The blogosphere lit up following George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the Trayvon Martin case, with many bloggers pointing out what seemed to be a similar case with a very different result. Just a year earlier, Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison for discharging a warning shot at her husband after he threatened to kill her. Didn’t both cases involve firing guns? They did — and yet, in one case, someone died and the shooter was acquitted; in the other case, no one died but the shooter went to prison for 20 years.
Crimes with firearms lead to mandatory prison sentences
In the case of George Zimmerman, there was no conviction, so his gun use did not trigger the mandatory “10-20-Life” minimum sentence under that statute. In Marissa Alexander’s case, however, she was convicted of the underlying crime, so her use of a gun triggered the additional sanctions.
Florida’s gun laws don’t allow criminal courts any discretion in sentencing for crimes where a firearm was used. Florida courts are required to sentence offenders to a minimum period of 10 years, 20 years, or 25 years to life in prison if a firearm was used in the commission of certain serious felonies such as murder, carjacking, arson and others. Those sentences apply even when there are attempts to commit those crimes. The prison term is determined by how the weapon was used:
10-year prison sentence – For conviction of one of the enumerated felonies while armed
20-year prison term – For conviction of one of the enumerated felonies if the accused actually fired the weapon
25-year to life term – For conviction of one of the enumerated felonies if the accused fired the weapon, killing or seriously injuring another person
This term of punishment for carrying or using a firearm in the course of a felony is in addition to the penalty for the underlying crime itself. With the 10-20-Life statute, courts have no authority to suspend or defer sentences or grant discretionary early release.