Prohibiting Increased Sentences for Lawful Gun Possession by Defendants

The Florida Court of Appeals ruled that it is impermissible for a trial court to use a defendant’s lawful firearm possession in the sentencing process. In the case of Nelson v. State, the defendant, who had been convicted of selling marijuana and related charges, had photographs of firearms found in his home presented during the sentencing hearing, even though he had not been charged with any firearm-related offenses and the state did not argue any connection between the defendant and any criminal activities involving the firearms. The court declared that the use of constitutionally impermissible factors in imposing a sentence is a violation of due process and constitutes fundamental error, emphasizing that this principle holds true even when the uncharged conduct is the lawful exercise of a constitutional right. Since the state had failed to carry its burden to show otherwise, the court vacated the defendant’s sentences and remanded the cases for resentencing before a different judge. The defense attorney for Nelson is Victoria E. Hatfield O’Brien of Hatfield Reese, P.A. This case represents the importance of protecting fundamental rights and ensuring that the sentencing process is fair and complies with due process.