An appellate court in Florida on Thursday granted Marissa Alexander a new trial.  She was sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison for firing a gun in an incident where no one was injured.  Alexander didn’t have a criminal record at the time.  The court ruled that the trial judge improperly instructed the jury on self-defense.  Alexander argued at trial that she fired the gun to scare her, self-admittedly abusive husband away.  The jury was incorrectly told that the defense had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Marissa Alexander was acting in self-defense and that her husband was attempting to seriously harm her.  The prosecution, as the court pointed out, always has the burden to prove the defendant, Alexander, was guilty of aggravated assault.

“Because the jury instructions on self-defense were fundamental error, we reverse” the conviction, a three-judge appellate panel said.

Using the incorrect instructions, the jury took less than 12 minutes to convict Alexander of aggravated assault.

“Marissa was ecstatic and obviously she’s incredibly thankful,…” said Bruce Zimet, Alexander’s attorney.

The case gained national attention because of the elements of race, domestic violence, and mandatory minimum controversies.  On August 1, 2010, Alexander said that her husband, Rico Gray, read her text messages and discovered that she was texting her ex-husband.  She said that he got angry and tried to strangle her in the bathroom.  When she got away from him, she ended up in the garage and fired the gun off in warning.  No one was injured.  State Attorney Angela Corey was the prosecutor and said that the case was prosecuted the way it was because there were children nearby.  Corey said she offered Alexander a plea deal that would have given her three years in prison, but Alexander chose to go to trial instead.  Florida’s controversial law “10-20-Life” was used in the sentencing.  The law mandates increased minimum sentences for some felonies and removes judicial discretion.

The judge in the case reluctantly gave Alexander 20 years, “Under the state’s 10-20-life law, a conviction for aggravated assault where a firearm has been discharged carries a minimum and maximum sentence of 20 years without regarding to any extenuating or mitigating circumstances…such as those in this case,” Judge James Daniel said.

The case was also controversial because Alexander was denied Florida’s Stand Your Ground status.  If she had won the status, she would have been immune to prosecution.  To win an immunity hearing, a defendant must show that they were ‘more likely than not’ entitled to use force.  The judge denied her immunity saying that she was more likely not in fear because she went back into the home.  The appellate court did not grant Alexander a second chance at immunity.  Prosecutors responded to the new trial order by calling it a “legal technicality”.

  1. Lon Spector says:

    At last some “common sense” which really isn’t that common today.


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