Stand-Your-Ground-Law Fail: The Marissa Alexander Case Resurfaced

Guest post on The Business of Me.

Meet Marissa Alexander: A Florida mother of three who fell victim to domestic abuse by her estranged husband, Rico Gray. The couple had only been married for four months when an argument-turned-physical-fight led to Alexander firing a warning shot at the ceiling in self-defense. Two years later, it was Alexander who was sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in prison, and not her abusive husband.

Alexander’s story of surviving domestic violence is much like many other women who have suffered from their abusive partner’s jealous streaks: In September 2009, Alexander obtained a restraining order against Gray after he beat her so badly that she had to go to the hospital. By July of the following year, they’d reconciled, got married and had their first child. It was during this time, when they were having breakfast one morning, that she showed him pictures of their newborn child on her phone, and he spotted text messages from her ex-husband. This sparked a verbal disagreement between the two, which then turned into a physical attack against Alexander. That’s when she ran out to her car, grabbed her legally-owned handgun, and fired a warning shot. No one got hurt, nor was anyone killed — the shot was just to let Gray know that she wasn’t having it anymore. Yet, Alexander is the one behind bars.

This sends a shameful and highly disreputable message to anyone who’s in an abusive relationship. It projects the idea that it’s perfectly fine for a man to commit domestic battery, because if ever she tries using some aggression of her own to fight back, there’s a law that’ll protect him and make him the victim instead. And, just to add a little salt to the proverbial wound, this law will also put her in jail for a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years. The Stand Your Ground Law is supposed to protect victims (of any kind of violence) from incarceration in the event that they use deadly force to stave off their aggressor, if they are in fear for their life. This law particularly gives the victim the right to choose not to escape the scene, even if they have the wherewithal to do so, if they’d rather use such deadly force. So, there goes the prosecution’s argument that Alexander should have left the scene for good when she, instead, went to get her gun; because according to Florida laws she had every right to go back into the house.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because just three months ago, George Zimmerman walked away from court as a free man after going to trial for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin, using the Stand Your Ground law as his defense.

Let’s look at the facts:

  • George Zimmerman had a history of violence prior to his incident with Trayvon Martin — so did Marissa Alexander’s husband, Rico Gray.
  • By stalking and following Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman made himself the initial aggressor — Gray was the aggressor for physically attacking Alexander at the time of their confrontation and throughout their relationship.
  • George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in the chest and killed him — Marissa Alexander shot at the wall and did not hurt anyone.
  • George Zimmerman is found not guilty under Florida’s stand your ground law — Marissa Alexander is found guilty after trying to plead self-defense under Florida’s stand your ground law.

What a smack in the face. The tragedy that is Marissa Alexander’s narrative turned into a travesty when the verdict in Zimmerman’s case came back ‘not guilty.’ People across the country and beyond are outraged over the injustices done at the hands of this so-called “law.” After getting the NAACP involved, it was announced on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013 that Alexander’s trial will be renewed. However, due to ramifications involved with Florida’s self-defense laws, which state that she could have fled the scene instead of firing her gun, an appeals court ruled that Alexander would not be allowed to invoke a “stand your ground” defense specifically. What she will have to do is prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she fired her gun in self-defense. At the very least, if successful, her sentence will be reduced — a sentence that was excessive in the first place. Judges are bound by mandatory minimum sentences; add that to a complicated stand-your-ground defense, and Alexander automatically faced an unwarranted 20 years of jail time.

It’s high time that lawmakers start thinking about justifiable minimum sentences and making amendments to controversial laws. What Marissa Alexander needs is intervention and the benefit of the doubt, not two decades in captivity.

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