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20-year sentencing when no one hurt discusssed

Lawmakers moved to give judges more discretion in some cases

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida could spend as much as $100 million housing 27 prisoners sentenced to mandatory prison terms last year alone, even though in some, if not most, of the cases, no one was hurt. Lawmakers this week moved to give judges more discretion in some cases.

The cases surround three people who all fired warning shots in which no one was hurt -- Lee Wollard, Erik Weyant and Marissa Alexander. All three got 20 years in prison under the state's minimum mandatory sentencing laws. Lawmakers are now saying that 20 years might not be right when no one was hurt.

"Nobody's touched. There's no physical contact at all. There is no physical harm. And you haven't been accused of lying, cheating, stealing or hitting anybody," Rep. Neil Combee said.

Controversy over Alexander's case got her break after three years in prison, and she was re-sentenced to time served and two years house arrest. Wollard sought clemency, but was turned down by the governor, which devastated his wife.

Weyant, who was just 23 when he fired the shot, has already spent seven years in prison and isn't scheduled to be out until 2027.

Legislative documents show that 27 people went to state prison last year for aggravated assault. If they all got 20 years, the cost to taxpayers is more than $100 million.

The Smart Justice Coalition is expected to support the elimination of a mandatory sentence when no one is hurt.

"Aggravated assault isn't that serious of an issue in many cases, and as a result, there is no reason they need to be going to prison for that," said Barney Bishop, of the Smart Justice Coalition.

Unfortunately for Wollard and Weyant, changing the law won't help them get out any earlier, or keep taxpayers from spending $20,000 a piece each year to keep them behind bars.

In the Wollard and Weyant cases, both judges said they would have imposed much less severe penalties but their hands were tied. Eliminating the minimum mandatory sentence will give judges freedom to impose a sentence based on the circumstances of each case.