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Justice system fails

January 24, 2011

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The recent death of two local police officers has everyone up in arms regarding the individual that shot them while they were attempting to execute an arrest warrant. The criminal justice system's goals are two-fold, punishment and rehabilitation. Johnny Simms, a twenty-two year old Miami resident shot and killed two Miami-Dade police officers last week. The arrest warrant stemmed from a murder allegedly committed by Simms. Simms had been in and out of the state criminal justice system from the time he was a juvenile. The Miami criminal defense attorneys representing Simms over the years had kept him from serving a long prison sentence. In most cases, judges allowed for lenient sentences because of his youth.

In 2005, Simms was arrested and charges with felony offenses including cocaine possession, armed robbery and auto theft. In 2006, facing the 10-20-life statute, he accepted a plea that required him to complete the boot camp program. Florida's 10-20-life statute attaches to certain offenses committed with firearms, such as armed robbery and aggravated battery. Anyone charged with an enumerated offense while in actual physical possession of a firearm faces a 10 year minimum mandatory prison sentence, a 20 year minimum mandatory sentence applies if the firearm is fired, and a 25 year minimum mandatory applies if someone is actually shot during the commission of an enumerated offense. Anyone charged with type offense can avoid these minimum mandatory penalties if they are sentenced as a youthful offender. To qualify as a youthful offender, a defendant must be 21 years of age or younger at the time offense was committed.

Typically youthful offender pleas are offered in combination with boot camp pleas and a defendant is sentenced to two years of community control followed by four years of probation. The majority of community control is completed during the boot camp and aftercare process. There are other advantages to a youthful offender plea other than avoiding minimum mandatory sentences. Defendants accused of a technical probation violation face a maximum of 6 years in prison while adult violators can be sentenced up to the statutory maximum. However, even youthful offenders face the maximum statutory sentence if charged with a new criminal offense.

While the deaths of these officers is completely unfortunate, the boot camp program provides an invaluable contribution to our community. The majority of the offenders who successfully complete the boot camp program rarely return to a life of crime. Inmates enrolled in boot camp gain discipline from the physically demanding program. The defendants are also assisted in finding employment upon completion of the program. While there is no guarantee that an event like this will not occur in the future, the benefits of the program certainly outweigh the negatives.

Cop Killer was Given Breaks, Squandered Them, The Miami, January 23, 2011.
Categories: Sentencing
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