JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Florida's mandatory minimum sentencing law came under fire again Thursday.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held a protest to bring attention to what it calls an "unjust application of the law in the Marissa Alexander case."
The NAACP and several elected officials are calling for a review of the "10-20-Life" sentencing law regarding gun cases.
Alexander is a Jacksonville woman recently sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a shot in the direction of her husband, who she said abused her. The sentencing came after she turned down a three-year plea deal and was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault.
Despite the circumstances, the judge said he had no option under Florida law to give her a lesser sentence.
Protesters say the sentence in a case in which nobody was hurt is a prime example of the "unjust application" of the law, which calls for 20 years for firing a gun during the commission of a crime.
"There's something wrong with the system. I live in a police state. That's unacceptable. This isn't China or Russia, it's America," U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown said. "The problem is, the Supreme Court judge said prosecutors have the only say. It should be the judge who should have some discretion, like she said, when you're involved in an assault. But this was an abused woman, abused, beaten."
Isaiah Rumlin, president of the local NAACP chapter, and about a dozen other supporters gathered in front of the new Duval County Courthouse on Thursday morning to express their frustration.
"It was designed for people who have been convicted of repeated crimes, have a tremendous record," Rumlin said. "This is what the 10-20-Life statute was meant for, not for somebody shooting up into a ceiling. Nobody is dead."
The protesters also accused State Attorney Angela Corey of overcharging Alexander and inconsistent application of the law.
They talked about another local case where a man shot into an occupied home and only got probation.
"Take the case of Johnny Will Rogers," Rumlin said. "This gentleman, his intent was to kill someone. But no one was killed, thank God for that, but the bullets hit the house. He served eight months. There is no fairness in the system."
Rogers pleaded guilty two months after his arrest, served 56 days in jail and got eight months probation.
"Since Angela Corey's tenure as State Attorney began, true justice has taken a back seat to political gamesmanship with the lives and fortunes of citizens in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties," Rumlin added. "Not only is this an injustice to Ms. Alexander, this is also an affront to the entire criminal justice system because Ms. Alexander, an African-American female, is being treated more harshly than similar situated white males."
Members of the NAACP said a judge should have the authority to decide an appropriate sentence after hearing all of the unique circumstances.
The NAACP announced it has organized a march and rally next Tuesday from Hemming Plaza to the new courthouse in support of Alexander.
"This is the beginning. We've got to do something with these laws. We've got to change the laws," Rumlin said. "This law that Marissa is serving 20 years under is not meant for cases in her situation."
That mandatory minimum sentence in Florida mandates 10 years for certain felonies or attempted felonies if the suspect has a gun, 20 if the gun is discharged and life if someone is injured or killed.
Corey said the application of the law was necessary in Alexander's case.
"It's the law of the state of Florida," she said. "The overwhelming opinion of the people of the state of Florida, that gun crime is dangerous, as evidenced by a gun being fired at two children and an unarmed man. That's why she was looking at a 20-year minimum mandatory. The same way a gang member that fired at another gang member but didn't hit anyone. To say no one got hurt, we don't punish people for whether or not somebody got hurt, we punish them for their actions. That's why discharging a firearm at human beings has a 20-year minimum mandatory."
Rumlin said protesters will be in Tallahassee when the state Legislature convenes early next year in hopes of getting 10-20-Life repealed.
For now, their fingers remain pointed at Corey, who they said had the choice to add 10-20-Life to Alexander's sentencing.
"The state attorney has the discretion to charge a crime with the way that she sees it," said Randy Depp, a defense attorney and former prosecutor. "But I'll tell you she was elected very similar to the legislators, which is being hard on crime, and it would seem soft to have somebody shooting at somebody else and not bring that charge against them."
Corey is out of town and was unavailable for comment Thursday.
Last week, Alexander's new lawyer from Fort Lauderdale filed a notice of appeal with the District Court of Appeals. That lawyer did not return a call for comment Thursday.
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