Monday, October 6, 2014

Absurd Mandatory sentences: Killing in self-defense is o.k.- but firing a warning shot gets you 20 years!

CBS News [...]   According to Wollard, the young man lunged at him and punched a hole in a wall; the teenager disputes that. But no one disagrees about what happened next. 

"So I fire a warning shot into the wall, [and] I said, 'The next one's between your eyes,'" said Lee. 

Sandy continued, "And the kid turned around and just hurried out the door. And that was the end of that."

Not quite. 

Wollard was charged with shooting into a building with a firearm, aggravated assault, and child endangerment. And when he went on trial a year later, a jury convicted him of all charges -- and then Judge Donald Jacobsen sentenced him to 20 years in Florida state prison, the mandatory minimum.

That means Wollard will serve every day of 20 years in state prison.[...]

It didn't matter that Lee Wollard was a first offender, or that no one was physically injured. In Florida, a conviction for aggravated assault involving a firearm means an automatic 20 years. That's the mandatory minimum sentence.

"I looked at him and told him, 'I would not be sentencing you to this term of incarceration, 20 years Florida state prison, if it were not for the fact that I was obligated under my oath as a judge to do so,'" said Judge Jacobson.[...]

And Wollard's sentence seems particularly harsh, says his wife, when you consider that in Florida, if you happen to kill someone while "standing your ground" in self-defense, you may face no charges at all. 

"But if you shoot a warning shot just to scare them away, you'll get twenty years in prison," said Sandy.[...]


  1. In most cases, it's the warning shot that's at best misguided. American self defense law is more or less settled law. In most of the USA (except Florida, which recently made firing a warning shot legal – though, if I understand correctly, someone firing a warning shot is liable for any unintended consequences) firing a warning shot is considered to be de facto proof that you weren't feeling in immediate danger of your life or safety, which is what may permit you to use deadly force such as a gunshot.

    Massad Ayoob, a veteran law enforcement officer and probably the US's premier trainer on civilian use of lethal force writes:

    "Warning shots send a bullet out of the barrel, and that bullet will land somewhere. If you’re watching the suspect, how can you be sure your warning shot won’t land somewhere it shouldn’t?

    Serious students of armed defense know that the 'warning shot' is a bad idea, an act expressly forbidden by most police departments insofar as their own officers’ 'rules of engagement.'”

    The interesting exposition of which this is a part is here, and includes both legal and tactical reasons for his thinking:

  2. I think that 20 years is quite excessive - but: if you pull a gun you better use it. And that is true of any other weapon.
    The pulling of a weapon solely as a threat endangers the life of the person who pulled the weapon and those around him.


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