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Court lets 3 strikes law stand

The law, which mandates longer sentences for repeat felons, doesn't violate the Constitution, the state Supreme Court rules.

By Associated Press
Published October 1, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - In a 4-3 ruling Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the state's 1999 "three strikes" law mandating longer prison sentences for repeat felons.

Florida's five midlevel appeals courts had been at odds over the law's constitutionality. Two had concluded that the law violated the state constitutional requirement that bills deal with only one subject. Three ruled there was no problem with the law's scope.

The Legislature came back in 2002 and passed the same provisions in five different bills. But the high court's ruling Thursday applied to the original law.

Under three-strikes provisions, judges must give convicts the maximum sentence for a third felony. For example, the most severe penalty for armed robbery is life in prison, so a three-strikes felony offender would have to get life.

Other provisions require a three-year minimum sentence for aggravated assault or battery of someone 65 or older, three years for assaulting a police officer and five years for battery on a police officer.

The law also makes possession of 25 pounds of marijuana enough to charge someone with trafficking - the prior minimum was 50 pounds - and toughens penalties for repeat sexual batterers.

The ruling was a victory for Gov. Jeb Bush, who made support for a three-strikes measure a centerpiece of his 1998 gubernatorial campaign.

Bush spokesman Jacob DiPietre said Florida's crime rate hit a 33-year low last year and that the law, along with a "10-20-Life" law for criminals who carry guns when they attack, was a key reason.

Attorney General Charlie Crist called the decision "a huge victory for the safety of Floridians."

Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Pariente, writing for the majority including Justices Charles Wells, Raoul Cantero and Kenneth Bell, wrote that the 1999 law, which legislators called the "Three-Strike Violent Felony Offender Act," is subtitled, "An act relating to sentencing." And the 14 sections of the law, which is 41 pages long, are all properly connected to the subject of sentencing, the majority concluded.

Justice Peggy Quince wrote a dissenting opinion supported by Harry Lee Anstead and R. Fred Lewis.

Thursday's decision came in an appeal by Corey Franklin, a 25-year-old sentenced to 40 years in prison four years ago.

A few months after the law took effect in July 1999, Franklin was involved in several violent crimes in Miami-Dade: armed robbery, carjacking and attempted murder. He already had two felonies on his record: possession of cocaine and burglary of a dwelling.

When his case got to the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami, it concluded that the law was constitutional, contrary to an earlier ruling by the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland in a separate case.

The conflict between the two DCAs sent the issue to the high court, which heard oral arguments last November.

[Last modified October 1, 2004, 00:09:19]

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