Marissa Alexander, the 31-year-old Florida mother of three who maintains that she only fired a warning shot at her abusive husband, has been sentenced to two decades in prison. She turned down a plea bargain that would have seen her jailed for three years, but the judge ultimately rejected her “Stand your ground” defense and applied the state’s 10-20-Life law, under which a conviction for aggravated assault involving the discharge of a firearm carries a minimum and maximum sentence of 20 years.
The Sunshine State News explored what was behind the sentence that has supporters across the country outraged and what it means for justice in Florida:
“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.
Newburn will attend the first public hearing of the task force appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to review the “stand your ground” law on June 12 in Sanford, where 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer. The acknowledged shooter, George Zimmerman, claimed self-defense, but is now facing second degree murder charges.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville Congresswoman Corrine Brown is calling Alexander’s case a product of “institutional racism.” She said she cannot locate a “stand your ground case” in her area where an African American has been the beneficiary of the law. Alexander is a black woman.
Brown will be calling for a national study by the U.S. Department of Justice or another entity to determine whether there are racial disparities in the application of the “stand your ground” defense.
And domestic violence advocates like Osmundson 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.”
“Ms. Alexander exhibited great courage and restraint in protecting herself while also not killing anyone,” said Rita Smith, director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Where is the justice for battered women in Florida?”