Florida: Minimum-mandatory gun sentences need revamping
Minimum-mandatory sentencing sounds like a good idea, because it keeps judges from imposing lighter, or no sentences upon dangerous criminals. But while legislators hold judges feet to the fire with broad-brush mandatory sentencing laws, many decent, non-dangerous people are being victimized with excessive penalties that they don’t deserve.
I would call upon the governor and the state representatives of Florida to reconsider these draconian mandates that strip judges of all discretion from considering extenuating circumstances in each and every case. We’ve gone too far in punishing people with minimum sentences just because they happened to be in possession of a firearm at the time of the alleged “crime.” I cite two particular Florida cases which serve as examples of overly “harsh” penalties imposed upon decent people whose back were to the walls in moments of domestic in-tranquility.
Our justice system has lost its sense of justice and humanity. Decent people who are no threat to society languish in prison for decades based on sentencing technicalities that strip judges from using judicial discretion. Meanwhile, dangerous criminals still roam the streets while honest and productive citizens languish in jail cells, leaving kids stripped of fathers and mothers.
Example One: Marissa Alexander, 31, Jacksonville. In 2012, this mother of a three small kids, holding a master’s degree and working at a job, was sentenced to 20 years in state prison. Her crime: Firing a gun toward a wall as a warning shot during a domestic fight with her estranged husband, who was under a restraining order.
Charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, prosecutors offered a plea deal for reduced charges, but she declined, feeling she was guilty of no crime. The jury found her guilty, compelling the judge to sentence her to 20 years, based on laws that give judges no discretion.
Said Circuit Judge Donald Jacobsen: “If it weren’t for the minimum mandatory aspect of this, I would use my discretion and impose some separated sentence, considering the circumstances of this event.”
The insanity of such cruel and harsh punishment is incomprehensible. Even if she showed poor judgment, there was no justifiable reason to incarcerate a productive, law-abiding human being for 7,300 days. The state not only punished Alexander, but three kids will grow up without a mother.
Example Two: Orville Wollard, 53, Davenport. This family man, gainfully employed, had been coping with a problem whereby his live-at-home daughter was often abused by her violence-prone boyfriend.
On May 14, 2008, Wollard was called at work by his wife, advising of a volatile situation at the house. He later saw that his daughter had a black eye. Having had arm surgery, Wollard was no match for the young man in a physical altercation. The boyfriend was ordered out of the house but refused.
The fighting escalated until Wollard retrieved his legally owned firearm. After the angry boy punched a hole in the wall, he confronted the older man. Wollard fired a shot into the wall. The boyfriend left. No one was hurt. Weeks later, the boyfriend called police and filed a report.
Wollard was prosecuted and convicted of the same crime as Alexander. As in that case, and because he was in possession of a firearm at the time of a felony, the judge was duty bound under minimum mandatory laws to sentence this good and decent man to 20 years in prison, wrecking his life and the life of his family.
At the sentencing, Wollard spoke to the court: “This person assaults my daughter, he threatens me, I protect myself. No one is injured, and I am going to prison. I would expect this from the Soviet Union not the United States.”
The state Clemency Board and/or Florida governor have the power to grant pardons and/or clemency when miscarriages of justice are wrongfully imposed against citizens. Alexander and Wollard certainly qualify for consideration.