In a Historic Move, Florida Suspends 10-20-Life Rule

Just two years ago, a person in Florida could fire a warning shot away from an intruder and face twenty years in a state prison. Florida’s “10-20-Life” law imposed mandatory minimum sentences for felonies involving guns, regardless of the details of the case. Judges were completely barred from using their discretion to issue a sensible punishment. The passage of Senate Bill 228 put an end to the law in a historic effort to roll back some of the remnants from the state’s tough-on-crime years.

How the 10-20-Life Law Came to Be

In 1998, guns were used in over 30,000 violent offenses. While campaigning for governor, Jeb Bush proposed the 10-20-Life law and aggressively advocated for it as the foundation of his platform. After a successful election, the law passed in 1999.

The highly-controversial law prevented judges from using their discretion to determine fair punishments for violent offenders. Essentially, it prevented them from doing their job. Judges could not consider the specifics of any particular case when issuing a sentence; they were required to issue a minimum of a 10-year prison term for any offender caught with a firearm during the commission of a forcible felony. This placed all the discretion in the prosecutors’ court, which took fairness out of the equation.

Florida judges came out against the 10-20-Life law due to its inflexible nature and unintended consequences. They frequently passed down strict sentences they did not wish to impose. In one particular case, a judge was forced to sentence a man to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot at the ground in an effort to scare off a confrontational ex-girlfriend. Unfortunately, the updated law is not retroactive, meaning that offenders who are already serving sentences under the old law will be required to complete them.

Breaking Down the 10-20-Life Law

Over 15,000 people were sentenced under the 10-20-Life law. The law required courts to impose mandatory minimum sentences for any felony offenses involving firearms. Judges were forced to punish those who committed or attempted to commit the following felonies under the law:

  • Murder
  • Sexual battery
  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Arson
  • Aggravated assault
  • Aggravated battery
  • Kidnapping
  • Escape
  • Aircraft piracy
  • Aggravated child abuse
  • Aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult
  • Unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb
  • Carjacking
  • Home invasion
  • Aggravated stalking
  • Drug trafficking
  • Felon in possession of a firearm

Under the law, the courts were required to impose the following sentences:

  • 10-year prison sentence for anyone convicted of committing or attempting to commit any of the above felonies while armed with a firearm or destructive device
  • 20-year prison sentence if the accused fired the gun
  • 25-years to life in prison if the accused shot the gun and it hurt or killed another person

What changed?

Essentially, Senate Bill 228 nullified the 10-20-Life law by allowing judges to use their discretion when sentencing violent offenders. The enactment of this bill affects the outcome of cases currently being handled by the criminal justice system.

If you face charges for any of the violent felonies listed above, you can still endure significant penalties that can alter your way of life. With a competent criminal defense lawyer in Orlando on your side, it may be possible to mitigate or dismiss the charges against you. Talk to an experienced attorney at The Umansky Law Firm by calling 407-228-3838 or contact us online to discuss your case for free. We are on chat 24/7.