2012 Stand Your Ground Defense Fails In Florida Domestic Violence Case

In one of the most tragic results of a Florida Stand Your Ground defense case, a young woman has been sentenced to 20 years in prison. After the Trayvon Martin case, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law has received close scrutiny by the media.

In this case, Marissa Alexander received a 20-year sentence for firing a shot in what she claims was self-defense.

This case is the “perfect storm” for the intersection of THREE huge criminal justice risks – plea bargaining, mandatory minimum sentencing for crimes of violence, and failed affirmative defenses. In the Alexander case Marissa Alexander ran the gauntlet and her case is exemplary of:

1. The dangers of NOT plea bargaining and taking a case to trial where..

2. The Defendant faces mandatory minimum sentencing for violent crimes and

3. Is not given the shelter and protection of ancient self defense concepts by a judge who rejects the immunity offered by the state’s Stand Your Ground ….

The judge in this case rejected Alexander’s “Stand Your Ground” defense, saying she could have escaped instead of firing. Florida courts have often recognized a common law doctrine that says when someone is acting in self-defense in their home, they don’t have a duty to retreat to first.

A plea bargain of three years was rejected by Marissa by the special prosecutor assigned to try the case, Angela Corey. Alexander, hoping the jury would accept her self defense theory, instead rejected it, apparently not believing that she had been in fear for her life.

Further complicating the case is the “ex” Rico Gray, 36, had been arrested twice for domestic battery, and there was a restraining erectile dysfunction order against him in effect that night. Also, again complicating the case Ms. Alexander had a history of DV in an assault on Gray four months after the shooting.

The Mandatory Sentence Twist

The gauntlet here was the defendant’s decision to take the self defense theory to the jury after it was rejected by the judge, turning down the plea of three years, and running the risk of a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years -(mandatory minimum sentences like the one applied here – were also passed in the 1980’s in Colorado prevent judgse from modifying the sentence to fit the crime.)

“If we want to protect self-defense in Florida, we can’t have a 20-year mandatory minimum hanging over the heads of people who fire warning shots instead of just killing their attacker,” said Greg Newburn, Florida project director for Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

And domestic violence advocates say the criminal justice system is biased against women who fight back.

“It’s not feminine for women to defend themselves,” she said. “In the minds of most people, women ought to be protected, not protect themselves.”

She Was Angry

The DA argued In court that Alexander’s shot could have hit her husband or his children and that she “was angry” when she fired the shot and “not in fear.”

But Rita Smith, director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence replies with this thoughtful response.

“It’s not feminine for women to defend themselves,” she said. “In the minds of most people, women ought to be protected, not protect themselves.”

“Ms. Alexander exhibited great courage and restraint in protecting herself while also not killing anyone,…”