Aggravated Assault

Recently, 2016 CS/HB 135, deleted aggravated assault from the offenses that are subject to the mandatory minimum sentences set forth in s. 775.087, F.S., and makes a conforming change by repealing the exception to such sentences based on specified court findings.

Now, a person convicted of aggravated assault or attempted aggravated assault and who actually possessed or discharged a firearm or other specified weapon during the commission of that offense will no longer be subject to Florida's 10-20-Life mandatory minimum sentences.

According to information from the Office of Economic and Demographic Research, 27 inmates were admitted to prison in Fiscal Year 2014-2015 under 10-20-Life mandatory minimum sentences for aggravated assault.

Attorneys for Aggravated Assault in Palm Beach County, FL

If you were charged with aggravated assault in Palm Beach County, then contact experienced criminal defense attorneys in West Palm Beach to discuss your case. Our attorneys can help you understand the charges pending against you, the minimum and maximum statutory penalties that might apply, and the best defenses that can be used to fight the charges.

With offices in West Palm Beach, we represent clients charged with violent crimes throughout Palm Beach County. From our offices in Fort Lauderdale, we also represent clients charged with assault crimes in Broward County, FL.

Call (561) 283-3259 today to discuss your case.


What is Aggravated Assault in Florida?

Under Florida law, simple assault is a first-degree misdemeanor which is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Simple assault in Florida is defined as an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent.

“Aggravated assault,” a third-degree felony which is punishable by up to five years in Florida State Prison. Under Florida Statute Section 784.021, aggravated assault is an assault with:

  • A deadly weapon without intent to kill; or
  • An intent to commit a felony.

How Florida’s 10-20-Life Mandatory Minimum Sentences Previously Applied to Aggravated Assault?

Florida’s “10-20-Life” law is found at Florida Statute Section 775.087 which requires the court to sentence a person convicted of specified offenses to a minimum term of imprisonment of:

  • Three years if, during the commission of the offense, the person actually possessed a firearm or destructive device or 15 years if the firearm possessed was a semiautomatic firearm and its high- capacity detachable box magazine or a machine gun.
  • Twenty years if, during the commission of the offense, the person discharged a firearm, destructive device, semiautomatic firearm, or machine gun or 25 years to life imprisonment if such discharge resulted in death or great bodily harm to a person.

Section 775.087(4), F.S., states, “For purposes of imposition of minimum mandatory sentencing provisions of this section, with respect to a firearm, the term “possession” is defined as carrying it on the person. Possession may also be proven by demonstrating that the defendant had the firearm within immediate physical reach with ready access with the intent to use the firearm during the commission of the offense, if proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Just prior to recent legislative changes, these minimum terms were imposed for an aggravated assault conviction unless the court made written findings that:

  • The defendant had a good faith belief that the aggravated assault was justifiable pursuant to chapter 776, F.S.
  • The aggravated assault was not committed in the course of committing another criminal offense.
  • The defendant does not pose a threat to public safety.
  • The totality of the circumstances involved in the offense do not justify the imposition of such sentence.

The bill also repealed subsection (6) of s. 775.087, F.S., which prohibits the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences to an aggravated assault conviction if the sentencing court makes specified findings. Such exception is no longer relevant due to the bill’s deletion of aggravated assault from the 10-20-Life law. The bill amended Florida Statute Section 985.557(2)(d), to conform a cross-reference to changes made by the act and reenacts ss. 27.366, 921.0022(2), 921.0024(1)(b), and 947.136(3)(b), F.S., to incorporate the amendment to s. 775.087, F.S.


Other Offenses with a Mandatory Minimum Term in Florida

The other offenses subject to the three-year mandatory minimum term are burglary of a conveyance and certain possession of firearm by a felon. s. 775.087(2)(a)1., F.S. 

A ten-year minimum mandatory term applies to the possession of a firearm or destructive device during the commission of or attempt to commit the following offenses:

  • murder;
  • sexual battery;
  • robbery;
  • certain types of burglary crimes;
  • arson;
  • aggravated battery;
  • kidnapping;
  • escape;
  • aircraft piracy;
  • aggravated child abuse;
  • aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult;
  • unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb;
  • carjacking; home-invasion robbery;
  • aggravated stalking;
  • trafficking and capital importation of illegal drugs and specified controlled substances; and
  • certain possession of a firearm by a felon. 

Under Florida Statute Section 775.087(3)(a)1., the other offenses subject to the 15-year mandatory minimum term include:

  • murder;
  • sexual battery;
  • robbery;
  • burglary;
  • arson;
  • aggravated battery;
  • kidnapping;
  • escape;
  • sale, manufacture, delivery, or intent to sell, manufacture, or deliver any controlled substance;
  • aircraft piracy;
  • aggravated child abuse;
  • aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult;
  • unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb;
  • carjacking; home-invasion robbery;
  • aggravated stalking; and
  • trafficking and capital importation of illegal drugs and specified controlled substances. 

What Were the Deviations from Florida’s 10-20-Life Statute?

Florida Statute Section 27.366, provides that it is the Florida Legislature’s intent “that convicted criminal offenders who meet the criteria in s. 775.087(2) and (3) be sentenced to the minimum mandatory prison terms,“ provided “that prosecutors should appropriately exercise their discretion in those cases in which the offenders' possession of the firearm is incidental to the commission of a crime and not used in furtherance of the crime, used in order to commit the crime, or used in preparation to commit the crime.”

If an offender meets the mandatory minimum sentencing criteria in the 10-20-Life law, but does not receive such sentence, Florida Statute s. 27.366, F.S., required that the state attorney “must explain the sentencing deviation in writing and place such explanation in the case file maintained by the state attorney.”

As explained in State v. Kelly, 147 So. 3d 1061 (Fla. 3d DCA 2014), while Florida Statute 27.366, F.S., gives prosecutors the discretion to waive imposition of minimum mandatory sentences, the statute, aside from one exception adopted by the Legislature in 2014, does not accord such discretion to the sentencing courts.

If the charging document specifically pleads the basis for the 10-20-Life mandatory minimum sentence and there is a clear jury finding that the defendant actually possessed or used a firearm or other specified weapon, imposition of a mandatory minimum sentence is a non-discretionary duty of the sentencing court. See Johnson v. State, 53 So. 3d 360, 362 (Fla. 5th DCA 2011) ; Orjales v. State, 758 So. 2d 1157, 1159 (Fla. 2d DCA 2000) (quoting State v. Hargrove, 694 So. 2d 729, 731 (Fla. 1997)).

During the 2014 Regular Session, the Legislature enacted a single exception to the mandatory minimum terms which applies only to sentences for aggravated assault. Section 775.087(6), F.S., specifies that the sentencing court shall not impose such mandatory minimum terms if the court makes written findings that:

  • The defendant had a good faith belief that the aggravated assault was justifiable pursuant to chapter 776, F.S.
  • The aggravated assault was not committed in the course of committing another criminal offense.
  • The defendant does not pose a threat to public safety.
  • The totality of the circumstances involved in the offense do not justify the imposition of such sentence.

This article was last updated on Friday, November 11, 2016.

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