Senator Dwight Bullard of District 39 sent a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder requesting he take a closer look at Florida’s mandatory minimum gun laws as it relates to race.
In this letter Bullard highlights the high profile case ofMarissa Alexander, who is a 33-year-old mother who shot a gun into a wall in an attempt to ward off an abusive husband and received 20 years in prison. The second case is that of Michael Giles, a former U.S. airman who shot a man in the leg in self-defense during a large brawl outside of a Tallahassee nightclub and received 25 years to life in prison.
Both were sentenced under Florida’s 10-20-life statute which is a controversial mandatory minimum sentencing law that requires courts to impose a minimum sentence of 10 years, 20 years, or 25 years to life for certain felony convictions involving the use or attempted use of a firearm or destructive device during the commission of a violent felony.
Senator Bullard believes that beyond its discriminatory nature, it’s the upholders of the law who are put in a difficult bind to provide appropriate sentences when faced with certain gun-related situations.
“Not only do I believe there are too many judges who have their hands tied in granting sentences more proportionate to the incident, but I am also concerned race has been a factor in the sentencing process where extenuating circumstances have been overwhelmingly ignored,” Bullard stated.
The restriction of individuals unsuccessfully being able to invoke Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law in applicable cases is what’s most disturbing to Senator Bullard. The “Stand Your Ground” law gives individuals the right to use deadly force against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary in an effort to defend themselves. Many have questioned the impartiality of the law especially in regards to race.
“Innocent people are slipping through the cracks. Somehow there are those people who do not qualify to defend themselves under Stand Your Ground but are prosecuted by using the mandatory minimum sentencing. It’s problematic,” Bullard stated.
Along with a letter to the U.S Attorney General, Bullard also sent a letter to the governor of the State of Florida Rick Scott, along with his cabinet members to pardon Marissa Alexander and request a commute to the 25-year sentence of U.S. airman Michael Giles.
In part to this letter and the many supporters and lawmakers, the appellate court announced a retrial would be set for the Marisa Alexander case.
“My letter was one of the many of the public outcries for Ms. Alexander. The imbalance of the justice system really came to light and now the voiceless innocent victims can see that there is an opportunity to get some real justice, Bullard stated.
In the letter to Florida Governor Rick Scott, Bullard states that. “ Efforts are again underway to reform this law in the state legislature. I am hopeful that the leadership will finally agree that some kind of change is needed as the number of innocent individuals wrongly caught in its snare continues to mount.”
Senator Bullard’s request regarding the mandatory minimum sentencing law is simple. He believes that there needs to be more judicial discretion in the use of the law. The lack of flexibility for judges removes the ability for them to properly sentence.
As of press time, U.S. Attorney General Holder and Governor Scott have not responded to the letters.