Alexander case highlights Florida's 10-20-Life law

Marissa Alexander begins serving 2-years of community control

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While the legal proceedings against Marissa Alexander are over, the ramifications of her case could be felt for some time, particularly in the state Legislature.

Alexander's case has already helped prompt Florida's new so-called "warning shot" law, even though her claim that the shot fired at her husband was in self-defense was twice denied by a judge.

Now there is talk of changing the 10-20-Life law, which went into effect in 1999.

Under that law, Alexander could have received 60 years in jail for firing a gun in the direction of her estranged husband and his two sons.

The 10-20-Life law says someone who commits a felony crime using a gun will get at least 10 years in jail. Firing a gun during a crime draws a minimum of 20 years, and injuring someone by firing a gun during a crime gets the perpetrator life in prison.

For years, judges have been saying minimum mandatory sentences tie their hands on what they can do at sentencing.


When Judge James Daniel handed down his sentence for Alexander, he said he knew it would prompt discussion and possible changes to the law.

"I am sure after this hearing there will be no shortage of opinions about the case and the decision of the court. This case has sparked discussions and re-evaluation of the state's self-defense laws and mandatory minimum sentences at the highest levels of state government," Daniel said during Alexander's sentencing hearing Tuesday. "Along with one or two other cases, this case has been the catalyst for the so-called 'warning shot' bill and amending the application of the minimum mandatory sentencing under the state's 10-20-Life law, and aggravated assault cases and has been of significant interest to a number of people."

Daniel didn't want to talk about that statement Wednesday, but others were commenting on its implications.

Florida Coastal School of Law professor Rob Sullivan said judges have been talking about changing the law for the last five years, and Daniel's ruling and statement will add to the debate.

"I think 10-20-Life is a bad law," Sullivan said. "The very idea that Marissa Alexander could get 60 years for firing a single shot that did not hit a single person is simply excessive. But is the Legislature going to change it? I don't think they received enough public pressure for the Legislature to want to change the law."

But Rich Mantei, who was one of the prosecutors in the Alexander case, said some aspects of the law are very good.

"I don't think it should be abolished whatsoever," Mantei said. "Could some changes be made to some of the nuances of it that been going on incrementally over a decade or so? I think it's been a very useful and good thing, because people need to know when you take out a gun it's a serious thing."

In the end, it will be up to state lawmakers.

Sen. Rob Bradley said he does not see 10 -20-Life being thrown out all together but said changes in parts of it have taken place, like the warning shot measure last year. And he said more needs to be done, like leaving it up to judges to set a sentence in all aggravated assault cases with guns.


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