Documentary on Florida’s Harsh Two-Strikes Law

September 12, 2023 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

We’ve previously covered details from the Mark Jones case in Florida, an inmate serving life in prison after being sentenced through Florida’s Prison Releasee Reoffender law (PRR), also referred to as the “Two-Strikes” law. Jones’ story is now being highlighted in a new documentary from Frontline, The Marshall Project, and Firelight Media. The documentary’s goal is to shed light on the dangers of Florida’s Two-Stikes law.

This page will provide details on the newly released documentary, along with responses from Jones and the filmmakers.

Two Strikes Documentary

Cary Aspinwall and Ursula Liang acted as the co-producers and directors of Two Strikes. The documentary focuses in on Jones’ case, and how he is still serving a life sentence under PRR’s mandatory maximum sentences.

The film shows how Jones has filed multiple appeals with both State and Federal government, all which have been unsuccessful so far. After serving more than 10 years in State prison, Jones claims he is using his time to try and make a difference.

“I’m a law clerk at the prison law library,” Jones says in Two Strikes. “You got a lot of guys in here … they can’t even write an essay, you know, let alone put a brief together for the district court of appeal, and they need help.”

The documentary also raises tough questions regarding the criminal justice system—specifically the way harsh sentencing laws such as the Two-Strikes law can place people in incarceration for life even if their new crime did not cause any physical harm.

For example, Jones’ offense that placed him in prison for life was reaching into 69-year-old Eunice Hopkins’ car and grabbing her arm, demanding for her keys. Although he had no weapon, and did not cause any physical harm, Jones was sentenced to the maximum 15-year sentence for attempted carjacking.

According to The Marshall Project and the Tampa Bay Times, even Jones’ victim thought the sentencing was far too harsh for the crime. Hopkins reached out to the prosecutor in Jones’ case after his sentence was announced, claiming, “No, this is too much! He’s a young man!”

Yet despite even the victim’s opinion against the sentencing, Jones is still behind bars for the rest of his life.

“Anything I say about the severity of my sentence, I don’t mean to minimize the impact I had on her that day,” Jones said. “She has every right to, you know, have a normal day. And, uh, so I’m sorry. From the bottom of my heart.”

According to Frontline’s report, Jones is planning to file what they’re calling a “long-shot” appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.


When Frontline asked the filmmakers who is most likely to be impacted by the Two-Strikes law in Florida, Aspinwall gave the following response:

“It’s the poorest and most vulnerable, generally. A lot of these folks in Florida who got these sentence enhancements had repeat minor offenses. Sometimes the families were worn out with them because they were going through addiction and burning through money. I talked to one mother who’d said her son asked her to hire him a lawyer. She … thought he would use a public defender. ‘I don’t want to put up the money for that. I’m tired of your shenanigans.’ And [the defendant] told his mother, ‘No, mom, you don’t understand. I could get life.” And she’s like, ‘You’re not going to get life for that. It’s a minor crime.’ Then he got life, and she carries that guilt with her to this day.

In some cases, they were from all different backgrounds, but had fallen on hard times. The majority of these folks are poor. They’re disproportionately Black, especially compared to the prison population of lifers as a whole and [the population of] Florida as a whole … Many of them were low-level offenders who were stealing money to feed addiction or to get by in life.”

After the documentary’s screening at the Florida Film Festival, Jones sent Liang the following message:

“Due to my incarceration, I am not able to be there with you, but Rose and I want to thank each and every one of you for attending and watching the film. You are the type of people that make a difference in America, people that care, and people that create change for the better.”

Data on Florida Inmates on Two-Strikes Law

According to a report by the Florida’s Sheriff’s Association (FSA), the recidivism rate in the state is around 25% within three years of an inmate’s release. The number then jumps to 35% within five years of release. Further, the report indicated that between 2018-2019, there were 64,396 offenders sentenced through the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC). Out of those, there were 148 new sentences through the Two-Strikes law.

