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Arrest of University of Florida football player Deoindre Porter

University of Florida football player Deoindre Porter was arrested Wednesday for four (4) felony charges, including two counts of aggravated assault, for allegedly pointing a gun at his girlfriend’s head, and later, allegedly firing a shot at her. If these charges are filed by the State Attorney’s Office, the 19-year-old freshman could face 23 years of mandatory prison time, under Florida’s 10-20-Life Law.

The 10-20-Life Law (Florida Statute 775.087) was passed in 1999, in response to a rash of violent gun crimes, committed by repeat offenders. Under the 10-20-Life Law, displaying a firearm during an aggravated assault carries a mandatory minimum sentence of three (3) years in prison. Discharging a gun during an aggravated assault, carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison. If those are two separate incidents, as alleged in Mr. Porter’s case, the mandatory minimum sentences must be imposed consecutively, or one after another.

Florida’s 10-20-Life Law does not take into account a person’s good character or lack of criminal record. Judges have no discretion, and if a person is convicted, they must impose the mandatory sentence, whether or not they agree the punishment fits the crime. Mandatory sentences also require “day for day” prison time, with no opportunity for gain time or early release from prison.

Marissa Alexander drew national attention to Jacksonville, when she was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault for firing one shot at her estranged husband and his two sons. Ms. Alexander argued at trial that she fired the gun in self defense, but the jury was not convinced, and convicted her of all three counts. Because she had discharged the gun, the judge had no choice but to sentence her to 20 years in prison, as required by 10-20-Life. Many were outraged by this harsh sentence for a 31 year-old mother of three, who had no prior criminal record. Fortunately, Ms. Alexander’s case was eventually reversed on appeal, and she was able to negotiate a plea with the state attorney’s office, that allowed her to be released from jail, after serving 1,095 days.

If Mr. Porter is convicted as charged, he faces much more than the loss of his football career. His case will hopefully draw more attention to the unfairness of the 10-20-Life Law, and the need to examine mandatory sentences, which take the important job of sentencing out of the judge’s hands.