VIDEO: On “Warning Shot” Bill, State Prosecutor Fences with Senate Bill Sponsor
This past week the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted 5-0 to advance SB 448, commonly referred to as the “warning shot” bill. I address the substance of this bill (and its House counterpart, HB 89) in some detail over at legal insurrection: Florida “Warning Shot” Bill Advances.) Notably, every speaker before the committee was supportive of the bill; Bill Cervone, representing State Prosecutors, was ambivalent about the bill itself, but supportive of the bill's goal of excluding acts of self-defense from the "10-20-Life" mandatory minimum sentencing statute. So far I've posted up rough transcripts and video of:
Florida Representative Neil Combee, the sponsor of the parallel bill in the House, HN 89: VIDEO: On “Warning Shot” Bill, Addresses Verbal Defensive Threats, Marissa Alexander Scenarios.
In this post I'm highlighting the impromptu testimony of Bill Cervone, a representative of the Florida Prosecuting Attorney's Association. Apparently having intended to simply sit in the audience during the committee hearing, Attorney Cevone grew perturbed at the repeated characterization of state prosecutors of renegades imposing 10-20-Life mandatory sentences on people who had done nothing wrong.
Thus agitated, he felt compelled to testify before the committee. The result was essentially a verbal fencing match between himself and committee chair and bill sponsor Senator Evers. There's some good stuff in here. Cervone's point about perhaps simply removing agg assault from the 10-20-Life provision is not an unreasonable one, although it fails to address the "self-defense" core of the debate. Unfortunately, his somewhat whiny tone takes even more away from his message.
Perhaps most humorous, however, was Senator Evers comment that he didn't think all state prosecutors were renegades, that in fact "We don’t have but three in the state of Florida. If we’ll get rid of those we won’t have a problem."
As always, read to the end of my rough transcript for the actual video.
Bill Cervone: Good morning , Senator.
Sen. Evers: Good morning, state attorney in Gainesville for the Florida Prosecuting’s Attorney’s Association. We did not intend to speak this morning for several reasons, one of which is we don’t think this bill really makes any difference at all.
However I must say is that I’m personally feeling a little bit pilloried sitting there and listening to some of this, and something that’s not being said is that there are two sides to every one of these cases.
If somebody is in prison on one of these cases, it’s because a judge and jury rejected his version claiming self-defense. I think it’s very important for all of you to note that you are hearing only from folks who are on one side of this.
When we are in-taking these cases and deciding to make decisions about prosecution, we are also looking at the other side of it, and making very difficult judgments, which the law has always placed in our hands and then ultimately in the hands of a judge and a jury to resolve those factual disputes.
Sen. Evers: Bill, I think this bill speaks loudly to the state attorneys, to the state attorney association, that this legislature will not put up with folks that are using their lawful right to display a gun or to fire a warning shot, because I know of cases that happened locally, that I feel like there needed to be a bill like this to keep a person that’s 74-years-old, retired from the Division of Forestry, that just had his shotgun displayed when a guy was throwing his daughter and grandchild’s stuff out of a trailer. And that guy ended up having to get 18-months probation. And that was because, and only because, the state attorney would work with that guy. But, my God, he didn’t threaten anybody, all he asked the man to do was stop and let his daughter get the stuff.
Cervone: May I respond?
Sen Evers: Sure.
Cervone: Senator, I have no idea what that case is about.
Sen. Evers: But I do. And that’s the reason for this bill.
Cervone: Senator, if the legislature is concerned with these agg assaults, take them out of the “10-20-Life” altogether. If that’s what the real concern is here.
Sen. Evers: Well, I think this bill does that.
Cervone: No, I . . .
Sen. Evers: OK, if you know anything we need to do to the bill to make it do that, then I’ll be glad to accept an amendment.
Cervone: Senator, we don’t have any problem with the bill—
Sen. Evers: I know you don’t, and I appreciate that, because it’s right thing to do.
Cervone: The problem I have is--
Sen. Evers: OK.
Cervone: --generic characterizations that renegade prosecutors somewhere are arbitrarily trying to disadvantage folks who haven’t done anything wrong –
Sen. Evers: We don’t have but three in the state of Florida. If we’ll get rid of those we won’t have a problem.
Cervone: I don’t think I’m going there, Senator—
Sen. Evers: OK, I will. It doesn’t matter.
Cervone: I hope I’m not one of the three.
Sen. Evers: You’re not one of the three, OK. [Pause.] I don’t know, you may be borderline.
Cervone: If there is a real—I’ve heard this discussion before, consider taking agg assault out of the 10-20-Life altogether. I’ll tell you this, it is the hardest of the decisions we make, agg assault, for 10-20-Life, but please don’t characterize all of Florida’s 2,000 prosecutors as being some sort of renegade.
There is another side, or nobody would have been arrested, nobody would have been before a court, anyhow. We don’t just go out and create these cases, they come to us because somebody got charged based on the word of somebody else. We’re trying to do the best we can to sort that out.
Sen. Evers: I appreciate your wisdom, and I appreciate the facts. I will apologize to all 2,000 prosecutors.
Cervone: Apparently only to 1,997 of them.
Sen. Evers: There’s only three . . .
The last thing I want so say, is we are open to look at, I’m talking about those of us who are here with you guys all the time, give me a case number, give me a county, don’t give me anecdotal stuff. You obviously know a specific case, I have no idea what it is. Let’s talk about more than anecdotal, give me the information, we’ll be glad to look at all of them.
Sen. Evers: And I totally agree. That was one of the hardest things I found in the legislative process, to realize that there were two sides to every story, because when a constituent came in I took everything they said as law and gospel. Since that time I’ve learned, a little bit, to calm down.
Cervone: That’s exactly what I’m saying, sir.
Sen. Evers: I’m with you 100%, and thank you for the input.
Keep your eyes right here, folks, for more videos and rough transcripts from this week's Florida Senate "warning shot" bill hearings. There's more good stuff to come!
Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer and the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition," available at the Law of Self Defense blog, Amazon.com (paperback and Kindle), Barnes & Noble (paperback and Nook), and elsewhere.
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Andrew is also a contributing author on self defense law topics to Combat Handguns, Ammoland.com, Legal Insurrection, and others.