The attorney for a man sentenced to 80 years in prison for firing a gun into the air told the Florida Supreme Court justices Wednesday that the judge who sentenced his client should have had more discretion with the punishment.
Ronald Williams was convicted of four aggravated assault charges, each carrying a mandatory minimum of 20 years. Williams' attorney, Jonathan Kaplan, believes the sentences should have run concurrently.
Williams was sentenced under Florida's 10-20-life gun law after being convicted of pointing a gun at four gay men who were whistling and ogling him from a neighbor's Riviera Beach home and then firing into the air several times. Nobody was injured.
The judge that sentenced him said the law gave him no leeway and that the sentences had to run consecutively. An appeals court agreed.
But Kaplan said the courts misinterpreted the law, which says judges shall impose sentences "consecutively to any other term of imprisonment imposed for any other felony offense."
He said the word "other" should mean any other felonies unrelated to the gun offense. For example, he said if Williams had cocaine on him, any sentence related to that offense would have to be consecutive to the mandatory minimum 20 years for the gun convictions.
But he argued judges could still have discretion to order concurrent sentences for multiple convictions from one incident under 10-20-life.
Justice Barbara Pariente said the sentence did seem excessively harsh.
"It may not have been what the Legislature actually intended," she said. "And if there were eight victims, he'd be serving 160 years."
She also said that most people with knowledge of the law would assume the offense would have required a 20-year sentence - not 80 years.
Justice Charles Canady, however, pointed out that the law also said that anyone who commits a gun offense should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and he indicated he wasn't convinced by Kaplan's argument.
Williams was 26 at the time of the crime, meaning he is essentially serving a life sentence if he loses the case.
"He's done. Even 20 is harsh," Kaplan said after the arguments. "He'll die in prison."