Saturday, April 5, 2008

Bill would up penalty for hurting law enforcement officers

Associated Press Writer

MIAMI - A person convicted of killing or attempting to kill a law enforcement officer would serve life behind bars under a bill passed unanimously by the Florida House on Wednesday.

Officers already have enhanced protections under Florida law, but lawmakers say additional provisions are needed to combat a spate of violence against them. Opponents of the legislation argue it is unnecessary because of already long sentences for the majority of offenders. They add that if the bill becomes law it will result in more cases going to trial because it removes the incentive to take a plea deal, a point the bill's sponsor doesn't dispute.

Under the proposed legislation, the penalty of life in prison would only be imposed if the death penalty is not. And the increases in some sentences would be stiff. Sentences currently range from approximately seven years to life. A similar bill is still under consideration in the Senate.

"This is unnecessary legislation that accomplishes only two purposes: it makes the sponsor look tough on crime and it makes the cost of prosecuting and defending these cases skyrocket," said A. Russell Smith, the president of Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Smith said charges of murder or attempted murder on a law enforcement officer most often arise in cases involving high-speed police chases and in undercover drug busts where it may not be clear whether the people shooting are police officers or not.

Lawmakers and officials with police and sheriff associations, however, say the legislation will deter people from committing offenses against officers.

"If the people that are protecting us are not protected then we're in trouble," said Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart, a former police officer who sponsored the measure in the House (HB 321).

Snyder said that in 20 years on the Miami-Dade police force he buried three colleagues who were killed in the line of duty. He believes anyone who attempts to take the life of an officer deserves to spend their life in jail, whether or not the officer is killed. And he said courts would just have to absorb any increase in caseload.

Currently, the penalties for first, second and third degree murder of a law enforcement officer range from a low of 22.5 years to life. The punishments for attempted murder range from 7.5 years to 30 years, according to analysis of the bill by legislative staff. If the person committing the crime has a criminal past, however, it could be more.

The past year has been a dangerous one for law enforcement officers in Florida and helped spur the legislation. Eight Florida officers died in the line of duty as a result of gunshot wounds since the beginning of 2007, according to The Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc., which tracks law enforcement deaths.

A series of the deaths were particularly high profile. In August, Broward County Sheriff Sgt. Chris Reyka was fatally shot while looking for stolen vehicles behind a drug store. In September, Polk County Sheriff's Deputy Vernon Matthew Williams and his police dog were both fatally shot during a routine traffic stop. In November, Broward County Sheriff deputy Paul Rein died after being shot by an inmate he was transporting to court.

The House bill passed on a vote of 110-0. A companion bill in the Senate (SB 1064) has passed two committees unanimously but still has one more committee to go through before reaching the floor.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really not sure why a officer should recieve special treatment other than anyone elso.As when this happens.Its been known that the authorities will abuse the rights of the un convicted.Ive seen it and its also taking the law into your own hands,with a badge of immunity for law enforcement.