Last 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 Marion Hammer, a long-time representative of the National Rifle Association (you’re a member, right?) as well as a representative of Unified Sportsmen of Florida (Florida’s NRA affiliate). She provides some interesting historical context to the implementation of “10-20-Life” and its inapplicability to self-defense situations:
Sen. Evers: Next up we’ll have Miss Marion Hammer. Miss Hammer, how are you doing?
Hammer: I’m good, but a little short today.
Sen. Evers: That’s OK, that’s OK, but you’re standing up for a great issue.
Hammer: I’ll stand tall.
Sen. Evers: So you’re standing tall.
Hammer: Thank you Mr. Chairman, committee members. The NRA and Unified Sportsmen of Florida support this bill. This bill will stop prosecutors who are violating the intent of “10-20-Life.” And anybody in law enforcement and in the criminal justice system, if they don’t know what the intent is, all they have to do is a little research.
The intent of “10-20-Life” was to put criminals who use guns during the commission of a crime behind bars and keep them off our streets. And to stop plea-bargaining and sentence reductions for gun-wielding criminals by prosecutors and judges who were slapping gun-toting criminals on the wrist so they could quickly clear cases. That’s a matter of history.
I was here in 1999 when we passed “10-20-Life”, and the NRA supported it and helped pass it. So I know what is intended, and why. And we never would have supported a bill that would have allowed a prosecutor to prosecute somebody exercising self-defense.
Prosecutors are using it wrongly to prosecute people who in an act of self-defense or defense of a loved one threaten to use force because they really don’t want to shoot somebody. If you actually shoot an attacker, the law protects you. But if you merely threaten to shoot an attacker, and the attacker runs away, some prosecutors will still try to put you in prison for 10 to 20 years. Some, not all, but any is too many.
That’s the hard cold reality of how law-abiding people who would never have been in the system if they hadn’t been attacked or in fear for their safety are being treated.
Threatening to use deadly force to stop a violent attack is not aggravated assault. It is self-defense. Self-defense is not a crime, it is a Constitutional right, and those rights are being trampled. There are people sitting in prison today who should not be there, but are, because some prosecutors abuse their discretion.
Unfortunately if you are suddenly attacked and you pull a gun that you are licensed to carry for self-defense, to chase off an attacker, and the attacker runs away and no harm is done, you could still be prosecuted. You could become low-hanging fruit for some abusive prosecutor. Prosecutorial discretion doesn’t mean they can violate the intent of the law or the Constitution.
We hope this bill will put a stop to that, and we hope you will support it.
Sen. Evers: Thank you, Miss Marion.
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.