After firing a warning shot at her estranged husband who allegedly attacked her, Marissa Alexander was sentenced to a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 20 years for aggravated assault. Her husband attacked the mother of three just nine days after the birth of her daughter. Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law did not protect her as a domestic violence victim claiming self-defense.
Due to a plea deal, Miss Alexander spent nearly six years behind bars and confined to her home with an ankle bracelet after her conviction. She was released in January of 2017. Since her release, she has been a strong advocate for domestic violence victims navigating the criminal justice system and is fighting to change the uneven application of the Stand Your Ground law. Most notably, Ms. Alexander seeks to shift the burden of proof in pretrial hearings from defendants to prosecutors.
History of Stand Your Ground
Today, approximately 22 states have “stand your ground” laws on the books, yet Florida was the very first to set the trend back in 2005. The law allows citizens to use force, even deadly force when they fear for their lives and does not provide a duty to flee the scene before doing so:
“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.”
Florida’s Stand Your Ground law gained nationwide attention in 2012 during the George Zimmerman case in which Mr. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman volunteer, shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old who was walking home from a convenience store with snacks. Zimmerman waived a Stand Your Ground hearing, which would have granted him immunity from a criminal or civil trial had the judge ruled in his favor. Still, the jury was informed of Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws and acquitted him of second-degree murder.
Many have criticized the law, which they claim encourages citizens to shoot first and ask questions later at the onset of a perceived threat. Some studies suggest that rather than reducing the rate of violent crime, Stand Your Ground may increase the rates of homicides.
Arguments for Tougher Stand Your Ground Law
Marissa Alexander acknowledges the situations in which Florida’s Stand Your Ground law may be misapplied. Still, she believes that the way the law currently stands conflicts with the tradition of assuming a defendant’s innocence until he is proven guilty. Of how she believed the court viewed her defense, she had this to say, “It was a crime from the jump. [Stand Your Ground] was never considered.”
She was convicted for firing a warning shot at her husband that hit the wall behind him instead of shooting at the ceiling. Prosecutors urged that she fired out of anger rather than fear. Ms. Alexander is working to ensure that the burden of proof falls on the prosecution to show that the Stand Your Ground does not apply, rather than forcing the defendant to prove their justification for using force.
Stand Your Ground may be a viable defense in your manslaughter or murder case. Attorney Brian Gabriel of West Palm Beach has practiced criminal defense for over 30 years and holds an esteemed reputation throughout South Florida. When you need a solid criminal defense, contact The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel by calling 561-622-5575 for a free consultation or connect with Mr. Gabriel online.