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The Florida Bar


Florida has one of the toughest mandatory minimum sentencing laws in the country in terms of the use of firearms during the commission of a felony. The 10-20-life model requires that felons convicted of certain crimes, who are found to have used a gun while committing the crime, will receive harsh sentencing that judges have little discretion to downwardly depart from. During the past 15 years or so, there has been a national trend towards toughening sentences and reducing judges’ discretion, which proponents argue makes the system fairer by ensuring that similar crimes receive similar punishment, says Broward criminal lawyer Moore.

For defendants who are found to have used a firearm while committing a felony, the minimum sentence is 10 years in a state prison. If the defendant is found to have discharged the weapon during his commission of the offense, the mandatory minimum is 20 years. If a person is killed or injured, the sentence increases to 25 years to life imprisonment.

The program cracks down in other ways, too. Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon is a criminal act and, under this program, is now punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison. Additionally, the law now requires that the mandatory minimum sentences for these offenses committed with firearms be served consecutively — never concurrently with other sentences. Frequently, criminal defendants who are convicted of offenses at trial or who take plea deals are permitted to serve sentences concurrently. For example, a person who is sentenced to ten years in jail for an aggravated battery and one year in prison for violating his DUI probation due to the new charge might be permitted to serve the one year at the same time as the clock is running for the 10 years — an aggregate of 10 years, rather than 11.

Proponents of 10-20-life say that the solution to violent crime is to crack down on it and to deny judges’ discretion in sentencing for these offenses. Criminologists have studied crime deterrence, however, and perhaps the most important factor in deterring crime is the person’s perception of how likely it is he will be apprehended for committing, not how severe the consequences are. Mandatory minimum sentencing has also been enacted for numerous felony drug offenses in the state of Florida. Many criminal lawyers believe that imposition of these sentences in drug cases has contributed to the large prison population.

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