crime, they roll the dice and take their chances, and they get the really harsh prison sentences,” Newburn said. “Whereas the people who think they are actually guilty of the crime take the plea deal and get out (of prison) well before.  So it certainly isn’t working the way it is intended.”...

Newburn says Alexander’s case is not an isolated incident, and that people ensnared by mandatory-minimum laws cross racial barriers.  In central Florida, a white man named Orville Lee Wollard is nearly two years into a 20-year sentence for firing his gun inside his house to scare his daughter’s boyfriend.  Prosecutors contended that Wollard was shooting at the young man and missed.

He rejected a plea deal that offered probation but no prison time.  Like Alexander, he took his chances at trial and was convicted of aggravated assault with a firearm.  Circuit Judge Donald Jacobsen said he was “duty bound” by the 10-20-life law to impose the harsh sentence. “I would say that, if it wasn’t for the minimum mandatory aspect of this, I would use my discretion and impose some separate sentence, having taken into consideration the circumstances of this event,” Jacobsen said.

Recent related posts:

May 20, 2012 at 10:38 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e2016305af7932970d

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Extreme sentence in warning shot case drawing more criticisms of mandatory minimums:

Comments

Were she being attacked upon return to get her car keys , perhaps she would have been better off to aim the gun at the attacker's head and sharply warn , “ HALT or DIE ‼ ”

If the attack continued and if lawful , pull the trigger and stop the attack . The human skull does a decent job of reducing the ½mv² muzzle energy of a round leaving the barrel .

DJB ■ Nemo Me Impune Lacessit

Docile_Jim_Brady@Safe-mail.net

Posted by:  They call me —►Mister Blank◄— | May 21, 2012 7:23:46 AM

Everything you need to know about grandstanding politicians, mad-dog prosecutors and a justice system that abhors trials is on display here.

"State Attorney Angela Corey, who also is overseeing the prosecution of shooter George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case, stands by the handling of Alexander’s case."

Of course she does.

Posted by: John K | May 21, 2012 8:16:16 AM

SA Corey is standing her ground?

Posted by: Joe | May 21, 2012 10:28:07 AM

"Everything you need to know about grandstanding politicians, mad-dog prosecutors and a justice system that abhors trials is on display here."

Couldn't have said it better.

Posted by: Guy | May 21, 2012 11:13:05 AM

When the reason mandatory minimum sentencing proliferated in the law -- lenient judges who imposed slap-on-the-wrist sentences -- goes away, MM's will go away too. Until then, they won't.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 21, 2012 9:31:11 PM

Bill--

If sentencing weren't so preposterously subjective, impulsive and irrational, what you just said might make sense.

What's lenient and what's not appears to turn almost entirely on the mindset of the people making that judgment...and ultimately, where those people fall on the continuum with merciful/forgiving sensibilities on one end and harshly punitive to sadistic sensibilities on the other.

All the sentencing guidelines accomplished was to fix punishments folks like Bill Otis would view as appropriately severe...largely because folks like Bill were in political ascendancy when the guidelines were concocted. Conversely, folks like me -- and lots of observers in other Western Democracies -- consider American punishments way too severe.

Posted by: John K | May 22, 2012 3:01:30 PM

I have a feeling of safety reading people who are sentenced for their wrong deeds. This means that justice is dynamic in spite of some controversies claiming that there is injustice happening.

Posted by: Sletten Mccloskey | Mar 6, 2013 2:20:51 AM

It's really unfair. She deserves a fair trial. People should give her a chance to speak her side. C'mon guys, if you're also in her situation, I believe you can do that also.

Posted by: Steinhoff Agee | Mar 13, 2013 5:49:44 AM

Where is the so called DUE PROCESS OF LAW if she is already sentence without given a chance to defend her side. That is unfair.

Posted by: Rocker Hoag | Mar 14, 2013 2:21:32 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB