Army veteran facing 120-year sentence for firing gunshots in air

Randal Ratledge

A Jacksonville man faces a 120-year sentence for firing two shots that caused no injuries, The Florida Times-Union reported on Sunday.

Jury selection for the trial of Army Veteran Randal Ratledge, 58, is scheduled to begin today. Defense attorney Bill Sheppard has asked the judge to waive mandatory guidelines under the 10-20-life rule insisting that the punishment does not fit the crime, but court officials admit Judge Jack Schemer is bound by the state law.

While time may run out for the Ratledge case, the Florida Legislature is considering a bill that would remove aggravated assault from the list of crimes that fall under 10-20-life. This would have taken the extreme sentence off the table. Sheppard says, “Ratledge would be willing to plead guilty if prosecutors would allow the judge to impose a lesser sentence”. He is charged with six counts of aggravated assault after a 2012 incident where he waved a gun and shot two rounds in public, traumatizing the six neighbors that were with him at the time, prosecutors say. Each of the convictions carries a potential 20-year mandatory sentence.

Attorney Bryan DeMaggio, who is also on Ratledge’s defense team said he and Sheppard plan to argue that he was “involuntarily intoxicated” after a bad reaction to Ambien prescribed for insomnia, and doesn’t remember firing the gun.  Ratledge claims not remembering the incident at all between ingesting the pill and “coming to” in police custody.

Sheppard is asking for leniency because his client “did not point or fire the gun at anyone”. He did run after neighbors screaming profanities, after firing the weapon, admittedly, but his attorney insists “a military veteran, does not belong in prison for the rest of his life” and he is critical of the prosecutors for not waiving the requirement.

The prosecution responded to the request saying “while we cannot get into specifics pretrial, the state has considered all options which includes the waiving of the 20-year minimum mandatory,” Barnard said. The Legislature has given prosecutors discretion in the past to waive a minimum mandatory in appropriate cases, Barnard said.

Sheppard and DeMaggio asked Schemer to make an exception in this case and allow jurors to know the severe penalty of being found guilty, but the judge denied their request.

Ratledge had been previously convicted of the same charges, but it was thrown out before sentencing when Circuit Judge James Daniel ruled that Ratledge’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination was violated during the trial. Officer C.R. Deal, questioned Ratledge the night he fired the shots and then testified in front of the jury that Ratledge told him “he made a mistake and that he did not want to talk about the incident.” The comment was considered to unfairly prejudice the jury.  .since they knew Ratledge had invoked his right to remain silent, and exercising that right should not be held against a criminal defendant.

Ratledge is holding up well according to his legal team. He is out on bail but required to stay in his home most of the time. “He’s a soldier trained by the U.S. Army,” Sheppard said. “He was trained to deal with it.”

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  • Penny M. Polokoff-Kreps earned her BA in Sociology from Queens College of the City University of New York. She is a published author, speaker, FL Supreme Court mediator, and a Guardian ad Litem. She runs a non-profit with her husband, a Vietnam veteran, providing nutritional supplements for veteran cancer survivors, and supporting veterans in obtaining service dogs. She is passionate about veteran's issues especially those related to PTSD and mental health.

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