This past week the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted 5-0 to advance SB 448, commonly referred to as the “warning shot” bill. I address the substance of this bill (and its House counterpart, HB 89) in some detail over at Legal Insurrection: Florida “Warning Shot” Bill Advances.) Notably, every speaker before the committee was supportive of the bill; Bill Cervone, representing State Prosecutors, was ambivalent about the bill itself, but supportive of the bill’s goal of excluding acts of self-defense from the “10-20-Life” mandatory minimum sentencing statute.
So far I’ve posted up rough transcripts and video of:
Florida Representative Neil Combee, the sponsor of the parallel bill in the House, HN 89: VIDEO: On “Warning Shot” Bill, Addresses Verbal Defensive Threats, Marissa Alexander Scenarios.
In this post I’m highlighting the testimony of Greg Newburn, who heads an organization called Families Against Mandatory Minimums (Greg’s contact information is available at that link, if interested.)
He provided the committee with several specific examples in which “10-20-Life” had been applied by aggressive prosecutors to self-defense type cases, resulting in what seem truly egregious sentences–including one example of an 81-year-old man, accompanied by his 84-year-old wife, who prosecutors threatened with a 20-year sentence for having held a holstered pistol at his side in the face of threatening behavior from a 23-year-old squatter and friends who had illegally taken over his lake house.
Read to the end of my rough transcript for the actual video–also, for a very humorous exchange between Senators Evers and Dean, as well as some closing words of wisdom from Sen. Evers.
Newburn: I’m Greg Newburn, I’m the Florida project director of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Eric [Friday of Florida Carry] has already done a good job already talking about the nuances and the particulars of self-defense law, and what I’d like to do is share with the committee a that I believe illustrates perfectly why we need this particular bill.
Don Millner is 81-years-old. In January 2012 he and his wife went to a lake home that they owned, where a group of squatters had broken in and were living illegally. At some point Mr. Millner told them to leave. And a six-foot-two 23-year-old squatter refused, became aggressive, and his tone and mannerisms made Mr. Millner fear that this person was either going to hurt him or hurt his wife.
So Mr. Millner reached into his truck and he grabbed his revolver, for which he had a valid concealed carry license. He never took it from its holster. He held it down by his side and he told the man, if you don’t back down you’re going to get hurt.
(He told me, actually, if I was 20-years younger I wouldn’t have needed the gun.)
[Senator Evers laughs.]
He told the man, if you don’t back off you’re going to get hurt. Mr. Millner’s wife called the police. The police came out and questioned everyone. And stunningly they arrested Mr. Millner and took him to jail.
He posted bond, and later he got a letter from the state attorney’s office that he said he was going to be formally charged with aggravated assault with a firearm. He was facing a three year mandatory minimum, and if he didn’t cooperate he could go to prison for 20 years.
In 80 years he had never been arrested, and this letter scared him more than anything in his life. His wife, who is 84, was left to wonder what would happen to her if he went to prison for three years, or God forbid 20.
I won’t give you the full description that Mr. Millner gave of the prosecutor, but he described her as “hyper-aggressive.”
Fortunately for Mr. Millner, in November of 2012 his case was dismissed by a judge, who said he was acting lawfully. But he was lucky, and in the end it cost him $10,000 in attorney’s fees, a year of his life with the prospect of a prison sentence hanging over his head, and the humiliation of arrest and what not, all the things that go along with arrest and prosecution.
So he’s lucky, but he’s not the only one. We’ve talked about the Marissa Alexander case, but her case is not unique either. Eric Wayott (sp?) 23-years-old, was about to beaten by a group of men outside of a bar, fires his gun into the air, he’s serving a 20-year prison sentence right now. He won’t be released until 2027, he’s already been in for 7 years.
Lee Wallard, fired a gun in his own home to scare off an abusive boyfriend who had just beaten up his daughter. Didn’t hurt anybody, he’s in prison right now serving a 20-year prison sentence, he’ll be in prison another 15 years before he’s scheduled to be released.
The reason we have these stories is that the law is unclear, and Eric [Friday] mentioned this. The force who threatened the use of force are subject to arrest, prosecution, and mandatory minimum sentences.
So, current law needlessly subjects these people to arbitrary and unjust prison sentences, and this bill will go a long way to solving that problem, so I urge the committee to pass the good bill.
Sen. Dean: In the case of the 81-year-old man, although the judge dismissed the case, what happens to his record the rest of his life that he was charged with a felony.
Newburn: As far as I know it’s on record that he was charged with a felony.
Sen. Dean: I think at somewhere we need to protect the innocent person’s record with that, too. Absolutely. Although he may never need it, had he been 40-years-younger, and had an application somewhere in his life, it would show that he had a charged placed against him. And I think it’s wrong.
Newburn: That’s absolutely right, I would agree.
Evers: That’s like the mug shots, because I’m sure they got a mug shot of him.
Newburn: I’m sure they do.
Sen. Evers: And it’s on mugshots.com unless he wants to pay $800 to $1,000 to get it taken off.
Sen. Dean: I would hope the sponsors consider that, that maybe it be added to, some kind of an amendment to the bill, that if they had such a thing.
Sen. Evers: Would you make that retroactive?
Sen. Dean: I just think it’s the right thing to do. What part of innocence do we not understand? And that is part of the significance of someone attempting to file that kind of charge, I feel that would be something that we should include if the sponsors would consider that, that the record would automatically be expunged, and I would hope that those who have endorsed this bill would aggressively pursue this for us.
Sen. Evers: What would you do with the folks that are serving prison sentences. Some guy beat up his daughter, what would you have done in that situation, Charlie?
Sen. Dean: I’m not going to answer that. [Courtroom laughter.]
I’m a former Sheriff. I always encouraged the folks in my county to have firearms, if they chose that, have them in their home. I didn’t think they were there to be threatening, I think they were there to be to protect them.
Sen. Evers: Yeah. A person with a firearm is a citizen, a person without a firearm is a victim.
Keep your eyes right here, folks, for more videos and rough transcripts from this week’s Florida Senate “warning shot” bill hearings. There’s more good stuff to come!
Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer and the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition,” available at the Law of Self Defense blog, Amazon.com (paperback and Kindle), Barnes & Noble (paperback and Nook), and elsewhere.
In addition to the book, Andrew also conducts Law of Self Defense Seminars all around the country. Seminars for 2014 are currently being scheduled, if you’d like to see one held in your area fill out the comment box on the LOSD Seminar review page, where you can also see reviews of recently completed seminars in New Hampshire, Maine, Texas, Massachusetts, Ohio, Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, and elsewhere.
Andrew is also a contributing author on self defense law topics to Combat Handguns, Ammoland.com, Legal Insurrection, and others.