Recently, by a five-two vote, the Florida Supreme Court upheld Leon County Circuit Court Judge Robert Wheeler’s decision to sentence Alvin Davis to a 15-year prison sentence in a firearms case, the maximum allowed under Florida law. Davis was arrested in 2006 in Tallahassee after police found a gun in a car in which he was a passenger.
Judge Wheeler mentioned Davis’ failure to take “responsibility” for the crime and show remorse during the sentencing hearing as a rationale for imposing the maximum sentence, even though Davis was using his Constitutional right to protect himself against self-incrimination.
In reaction to this decision, Florida Democratic Chair Manny Diaz and Florida Senator and attorney Perry E. Thurston issued the following statements:
Said Chair Manny Diaz: “It’s a travesty of justice when judges who swear to defend and uphold the Constitution decide not just to ignore it, but to walk all over a defendant’s rights as enshrined in the 5th Amendment. No one, I repeat no one, should be punished for exercising their rights under the Constitution.
“This is a dangerous precedent not just for Alvin Davis, but for everyone in this country who looks to the Constitution’s Bill of Rights as a shield against injustices our founders wanted to protect us against. The same way a judge can ignore the 5th Amendment, they can ignore our right to freedom of religion, or freedom of speech.
“I call upon appellate courts to right this wrong. All of our rights are on the balance here.”
Said Sen. Perry E. Thurston: “Today’s ruling by the Florida Supreme Court is veering our citizens dangerously off course on the road to justice. A functional American justice system is dependent upon every state upholding its citizens’ rights, ensuring that everyone has a fair trial.
“Punishing someone for exercising their constitutionally protected 5th Amendment right is not only unjust, but also anti-American. This goes against our nation’s core values of freedom and justice for all. This is a reminder of the dire need to revisit how we select judges in Florida and the importance of an independent judiciary.”