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Be wary of defending yourself in a domestic situation in Florida

Could you be charged with a weapons crime in Florida just for trying to defend yourself, in your own home?

It’s absolutely possible. In fact, at least one Florida woman spent three years in jail and two more on home arrest while her case was appealed.

The mother of three drew a gun and fired a warning shot into the ceiling in an act she claims was self-defense against an abusive husband against whom she had a valid restraining order. Instead of being treated like a potential victim, she was arrested, charged and convicted of a gun crime.

In Florida, gun crimes have — until recently — carried automatic sentences under the law known as “10-20-Life.” Promoted along with the slogan “Use A Gun And You’re Done,” the law gave judges no discretion in imposing mandatory sentences. If you merely pulled a gun, you served ten years. If you fired a gun, you served 20. If you actually shot someone, you served 25 years to life.

Lawmakers insist that they never meant for the law to be used in cases where someone was merely trying to defend themselves and fired a warning shot without aiming at anyone — but more than one Floridian was caught in that trap. Aside from the mother of three, another famous case involves the father of a 17-year-old girl who was sentenced to 25 years for firing a warning shot with a gun while trying to scare away his daughter’s unwanted boyfriend.

Florida’s governor amended the law in 2016, giving judges more flexibility in cases like these. However, Florida residents should still be wary. It’s important to remember that “Stand Your Ground” failed as a defense in a domestic situation, and someone who might otherwise be considered a victim can quickly be arrested and charged with both an act of domestic violence of their own and a gun crime.

For more information on how to handle a domestic violence charge, contact an attorney promptly. You have a better chance of a successful defense by seeking help immediately if you’re arrested.

Source: DemocracyNow.org, “Marissa Alexander, Jailed for 3 Years, Speaks Out on Intimate Partner Violence & Building Movements,” May 04, 2017