OLR Research Report


February 20, 2013

 

2013-R-0146

EFFECT OF FLORIDA'S 10-20-LIFE LAW ON VIOLENT CRIME

By: Kristin Sullivan, Chief Analyst

You asked whether Florida's “10-20-Life” law caused a decrease in the state's violent crime rates.

For more information on the law's provisions, see OLR Report 2013-R-0067.

SUMMARY

Florida's 10-20-Life law (“the law”) imposes mandatory minimum sentences for certain felony convictions involving the use or attempted use of a firearm (Fla. Stat. 775.087). Since the law became effective in 1999, the state's violent crime rates have generally decreased. According to FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) statistics, the violent crime rate the year the law became effective was 854 (per 100,000 population), compared with 812 (per 100,000 population) one year later. Five years later in 2004, it was 711.8 (per 100,000 population). In 2010, the last year for which FBI UCR data is available, the rate was 542.4 (per 100,000 population).

But it is difficult to determine whether the drop is attributable to the law. We spoke with various public officials in Florida who indicated that other variables may have contributed, directly or indirectly, to the drop including an increase in the number of law enforcement officers, other anticrime strategies, and the governor's public-service announcement that warned of the severe penalties for gun crimes. Further, violent crime rates in Florida were trending downward prior to the law's effective date. One year earlier, for example, the rate in Florida was 938.7 (per 100,000 population) and five years earlier, in 1994, the rate was 1146.8 (per 100,000 population). This drop mirrored the U.S. trend as a whole where violent crime rates went from 713.6 (per 100,000 population) in 1994 to 523 (per 100,000 population) in 1999 and 463.2 (per 100,000 population) in 2004. However, the decline between the year the law went into effect and 2010 was greater in Florida (36%) than in the U.S. (23%).

Little independent research exists on whether there is a causal relationship between the law and decreasing violent crime rates. However, we found one journal article, written by a criminologist and former University of Florida professor, that attempts to isolate the law's effect through statistical intervention analysis. Dr. Alex Piquero concludes that while it is difficult to determine causality, there is likely not a statistically significant relationship between the intervention (the law) and any decrease in violent crime, including firearms homicides.

VIOLENT CRIME RATES IN FLORIDA AND THE U.S.

Like the rest of the country, Florida's violent crime rates peaked in the early 1990's, and with few exceptions, have since trended downward. Table 1 uses FBI UCR data to show the incidences of violent crimes and violent crime rates (per 100,000 population) in Florida and the U.S. from 1988 to 2010—the latest year for which the FBI provides data—11 years before and after the 10-20-Life became effective. The UCR Program defines “violent crimes” as murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.

Table 1: Violent Crimes and Crime Rates: 1988 – 2010

Year

Florida Population

U.S. Population

Florida Violent Crimes Total

U.S. Violent Crimes Total

Florida Violent Crime Rate (per 100,000 population)

U.S. Violent Crime Rate (per 100,000 population)

1988

12,377,000

244,498,982

138,343

1,566,221

1,117.70

640.6

1989

12,671,000

246,819,230

140,575

1,646,037

1,109.40

666.9

1990

12,937,926

249,464,396

160,990

1,820,127

1,244.30

729.6

1991

13,277,000

252,153,092

157,243

1,911,767

1,184.30

758.2

1992

13,488,000

255,029,699

162,827

1,932,274

1,207.20

757.7

1993

13,679,000

257,782,608

164,975

1,926,017

1,206.00

747.1

1994

13,953,000

260,327,021

160,016

1,857,670

1,146.80

713.6

1995

14,166,000

262,803,276

151,711

1,798,792

1,071.00

684.5

1996

14,400,000

265,228,572

151,350

1,688,540

1,051.00

636.6

1997

14,654,000

267,783,607

149,996

1,636,096

1,023.60

611

1998

14,916,000

270,248,003

140,016

1,533,887

938.7

567.6

1999

15,111,244

272,690,813

129,044

1,426,044

854

523

2000

15,982,378

281,421,906

129,777

1,425,486

812

506.5

2001

16,373,330

285,317,559

130,713

1,439,480

798.3

504.5

2002

16,691,701

287,973,924

128,721

1,423,677

771.2

494.4

2003

16,999,181

290,788,976

124,280

1,383,676

731.1

475.8

2004

17,385,430

293,656,842

123,754

1,360,088

711.8

463.2

2005

17,768,191

296,507,061

125,957

1,390,745

709

469

2006

18,089,888

299,398,484

129,602

1,418,043

716.4

473.6

2007

18,251,243

301,621,157

131,882

1,408,337

722.6

466.9

2008

18,423,878

304,374,846

126,260

1,392,629

685.3

457.5

2009

18,537,969

307,006,550

113,541

1,325,896

612.5

431.9

2010

18,801,310

308,745,538

101,969

1,246,248

542.4

403.6

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics

Variables to Consider

We contacted several Florida agencies and organizations to answer your question. Two individuals provided anecdotal evidence of a decrease in violent crimes. John Hogenmuller, executive director of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, and Gregory Youchock, chief of court services for the Florida Office of the State Courts Administrator, indicated that over the last several years, the number of criminal filings and inmates convicted under the 10-20-Life law has grown. However, both cautioned that several other variables likely contributed to the change. For example, the number of police officers on the streets increased around the time the law became effective.

Similarly, in his 2005 article, “Reliable Information and Rational Policy Decisions: Does Gun Research Fit the Bill?,” Piquero indicates that “other factors that researchers have credited with reductions in crime, like police personnel… may just as likely be related to the change in crime rates in Florida vis-a-vis 10-20-Life.” Specifically, he writes:

In parallel with 10-20-Life, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in concert with local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, created anticrime strategies such as Operation T.H.U.G.S. (Taking Hoodlums Using Guns Seriously), an effort that targets felons who have existing violent crime warrants and a history of violence. Finally, the Governor's office implemented a $2.7 million public-service announcement campaign to warn would-be criminals of the severe penalties for using a gun in Florida: “Use a gun, and you're done.” The Florida Department of Corrections also provided printed materials such as bumper stickers, vinyl window clings, posters in English and Spanish, and brochures in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole to public and private schools, business, and other public areas (i.e., bus stops, billboards, television advertisements) for display.

Two other individuals, David Ensley, chief of research and data analysis for the Florida Department of Corrections, and Kathy McCharen, analyst in the Florida Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research, were not aware of any research or data on the relationship between the law and violent crime rates.

KS:ts