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"You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know" ~William Wilberforce~
ORLANDO, FL, September 29, 2021 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Mandatory life in prison for a conversation? Or loaning a friend your car? Not in the good ol' U.S. of A. you say? Perhaps ONLY in the U.S.A. would be more accurate...
WHAT IS THE FELONY MURDER RULE?
Most people are unaware that a person can be sentenced to life-without-parole for a murder committed by someone else. Florida's felony-murder statute allows a person to be held liable for a murder committed by their co-defendant, even if they were not present when it occurred or the death was accidental. To make matters worse, the American Bar Association has found that people of color are disproportionately convicted under this flawed law.
The United States is the only developed nation in the world that still has these draconian felony-murder laws on the books. The doctrine has been completely abolished in England, Canada, Ireland, and most of Europe. The problem arises when someone who played a relatively minor role in a crime, such as a getaway driver or co-conspirator, is charged under this rule... and is given a mandatory life-without-parole sentence despite not having killed anyone. This is essentially a "Death-by-Incarceration" sentence, since the person will never have a chance for redemption, and will die in prison. These sentences should be reserved for the most heinous of criminals, not people who played a minor role in a crime.
WHO IS RYAN HOLLE?
Sound like the plot of a bad Hollywood movie? If only that were true. For example, in his 2007 New York Times article "Serving Life for Providing Car to Killers", Adam Liptak tells the story of 20-year-old Ryan Holle. He was partying at his apartment with friends one night when they decided to rob a drug dealer down the road. Other than that discussion, Ryan's only role in the robbery was to loan the friends his car. Ryan then went to bed.
However, his friends went on to rob the dealer, and ended up beating a woman to death with the butt of a shotgun. A terrible tragedy, yes... but did Ryan Holle deserve to spend life in prison for a murder committed by his friends while he was home in bed sleeping? Under Florida's harsh felony-murder law, that's EXACTLY what happened!
THE FIRST COMMUTATION FOR FELONY MURDER IN FLORIDA HISTORY
This absurdity was pointed out by former Florida Governor (now U.S. Senator) Rick Scott when, in 2015, he commuted Ryan Holle's sentence. "I believe that the purpose of commutations is to undo such obviously inequitable results," Scott told the Tampa Bay Times. "Because Ryan Holle's responsiblity for [the victim's] death is clearly less than [his co-defendant's], I believe his sentence should likewise be less." The legislature needs to fix this broken law.
WHO IS DOUGLAS GILDING?
After almost 25 years in prison, Florida inmate Douglas Gilding was fed up with the gridlock in Tallahassee over criminal justice reform. So, being a trained law clerk who also trains service dogs for disabled vetrans in a prison VetDog program, Douglas decided to write a bill himself. In particular, he had been watching as other states changed or eliminated their felony-murder laws, but no reform bills were getting any traction in the Florida legislature.
Upon reading about Ryan Holle's commutation, Douglas realized that his own case was very similar: Douglas had been given a life-without-parole sentence under the felony-murder rule for what amounted to a ten minute conversation in a car. Not for actually COMMITTING a crime, just TALKING about it... and he too was home in bed sleeping when the crime occurred.
WHAT IS THE RYAN HOLLE REFORM ACT?
It seemed to Douglas Gilding that the reform bills currently being introduced were too ambitious for Florida's conservative legislature, and were looking to completely eliminate the felony-murder rule. He realized this approach would never fly in Florida; so he set out to write a more conservative bill that merely amended the sentencing structure, without deleting any of the felony-murder rule provisions.
Ryan Holle's case was the inspiration for this bill, so after having his lawyer, Randy Lambert of the O'Mara Law Group, get Ryan's approval, Douglas titled the bill "RYAN HOLLE REFORM ACT". He wrote the first draft from his cell while the prison was on covid lockdown. The bill simply caps the amount of time in prison a person can get to 15 years... IF they were not the actual killer, or were not a major participant that helped kill someone.
This very focused amendment would NOT release any killers to the streets... but as simple as it sounds, this 17 page bill faces massive headwinds from prosecutor and law enforcement groups who view the felony-murder rule as an important tool. Public awareness and support is key to getting this piece of legislation passed. We need brave Florida legislators who are willing to sponsor this bill. If you would like to read the RYAN HOLLE REFORM ACT, or watch video interviews of both Douglas Gilding and Ryan Holle, or wish to contact us, please go to www.WeHeartFlorida.org. Please share this article with others.
We H.E.A.R.T Florida shares a vision that with our efforts, one day, the Criminal Justice system will be "just." A system where the punishment does fit the crime. Sentences make sense. A system of personal accountability based on intent. Building a prison system that helps you up when you fall instead of warehousing humans. Where a person leaves prison better equipped to live in society than when they went in. A culture of respect and dignity, where second chances are earned. A system where human, emotional and intellectual growth are the core of rehabilitation. Our vision of freedom can be achieved by educating those who are unaffected, to see the egregious failure of our current system. To get all to use the most powerful weapon at their disposal to make change…their voice.
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