Woman’s Fight to Challenge Two-Strikes Law to Free her Fiancé from Life Imprisonment

March 15, 2023 Criminal Defense, Violent Crimes

Florida is known for its harsh sentencing under the Prison Releasee Reoffender Act, which is also referred to as the “Two Strikes” law. Under the legislation, any person who reoffends with a specified crime within three years of release may be sentenced to the harshest of penalties for such offense. However, one woman is determined to change the law to free her fiancé from incarceration.

This page will define Florida’s Two Strikes law, explain the current fight to change the law, along with various responses to the current Legislation.

What is Florida’s Two-Strikes Law?

Florida’s “Two-Strikes” law is a legal provision that imposes a mandatory minimum sentencing for defendants who have been convicted of specific crimes for a second time. Under Florida Statute Section 775.082, any defendant who is convicted of a qualifying crime as their second criminal offense must be sentenced to a minimum prison term sentence that is twice as long as the mandatory minimum for the first offense.

Under Florida law, the “Prisoner Release Reoffender” is defined as any defendant who commits or attempts to commit any of the following offenses within three years of being released from prison for a previous offense:

Under the Two-Strikes Law, judges must enforce the mandatory minimum sentences. Defendants sentenced under these mandatory minimums must serve the entirety of the sentence and are not subject to early-release programs. To read further about the dangers behind Florida’s ‘Two-Strikes’ law, refer to our blog post here.

The Fight to Change Florida’s Law

Panama City Beach native Marsia O’Ferral has relocated to Tallahassee with one mission: to challenge and change the Two-Strikes law in Florida. O’Ferral met prison inmate Steve Brana a year and a half ago, after his mother—an acquaintance of O’Ferral—asked if she could visit her son instead since she lived too far to frequently visit herself.

After an unlikely love story, Brana and O’Ferral became engaged after a year of communicating via prison visits.

“Once we started talking, we both clicked,” O’Ferral said.

However, Brana had been given a life sentence due to the State’s Two-Strikes law. His first arrest was at the early age of 16 in 1992, when he was convicted of burglary. Brana was arrested again in 1997, less than a year after getting released in 1996. The second set of charges was for an armed robbery that took place at a Martin County bar.

The Two-Stikes law was passed in 1997, the same year as Brana’s second arrest. Brana was convicted of five counts of robbery with a deadly weapon—one for each of the victims involved in the bar’s robbery. The two other defendants involved in the case were not sentenced under the Two-Strikes law but instead given a 20 and 30 year prison sentence. Due to the law, Brana was sentenced to life in prison.

“I got dudes in here that I look at every day that got murder charges that are going home, rape charges that are going home,” Brana said during a phone interview.

Now O’Ferral has moved to Tallahassee, where she spends multiple days a week in the Capitol trying to speak with lawmakers.

“I’m committed,” O’Ferral said. “In my heart, [Steve Brana] will be getting out.”

Legislature’s “Make Sentences Harder” Philosophy

This is not the first time efforts have been made to get rid of the Two-Strikes law. Over the last few Legislature sessions, former Senator Jeff Brandes has pushed to eliminate the law.

“I would love to get away with the two-strikes law altogether, but I feel like that’s politically a very difficult thing to do in Florida,” Brandes said.

After previous efforts have failed to change the law, Brandes claimed that most Florida lawmakers either don’t understand criminal justice reform or are simply too afraid to confront it. This is especially true since the law is backed by the Florida Sheriff’s Association.

“The general philosophy is we should always make sentences harder,” Brandes said.

However, two lawmakers filed new legislation in January that would reduce prison sentences under the Two-Strikes law. Crimes such as armed robbery would then be maxed out with a 25-year sentence.

Senator Darryl Rouson and Rep. Kimberly Daniels have filed SB 440 titled “Sentencing of Prison Releasee Reoffenders.” The proposed bill is aimed to revise the required sentencing structure for prison releasee reoffenders, and apply the revised sentencing structure to certain defendants under qualifying circumstances.

To read more about SB 440, you can read about it here.

Data on Prison Releasee Reoffender Inmates

According to Paul Walker, press secretary of the Department of Corrections, there are an estimated 7,216 inmates who are currently incarcerated under Florida’s Prison Releasee Reoffender law. Out of those inmates, 2,223 of them are currently serving a life sentence, including Brana.

Based on a report from the Florida Sheriff’s Association, the second most commonly committed crime among the Two-Strikes offenders is armed robbery. During 2020, 14% of all inmates in prison under the law were made up of those convicted of armed robbery as their second offense.

In addition to the law being controversial for its harshness, the law has also been disproportionately applied to Black men in Florida. A 2021 analysis from the Marshall Project along with the Tampa Bay Times found that nearly three-quarters of those serving a Two-Strikes sentence were made up by Black men in Florida.

While prosecutors insist that defendants of certain violent crimes should be behind bars to protect Florida citizens, it is still worth questioning the extent of the law.

If you or someone you know has been arrested for a crime in Florida, it is in your best interest to reach out to a skilled defense attorney in your area as soon as possible.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Florida citizens who have already been convicted of a violent criminal offense face the possibility of mandatory minimum sentences if they reoffend within three years. What could have been a short prison sentence may wind up as life in prison. This is why it is especially important to receive top-quality legal guidance after being arrested for a crime.

Don Pumphrey and his team of attorneys have years of experience representing those who have been arrested in Florida. Our firm will put in the time and effort to build a strong defense for your case. In addition, we will make sure all of your rights are protected in the process. Contact Pumphrey Law Firm today at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our site for a free consultation today.

Written by Karissa Key

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