FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) today applauds Florida Gov. Rick Scott for signing HB 89, the “Threatened Use of Force Act.” This bill provides immunity for the threatened use of force in situations where the actual use of force is already justified under the law. It also provides an exception to mandatory minimum sentences for certain defendants convicted of aggravated assault with a firearm. The bill was sponsored by Representatives Neil Combee (R, Polk) and co-sponsored by Representative Katie Edwards (D, Sunrise). The Senate companion bill was sponsored by Senator Greg Evers (R, Pensacola).
“We are thrilled that Governor Scott signed the Threatened Use of Force Act into law,” says Greg Newburn, FAMM’s Florida Project Director. “This bill takes a step to correcting some of the most egregious unintended consequences of 10-20-Life,” he added. Newburn noted that the Threatened Use of Force Act’s “safety valve,” added to the bill through a floor amendment by Representative Matt Gaetz (R, Fort Walton Beach), is the first exception to 10-20-Life since the law was passed in 1999. He added that the safety valve highlights the need for mandatory minimum reform generally. “No one anticipated that 10-20-Life would be used to put citizens in prison for two decades because they fired a warning shot, but that’s what happened. Safety valves like the one in HB 89 go a long way to correcting negative unintended consequences of mandatory minimum laws.”
Newburn highlighted the cases of Orville Lee Wollard, Erik Weyant, Ronald Thompson, and Marissa Alexander as indicative of the need for reform. “In all of those cases, an otherwise law-abiding citizen felt threatened and responded by firing a warning shot. No one was injured in any of the cases, but each defendant was sentenced to 20 years in prison.”
He also noted that while Marissa Alexander’s trial has been postponed until December, Wollard, Weyant, and Thompson are all currently serving prison sentences for warning shots. “Lee Wollard, Erik Weyant and Ron Thompson have all served much more time than their crime deserved,” Newburn says. “Every day they spend in prison is a massive injustice and a tremendous waste of tax dollars. Combined, they pose zero threat to public safety, and I hope the Clemency Board reviews their cases. If they do, I’m confident the members will agree that clemency is appropriate for all three.”
FAMM was pleased that the bill drew wide bipartisan support, and thanks the bill’s sponsors for its success. “The House bill had close to 40 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, and that’s a credit to the hard work and leadership of Representative Combee, Representative Edwards, and Senator Evers,” Newburn said.