Florida Man Serves An 11-Year Sentence, Now the State Wants To Put Him Back In

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Anders Hagstrom Justice Reporter
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Robert Woodall was released on appeal after serving 11 years in a Florida prison for injuring someone with a gun in a drunken fight, but now the court has ordered him back to serve the rest of his 20-year sentence.

A judge delayed the hearing on his case Monday, giving Woodall, 35, a brief reprieve with his family until July 19, by which time he and his attorney hope that the Florida Supreme Court will accept his case and free him permanently, VICE News reports. Woodall was released in January 2016 after a judge agreed with his appeal that the jury’s conclusion didn’t warrant a 20-year sentence. The judge adjusted his sentence to the 11 years Woodall had already served, thereby releasing him.

Woodall was able to spend more than a year with his wife and two young sons when the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the judge’s ruling in March, ordering Woodall back to prison for another nine years.

“It’s really hard for me to think about because I’ve been trying hard to be part of everything I’ve missed,” Woodall told VICE. “Even the simple stuff, it could be the last time I take out the trash.”

Woodall fired a handgun in a drunken Christmas Eve fight in 2004. The round bounced off a metal surface and into another man’s leg. Woodall’s 20-year term came as a result of a Florida mandatory minimum sentence on gun violence passed under former Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999.

Mandatory minimums have become a focal point in the national criminal justice reform discussion, with politicians of all parties criticizing them for unnecessarily raising America’s incarceration rate. Louisiana, Illinois and Oklahoma all passed major reforms in 2017, abandoning many mandatory minimums in their criminal codes.

The Trump administration, however, has held a staunch “tough-on-crime” position spearheaded by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who issued an order this spring directing DOJ prosecutors to pursue the maximum possible sentence in every case. The order reversed previous directives that prosecutors should pursue the level of charges they deem justified within the legal limits. (RELATED: Jeff Sessions Alone Pushing ‘Tough-On-Crime’ Policy In Country Ready For Reform)

Republican Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul joined with Democrat colleagues Cory Booker and Richard Durbin in a June 7 letter requesting that Sessions rethink the order.

“The policy overvalues consistency at the expense of an individualized assessment of the appropriate penalty by likely reducing prosecutors discretion to decide which charges are appropriate to pursue,” the senators wrote. “The Department’s new policy ignores the growing bipartisan view that federal sentencing laws are in grave need of reform.”

Woodall’s only chance for staying out of prison is an intervention by the Florida Supreme Court before his July 18 hearing, at which he will be re-sentenced to serve out the remaining nine years of his 20-year sentence.

“If he goes back, they’ll be starting their own lives when he gets released,” Walker said of their sons. “And you just have to hope the system will do them justice, too.”

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