Florida court tosses 80-year sentence for firing gun in air

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – A man who was essentially given a life sentence for firing a gun in the air when four gay men ogled him from the house next door will have his sentence reduced after the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state’s 10-20-life wasn’t properly applied.

Ronald Williams pointed a gun at the men who were whistling and making comments at him as he walked into his Riviera Beach home and then he fired the weapon several times in the air. The men ran into the house, but nobody was injured. Williams was convicted of four counts of aggravated assault, which requires a mandatory minimum 20-year sentence when a gun is fired. The judge who sentenced Williams in 2010 believed that the law required the sentences run consecutively and gave him 80 years in prison. An appeals court upheld the sentence.

But the Supreme Court ruled 6-1 one that sentences could be served at the same time because they stemmed from the same incident. The ruling written by Justice James Perry indicated such an interpretation “belies common sense.”

Perry gave a hypothetical example of a first-time offender firing a gun into the ceiling in a sold out movie theater receiving 200 consecutive 20-year sentences, or 4,000 years, while a gang member with an extensive rap sheet could shoot and seriously injure someone outside theater and then escape from police and only be sentenced to 35-years – 25 years for the shooting and 10 for the escape.

“Nowhere in the statute does the Legislature require such grossly disproportionate sentences,” the opinion said, adding that if the law was applied that way, “defendants who commit relatively harmless offenses must serve hundreds of years in prison while some of the worst offenders receive comparatively de minimus imprisonment terms for crimes that are far more heinous in nature – and especially for nearly killing another person.”

Coincidentally, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law last week removing aggravated assault from offenses that fall under the 10-20-life law, which means judges will have discretion to hand out lower sentences.

Williams’ lawyer, Jonathan Kaplan, said he’s not sure if the new law can be applied in Williams’ case. But either way, he said he is trying to get Williams’ sentence knocked down from the 20 total years he’s now facing, including time served.

“If he injured four people – shot one in the leg, one in the arm, one in the shoulder – a judge could say, ‘Yeah, 20 years is not long enough,'” Kaplan said. “Twenty years is a lot for what he did.”

The incident took place in February 2008. Kaplan said he called Williams, now 31, to tell him about the court decision.

“He was very, very happy. He’s still got 20 years, but he’s very grateful,” Kaplan said. “Best news he’s heard in years.”

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