Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: Just Another Injustice?

Florida’s mandatory minimum gun laws might have initially been proposed and passed as a way to deter gun crimes and punish those who commit them, but as our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers know, they often have unintended, unjust consequences.
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As was highlighted in a national broadcast by CBS this past weekend, the case of Floridian Lee Wollard epitomizes why mandatory minimum sentencing laws are not the crime-preventing tools of justice you might think they are.

Because of these strict rules that don’t allow for a judge’s discretion, a man is spending 20 years behind bars simply for firing a warning shot in an effort to lawfully protect his family.

According to reports and court records, Lee Wollard, who used to live in Davenport with his family, had invited his daughter’s disturbed boyfriend to live with his family, as he had stumbled on hard times. A short while after he joined the family in their home, the boyfriend turned violent. One night, Wollard heard his daughter screaming for help, and he rushed out of his bedroom, where he entered into a verbal altercation with the boyfriend, then 17 years old.

The 17-year-old, according to Wollard, threw a punch. Then, according to all parties involved, Wollard grabbed his firearm and fired a warning shot into the wall before telling the 17-year-old boyfriend that the next shot would be headed toward him if he didn’t leave. As Wollard expected he would, the boyfriend stopped terrorizing Wollard’s daughter and left the home. Wollard never had to harm — let alone lay a finger on — the boyfriend to get him to stop what he was doing.

As our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert know, this story sounds like one that emphasizes the benefits of gun ownership and the right to defend oneself and one’s family. Unfortunately, mandatory minimum sentencing laws were triggered, and Wollard will now spend 20 years of his life in prison for what was just described above.

He was charged with firing a bullet into a building (because he shot at the wall to scare the boyfriend), aggravated assault, and child endangerment (because the boyfriend terrorizing his daughter happened to be 17 at the time). Despite the fact that Wollard was simply trying to protect his daughter and his family, and despite the fact that he never harmed the young man causing the trouble to begin with, a jury convicted him on all charges and the judge was forced to sentence him to 20 years in state prison.

As this case demonstrates, the central problem with mandatory minimum sentencing laws is that they take away discretion from the judge because they don’t allow for considerations based on individual circumstances. They treat each and every case in which a particular charge is filed as being the same, when we all know each case is different; each case has its own extenuating circumstances that help explain what happens and why. A judge is rendered powerless with mandatory minimum sentencing laws; there may as well be a robot behind the bench, handing out sentences regardless of the individual facts of the case. That isn’t justice.

Until mandatory minimum gun laws are changed, people like Lee Wollard, and numerous others victimized by these laws in Florida, will continue to suffer unjustly.

If you have any questions about these laws or about any other criminal defense issue, please contact our criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Liefert & Leifert. To schedule a free consultation, give us a call at 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363). We look forward to speaking with you.

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