31 year old Marissa Alexander sentenced to 20 years in prison (no one is dead, no drugs were involved, no property was stolen, and no one was harmed)
Marissa Alexander (c. 1981- ), mother of three from Jacksonville, Florida, was sentenced on May 11th 2012 to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot when her abusive husband threatened to kill her and came at her. No one was harmed – except her when he beat her earlier. She argued self-defence based on the Stand Your Ground law in Florida. The police, judge and jury did not buy it.
The prosecutor in the case was Angela Corey, who is also prosecuting Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman.
Alexander’s husband, Rico Gray, had a past of beating and choking her. One time it got so bad it landed her in the hospital and he was arrested. After that she got a court order of protection – and a gun (with a permit and training).
On the night of August 1st 2010 Gray found out that she had sent pictures of their newborn daughter to her ex-husband. He went into a jealous rage, cornered her, started beating her. She got away and ran to her truck in the garage. But when she got there she had no keys. She tried to open the garage door but it was stuck. She had no phone so she could not call for help.
She got her gun from her truck and entered the house to find another way out or at least get her phone. But when she entered the kitchen there he was with her two stepsons. She was holding the gun down at her side.
He yelled, “Bitch, I will kill you!” and charged.
She held up the gun, turned away and fired a shot into the air, hitting the kitchen wall.
… a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm…The police arrested her.
- Stand Your Ground law, Florida
Her Congresswoman, Corrine Brown, comparing it to Zimmerman:
How in Jacksonville you shoot in the air and no one gets hurt and you get 20 years and less than 50 miles down the road, less than 20 miles down the road, you shot and murdered somebody and you don’t even get arrested.The judge and jury saw her as acting out of anger, not fear and self-defence. It seems she was painted as an out-of-control, angry black bitch.
It took the jury 12 minutes to find her guilty of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Because she fired a gun, she gets 20 years under Florida’s strict gun laws.
Corey, the prosecutor:
I feel like when someone fires a loaded gun inside of a home with two children standing in the direction where the bullet was fired, we have to have tough laws that say you don’t do that. Justice, with the laws of the state of Florida, was served.Alexander:
What was I supposed to do that day and the Stand Your Ground law, who is it for?
The law requires anyone convicted of an aggravated assault when a firearm is discharged to serve a minimum of 20 years in prison with no regard to extenuating circumstances.
Alexander says that on August 1, 2010, her husband went into a rage and tried to strangle her after reading some text messages she sent to her ex-husband. She fled the family home, got to the garage and realized she didn't have her keys. Fearing for her life, she says she grabbed a gun and went back into the home to retrieve her keys.
She says her husband threatened to kill her, and to keep him at bay, she fired a warning shot into a wall.
Why was she charged, convicted and sentenced? Because State Attorney Angela Corey, the same prosecutor leading the Trayvon Martin case, said the gun was fired near a bedroom where two children were and they could have been injured.
Did the bullet hit the children? No. Did Alexander point the gun at her husband and hit him? No. She simply fired a warning shot, and according to Florida's shameful law, that's enough for a minimum 20-year sentence.
Corey offered Alexander a three-year sentence in a plea bargain, but Alexander felt she had done nothing wrong and so rejected the plea.
In sentencing her, the judge made it clear that, despite all the pleas for mercy, including one from Alexander's 11-year-old daughter who took the stand, he was left with no choice but to send Alexander to jail for at least 20 years.
Alexander tried to invoke Florida's controversial stand your ground law in her defense, but that was rejected. Critics of the law's role in the Martin case have said this shows how the law is applied unevenly.
But the real issue here isn't the faulty stand your ground law. It's the ridiculous mandatory minimum sentences that have been approved by countless state legislatures and Congress.
In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (PDF) that the federal sentencing guidelines in some types of cases should not be seen as mandatory but as "advisory," giving judges the leeway (PDF) to consider multiple factors before sentencing someone.
In a 2003 speech to the American Bar Association, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy railed against federal mandatory minimums, saying, "Our resources are misspent, our punishment too severe, our sentences too long."
"I can accept neither the necessity nor the wisdom of federal mandatory minimum sentences," Kennedy said. "In too many cases, mandatory minimum sentences are unwise or unjust."
Unfortunately, on the state level, far too many law-and-order legislators, most with no courtroom or law enforcement experience, enact such laws without giving any thought to potential cases like Alexander's.
The 10-20-life policy has no business in the laws of Florida or any other state.
Judges should have the discretion to consider a variety of factors in sentencing, and I have no doubt had this judge been given flexibility, Alexander wouldn't be going to prison for 20 years.
These types of injustices are common in our legal system, and it is necessary for everyone with a conscience to stand up and decry these so-called legislative remedies that end up as nightmares.
Alexander was a woman trying to flee an enraged husband. She could have easily pointed the gun at him and pleaded self-defense, and like George Zimmerman, the shooter in the Martin case who was not initially charged, Alexander might never have been arrested.
Our prison systems are overcrowded, and folks like Marissa Alexander do not belong in them.
One hopes that Florida Gov. Rick Scott will find some compassion and grant Alexander a pardon, and the Florida Legislature will revise the law to prevent future miscarriages of justice.Florida elected officials and residents should be ashamed of this law and do all they can to change it.