The presence or use of a weapon during the commission of any criminal offense can result in elevated charges and penalties. Let’s discuss how firearm possession may lead to enhancements in the state of Florida.
How Do Firearms Enhancements Work?
According to state laws, firearms enhancements may be applicable if the defendant carried, used, displayed, or threatened to use a firearm during the commission of a criminal offense. Even if the firearm was not used, the defendant can still face additional penalties simply for being in possession at the time of the crime.
Some of the most common offenses that involve firearms enhancements include:
- Sex crimes
- Drug offenses
Florida’s 10-20 Life Law
In 1999, Florida enacted the 10-20 Life law to crack down on gun violence. This law requires that defendants are required to serve a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, 20 years, or life if they use a gun during the commission of certain serious felony offenses.
- The defendant faces a 10 year sentence if they carried a firearm at the time of the offense.
- The defendant faces a 20 year sentence if they fired the gun during the offense.
- The defendant faces 25 years to life imprisonment if they used the firearm and someone was seriously injured or killed as a result.
Not all criminal offenses were covered under the 10-20 Life law. Some that were included are murder, assault, drug trafficking, and robbery.
The 10-20 Life Law faced a fair share of criticism. The most widespread concern was the strict and lengthy mandatory minimum sentences. Some critics did not feel that the punishment fit the crime. Others were concerned about the potential repercussions of these guidelines, specifically regarding the right to self-defense and firing warning shots. Would people be sentenced to prison time for defending themselves? The implications of the 10-20 Life Law concerned many.
Changes to the 10-20 Life Law in Florida
Eventually, Florida laws changed to alter the 10-20 Life law. Beginning in 2016, judges were no longer required to sentence defendants to the mandatory minimums listed above in cases of aggravated assault. Instead, they now have the discretion to apply weapons enhancements as they see fit based on the situation. Judges might choose to sentence the defendant to less time if they believe:
- The aggravated assault was justifiable
- The offense did not take place in connection to another crime
- The defendant is not a threat to the public
- The sentence is too severe for the offense
It is important to note that this does not affect those who were sentenced prior to the law change. In other words, individuals currently serving time under the 10-20 Life law are not eligible for a different sentence under the new guidelines. Additionally, the above firearms enhancements and mandatory minimums are still applicable in cases other than aggravated assault.
FAQs about Firearm Enhancements
Are There Only Sentencing Enhancements for Firearms?
No - an individual may face aggravated charges or an enhanced sentence for using any type of weapon during the commission of a crime. This is especially true if they possess or use a deadly weapon. In Florida, a deadly weapon constitutes any object that can be used to cause death or serious injury. Many objects that are not traditionally thought of as weapons may be considered deadly weapons under unique circumstances. For example, a car may be a deadly weapon if the driver attempts to hit someone with it.
Does Having a Criminal Record Affect Firearms Enhancements?
It can. If you have a prior record of criminal offenses, specifically violent criminal offenses or offenses involving weapons, then your firearms enhancement may be more severe. If the judge sees a past, related offense on your record then they might sentence you to more time than the mandatory minimum. This is to penalize you, as well as deter you from committing another offense in the future.
Can The Judge Sentence The Defendant To Less Than The Mandatory Minimum?
In most cases, no. As stated above, Florida judges are currently only able to sentence the defendant to less than the mandatory minimum in cases of aggravated assault. Otherwise, judges do not have discretion with sentencing. This is one of the main complaints about mandatory minimum sentences, as many convicted of crimes end up serving lengthier prison sentences than what is just.
Are There Federal Firearms Enhancements?
Yes, federal sentencing guidelines also include firearms enhancements. The federal mandatory minimum sentences for firearms enhancements range from five years to life, and cover instances where the defendant:
- Possessed a firearm
- Brandished a firearm
- Discharged a firearm
- Used an automatic weapon, machine gun, or other fast-acting firearm
- Has a previous firearm enhancement conviction
These enhancements are most commonly connected to cases of federal drug trafficking.
Can I Fight a Firearms Enhancement?
Yes, and you should! You always have the right to defend yourself against criminal accusations. You also always have the right to legal counsel. Working with a defense attorney is the best way to fight charges for the original offense as well as the firearms enhancement that you are facing. An experienced attorney can fight for you to get a positive outcome using extensive legal knowledge and creative defense strategies.
Firearms Charges Defense in Broward County
The State of Florida is notoriously tough on crime. When you are accused of a criminal offense involving sentencing enhancements and mandatory minimum prison sentences, you cannot delay getting started on your defense. Our team at Hager & Schwartz, P.A. has helped clients through numerous complex cases, ultimately reaching success and allowing them to carry on with their futures unencumbered by a criminal conviction. You can have confidence working with our defense team knowing that we get results. Set up a case consultation today, click here or call us at (954) 840-8713.