The George Zimmerman trial, the blockbuster legal juggernaut of this past summer, gave rise to many questions relating to the nation’s gun laws and Florida’s gun laws in particular. How could Zimmerman have shot the unarmed Trayvon Martin and not be punished? Why does Florida have a “Stand Your Ground” law – for that matter, what is the “Stand Your Ground” law? How could someone with a gun be in fear of someone without a gun? A multitude of these questions led to the conclusion of many that gun laws need to be firmer; that we need more restrictive laws on who can have a gun, and tougher laws on those who use guns.
In the midst of all of the back-and-forth between opponents and supporters of George Zimmerman, there arose the name of a lesser-known woman: Marissa Alexander.
Ms. Alexander is another individual who was charged after she discharged her weapon during an incident in which she was fearful for her life. There are two key differences between the case of Ms. Alexander (tried in 2012) and that of Mr. Zimmerman (tried in 2013). First, while Ms. Alexander’s weapon discharging didn’t lead to the death – or injury – of anyone, Zimmerman’s did. Second, shockingly, Ms. Alexander was sentenced to twenty years in prison, while Zimmerman was sent home a free man.
This is not to say that Mr. Zimmerman should have been incarcerated – on the contrary, a jury of his peers found him “not guilty” based on the evidence before them, after hearing passionate arguments from both skilled prosecutors and skilled defense attorneys. Instead, this comparison is made to point to the absurdity that is the law that sent this woman to jail. Whereas Mr. Zimmerman had no previous contact with Trayvon Martin, Ms. Alexander did have previous contact with the man present when her gun went off. The man was her husband – her abusive husband. Furthermore, she did not hit him with the bullet, but rather fired the bullet through the wall in the hopes of scaring him off, after, she claims, he broke through a door and grabbed her by the neck.
This past month, an appellate court issued a ruling that seems to be a beacon of hope – the court reversed the ruling that sent Ms. Alexander to jail and ordered a retrial, based on the fact that, according to an ABC News Article, “the jury instructions on self-defense were erroneous.” The Florida appellate court held that instructions given to the jury, namely that Ms. Alexander had to prove that she acted in self-defense “beyond a reasonable doubt” were wrong. The instructions would only have been accurate had the man in the incident been injured – and he wasn’t.
On the same day that Ms. Alexander’s sentence was overruled, another major breakthrough took place here in the Sunshine State. A state representative filed a bill that would make those who fire warning shots in self-defense exempt from the controversial mandatory-minimum sentencing laws. (These laws, which have been enacted in different parts of the county, take away power from the judge and have made extenuating circumstances, like Ms. Alexander’s, entirely irrelevant).
The legislator who filed the bill was inspired to do so by the story of Ms. Alexander who, he felt, was victimized by the law and represented an actor who was not the intended target of the bill’s harsh, penal nature.
This important bill will, if passed and made law, serve to protect those who become unnecessarily victimized by the unsympathetic laws the subservient courts are required to enforce. People like Ms. Alexander, victims of domestic abuse, who use a gun just to scare off their attacker, should not be rewarded with jail time. These gun owners, who use their weapon purely for self-defense and not for any aggressive, illicit purpose, should be shielded from mandatory minimum sentences.
If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.