By now you should be familiar with the story of Marissa Alexander, who received a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence for firing a shot (without hurting anyone) to protect herself from an abusive spouse. As the saga continues, people are now starting to focus more on the mandatory sentence rather than on the failure of her self-defense claim under Florida's "stand your ground" law.
This AP article describes the problems with the 20-year mandatory minimum, including this sad fact: the lawmakers who created it never intended for it to apply to people like Marissa. Here are excerpts:
At [Alexander's] 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....Marissa Alexander is the price we pay when lawmakers choose one-size-fits-all sentencing policies instead of letting judges -- who see the offender, the family, and the community up close -- decide the sentence.