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pexels-photo     Florida law requires that certain prison sentences are mandatory for defendants who are found to have possessed, carried, displayed, or used a firearm during the commission of a qualifying felony. The qualifying felonies include murder, sexual battery, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault or battery, and carjacking among others as well as any attempt to commit one of those offenses. The law is commonly referred to as the 10/20/Life statute. The law requires a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison for a defendant found to have possessed a firearm during the commission of the qualifying felony, 20 years for anyone who discharges the firearm, and 25 years to life in prison if the firearm is fired and someone is killed or suffers great bodily harm as a result.

Another section of the law states that the court “shall impose any term of imprisonment … consecutively to any other term of imprisonment imposed for any other felony offense.” It is this part of the 10/20/Life statute that was the subject of an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court earlier this year.

The case involved a man who fired a gun into the air several times during a confrontation with four neighbors. The state charged the man with four counts of aggravated assault with a firearm, one count for each of the four neighbors. As a result of the 10/20/Life statute and the requirement to impose any sentence under that law consecutive to any other sentence, the man was facing a mandatory minimum sentence of 80 years in prison.

The jury convicted him of all counts and the judge imposed four consecutive mandatory minimum 20 year sentences despite the defense argument that the court had the discretion to run the sentences concurrently. An intermediate appellate court agreed with the trial judge and affirmed the sentences but certified the case to the Florida Supreme Court as a question of great importance.

The Florida Supreme Court disagreed with the lower court and ruled that a trial judge is not required to impose consecutive minimum terms of imprisonment when the offenses arise from a single criminal episode. However, in cases involving separate and distinct offenses or separate and distinct victims, courts may still impose the mandatory sentences consecutive to one another.

The author is a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney.