A recently published Southwestern Law Review article provides an insightful look into the incongruity of Florida's pro-gun "stand your ground" legislation and its "tough on crime" 10-20-Life firearm sentencing enhancements.
Author Anna Heller argues that the two laws cannot properly co-exist since one encourages citizens to own and use a gun for self protection, while the other exposes them to serious penalties if the firearm is accessed in a number of potentially complicated real-life scenarios. See: “Use a Gun and Your Done: How 10-20-Life and “Stand Your Ground” Together Have a Disparate Impact on Florida Citizens.”
Florida's liberal concealed carry privileges, coupled with the rights conferred by "stand your ground legislation" unfortunately contribute to an unbridled confidence among many Florida gun owners. Unfortunately, many people have an inaccurate or incomplete understanding of when they can lawfully brandish or discharge the firearm. To make matters worse, their decision to use a firearm is typically made at a time of high anxiety. That choice must be made in a matter of seconds. After all, if they are truly under threat of serious harm, they will lack sufficient time for careful reflection. See our earlier article: Is Standing Your Ground... An Unsteady Defense?
Heller's Law Review article reveals the harsh inequitable results that can sometime occur in the criminal justice system when a firearm becomes part of the facts and circumstances in a case. The minimum mandatory penalties called for under Florida's firearm enhancement sentencing scheme take away judicial discretion. This can lead to the imposition of a disproportionate penalty for mitigated conduct or scenarios that entail a "less than perfect" self defense situation.
Warning Shot Legislation Likely to Further Confuse Gun Owners
Recently, Governor Rick Scott signed House Bill 89 of 2014 into law. Although the statute never uses the actual words, “warning shots,” it legalizes the “threat of force” where actual force would otherwise be a legal defense. This law was passed to address what many believe was an unjust result in the 2012 conviction of Marissa Axlexander who was sentenced to a mandatory minimum twenty-year prison term after she fired off a warning shot to ward off her abusive husband who was again threatening to hurt her.
Some in the legal community wonder if the new law complicates matters. They argue that the statute will likely cause citizens to shoot first and think about their actions later. It is important to remember that the new “warning shot” legislation does not relax the standards that apply to the use of a firearm. To the contrary, a warning shot can only be employed under circumstances that would have otherwise justified the use of deadly force for self defense.
Second Guessing Your Decision to Stand Your Ground
In his book “Florida Firearms – Law Use & Ownership” author Jon H. Gutmacher outlines the complexity of Florida firearm laws in great detail. Throughout his work, the author exposes the potential trips and traps that can lead to your arrest. Gutmacher writes:
“The criminal always has the advantage, because he is not afraid to use his weapon illegally. Moreover, you may fall into the trap of trying to decide if your use of the weapon is legal or not, If you miss, or not. If you get sued, prosecuted, or not. All of these things, and more will be going through your mind, and all are unfortunately to your disadvantage from a standpoint of survival. However, they are the law, and must be followed to whatever extent you reasonably can.”
Looking in the rear view mirror, state prosecutors will sometimes conclude that a person's decision to use his firearm failed to meet the necessary prerequisites to lawfully justify defending himself with deadly force. If that is the case, he now faces the threat of some serious consequences.
Keep in mind that if a jury concludes you were "not" in reasonable fear of serious bodily harm or imminent death, your pointing a firearm at a would-be-attacker could lead to a felony "Aggravated Assault With a Firearm" charge that could subject you to a minimum mandatory three year state prison sentence. Had you fired the weapon, it could produce a twenty year term because you actually discharged the firearm. Thus, the privilege of gun ownership and “concealed carry” in Florida comes cloaked in a complex and little understood set of rules surrounding the right to defend yourself with that weapon.
Firearm is Involved? ... Best to Seek the Early Intervention of a Lawyer
If you are in danger of being charged with the improper use of a firearm, it is imperative that you meet with us to discuss the underlying facts of your case. The criminal defense lawyers in our office are former state prosecutors who can intervene on your behalf with the Pinellas County State Attorney's Office. It could be highly beneficial for us to get your full side of the story known early-on in the case. Our prompt intervention could make a difference in the prosecutor's decision to formally file a 10-20-life charge, file a lesser offense, or to decline to prosecute you at all.
Uncovering Important Details – A Teamwork Approach
Our office is prepared to invest the time during your initial consultation to carefully review the facts in your case. The three criminal defense attorneys in our office work as a team to uncover important details. Let us examine every nuance that led to the conflict at issue. We need to focus on your state of mind at the time you accessed the firearm. Our questioning of a client can at times lead to discovering important aspects of their case. Our clients will sometimes remark that they forgot about a particular fact, or never considered other aspects of their case that actually turned out to be of great importance.
We are highly experienced Pinellas County Criminal Defense Lawyers. Schedule a free consultation - take advantage of our experience and a proactive approach designed to secure the best possible outcome.
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