FDCO provided the most frequent crimes committed by PRR offenders:


Total Offenses

Total % of All PRR Offenses

Most Frequent PRR Sentence

Burglary of an Occupied Dwelling



15 years

Armed Robbery




2nd Degree Murder




Aggravated Battery w/ Deadly Weapon



15 years

Aggravated Assault w/ Weapon



5 years

1st Degree Murder




All Other Offenses




 You can view FSA’s full report here.

However, as of 2021, The Marshall Project stated the number of inmates in the U.S. serving life without parole rose to 56,000. Florida had over 13,600 inmates serving life without parole, which makes for almost one quarter of the nation’s total. Since Florida passed the Two-Strikes law in 1997, it has remained one of the states with the most inmates serving this type of sentence.

The Marshall Project’s investigation found that around 21,100 people, or 15% of Florida’s “permanent lifers” were sentenced due to the strict law. Cases involved both violent and non-violent crimes, which can waste taxpayer’s money by locking up people for the rest of their lives for offenses such as robbery, burglary, or theft.

Jeff Brandes, a member of the Florida Senate representing St. Petersburg who has been attempting to repeal the State’s Two-Strikes law, stated: “This is an incredibly punitive law that is totally arbitrary.” He added, “A sentence that is too long is just as unjust as a sentence that is too short.”

Additional Example Cases

The following lists several examples of defendants who are serving life sentences due to the Two-Strikes law, provided by The Marshall Project:

  • Kenneth Penton – Served time for grand theft and burglary while in his teens. After he was released, Penton worked with his uncle, Larry Thomas, until the two had a falling out. The report indicates that Penton struggled with drug addiction. After the argument between the defendant and his uncle, Penton took two firearms that he claimed would cover the money Thomas owed him. However, Thomas reported the break-in to police, and Penton was charged with burglary with a weapon. Prosecutors ended up seeking life under Florida’s PRR and won. “I loved him very much,” Thomas said recently about his nephew. “I hate it that he got all that time.”
  • William Jennings Served a year in county jail for robbery. While studying at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, Jennings became addicted to cocaine. He was dubbed as “the gentleman robber” due to his politeness when robbing two motels and a gas station in 1997. There was no physical harm in any of the alleged crimes, and Jennings only managed to get $326. However, he was charged with armed robbery. Due to his previous conviction, Jennings was sentenced to life in prison at the age of 22. Audrey Hudgins, Jenning’s mother, claims the Two-Strikes law “was created out of pure hate … [and that] my son’s going to die in prison.”
  • William Graves – Served time in prison during the late 1980’s and mid-1990’s for possession of cocaine and aggravated assault. In 2001, Graves was accused of committing a robbery in a Daytona Beach suburb. Despite denying any involvement and claiming he was falsely identified; Graves was found guilty of armed robbery by the jury. Graves would have had to accept a plea deal to avoid life in prison, which he did not do.
  • Christopher Aikens Aikens was charged with armed robbery after being accused of robbing a Burger King in 1998. The defendant claimed he was falsely identified, but police claimed to have linked him to a drive away car. Since his criminal record included both robbery and burglary, Aikens was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2000. He had part of the habitual offender designations removed in 2002, but more recently an appeals court upheld his life sentence.

Consult a North Florida Defense Attorney

If there is anything to take from the documentary Two Strikes, it should be understanding how tough Florida’s stance is on sentencing. Due to the PRR law, a person convicted of a qualifying offense within three years of their release can face the mandatory maximum sentence for that offense. Even if the alleged crime is not considered a violent or extremely serious offense, the fact that it was committed within the specified time from release can result in the harshest of consequences. For some crimes, that means life in prison without parole just like Jones.

While it is important that Florida takes crime seriously, there is something to be said about the damaging effects of the current Two-Strikes program. For any person facing additional charges after release, it is highly advisable that you hire a defense attorney experienced with the PRR law. Don Pumphrey and his team of attorneys can provide insight, guidance, and defense strategies to help fight the charges against you. To receive a free case evaluation, contact Pumphrey Law Firm’s office today at (850) 681-7777 or leave us a message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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