Despite revisions to Florida's 10-20-Life law that would have prevented the state's mandatory minimum from attaching the 20-year maximum to Eric Wright's sentence, an appeals court judge regretfully upheld the outdated law and cited "bad timing" in his opinion.
A three-judge appellate panel at the 1st District Court of Appeal found that Wright’s 20-year maximum sentence must stand, with Judge James Wolf ultimately calling the case an injustice.
Firing a Gun as a Warning Shot Can Be Considered Aggravated Assault
In Wright’s case, the act of firing a gun at the ground as a warning shot (without aiming it at a person and without the intent to kill) was enough to trigger the mandatory minimum for the crime of aggravated assault with a firearm. At the time, the 24-year-old Wright had no prior criminal record and had been gainfully employed at the same job for more than four years. When he fired the gun, he was attempting to scare off an ex-girlfriend who had barged into his fiancé’s house, caused a physical disturbance, and refused to leave.
The trial judge expressed her reluctance to sentence Wright to the full 20 years, but stated that she didn’t have a choice under the law at the time. Florida’s 10-20-Life law had essentially tied her hands.
Had Wright’s Crime Occurred Today, His Crime Wouldn’t Be Subject to Mandatory Minimums
Since Wright’s incident in 2013, Florida’s Legislature has changed the 10-20-Life law twice. The 2014 change applies to aggravated assault cases; it authorizes a judge to use their discretion when determining the length of sentencing, and represents a major shift in a law that has been in place since 1999.
In 2016, the Legislature created a “safety valve” for certain aggravated assault cases, including aggravated assault with a firearm, with the introduction of CS/SB 228. The change repealed the mandatory minimum, making cases like Wright’s exempt from Florida’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Under the revised version of the law, Wright’s case—had it occurred today—wouldn’t have been considered under mandatory minimums in the first place.
In other words, if Wright’s case had taken place a year later, he might not be in jail today.
For the most current version of Florida’s 10-20-Life law, refer to this informative page on the laws, as well as your rights.
Wright's Only Option: Seek Clemency After 10 Years
Unfortunately for Wright, changes to Florida’s mandatory minimum laws are not retroactive; he must serve his entire 20-year sentence. Without any way to offer relief, Judge Wolf advised Wright to seek clemency before the Cabinet and governor—but according to rules adopted in 2011, Wright is not eligible to apply for clemency until he has served at least 10 years of his 20-year sentence. Even then, it's no guarantee.
Before the 2016 reform went into effect, countless others have received lengthy mandatory sentences that are considered excessive in light of their crimes. In February 2016, Florida’s Department of Corrections reported 169 inmates are currently serving out their 20-year sentences for aggravated assault. Some of these inmates are already past the 10-year mark to seek clemency, yet they’re still imprisoned. Erik Weyant is one such example; he's been behind bars for more than 10 years for a crime in which no one was injured.
If you or someone you know has been subject to unfair or harsh sentencing, it is important to contact a lawyer to help preserve your rights.