Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Marissa Alexander Released From Jail

As we previously posted back in September 2013:

Marissa Alexander, a Florida woman who was sentenced to an unnerving 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot that didn't hurt anyone, will get a new trial . . .

Judge James H. Daniel ordered a retrial, arguing that Alexander had been held to too high a standard to prove self-defense. "The defendant’s burden is only to raise a reasonable doubt concerning self-defense," he wrote, which is incidentally how the jury ruled in the Zimmerman case. "The defendant does not have the burden to prove the victim guilty of the aggression defended against beyond a reasonable doubt." Unlike in the Zimmerman case, where the victim was dead and unable to testify, Alexander's version of events will have to go up against her husband's. We'll soon find out if that will make things harder for her than it was for Zimmerman in establishing reasonable doubt 
Nearly a year and a half later, the decision is in:
Marissa Alexander, the Florida mother whose case became a rallying cry for anti-racism activists and survivors of domestic violence, was released today after three years of incarceration.
Alexander had faced up to 60 years behind bars for firing a single shot near her abusive husband, unable to convince a jury she had feared for her life. A hearing Tuesday confirmed the terms: Having pleaded guilty to assault in exchange for credit for time served, she will be subject to two years of electronic monitoring and house arrest, except for approved appointments and employment. 
Circuit Court Judge James Daniel acknowledged that the case had drawn national attention but claimed his decision was “not based on any public opinion of any larger issue of public interest or social concern, but on the specific facts of the case.”  
Alexander’s case has long sparked outrage about the unequal application of the law for both black Americans and women. Alexander was prosecuted by Angela Corey, who was also the prosecutor in the trial of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted in the February 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin. Corey did not appear at Tuesday’s hearing. 
“We are thrilled that Marissa will finally be reunited with her children, her family, and her community,” said Sumayya Coleman, co-lead of the Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign. “Today’s hearing revealed that Alexander intends to attend school to become a paralegal and she is a wonderful mother to her children who urgently need her. Amazingly, the State continued their campaign of punishment by trying to add two more years of probation.” But the state didn’t get its way. 
In November, Alexander pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated assault with a weapon in exchange for credit for time served. A second trial had been planned for December, when Corey had planned to seek a 60-year sentence, triple the 20-year sentence Alexander got in her first trial.

Let's pause for a moment.  The state of Florida was going after this woman for 60 years???  That's like 2 full 25-year life sentences and then some.  And nobody even got shot here.  At some point you have to take a step back from the letter of the law and apply some common sense.  That's my first observation.

Second, this case also raises a larger question as to how Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law is applied. Zimmerman initially raised that defense to his killing of an unarmed Trayvon Martin, but then abandoned it and successfully relied upon regular self defense.  Here, Alexander attempted to use the "Stand Your Ground" defense -- a defense which does not require one to retreat -- and was still found guilty of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.  Doesn't seem consistent, right?  To be fair, there were some factual issues involved with Alexander's self defense claim since she may have withdrawn from and returned to the conflict in question.  That said, going back to the discretion aspect of the charge, it is difficult to see how a state that adopts a "Stand Your Ground" policy can simultaneously give someone 60 years for standing their ground. 

Nevertheless, Marissa Alexander accepted a plea deal to the assault charges and was released today on time served.  A consolation prize to a case that arguably should have been dismissed without any jail time under the guise of "Stand Your Ground."  

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