Why Marissa Alexander's Second Trial Could Bring a Life Sentence Instead of 20 Years

Free Marissa NowFree Marissa NowIn a few months, Marissa Alexander, the Jacksonville, Florida, woman who received a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence in 2012 for firing a gun during a fight with her abusive husband, will have a second chance to make her case that she was acting in self-defense. Alexander, who says she fired a warning shot because she was afraid her husband would seriously injure or kill her, won a second trial by arguing on appeal that Circuit Judge James Daniel erroneously imposed the burden of proof on her in his jury instructions. But thanks to another decision by the same appeals court, Alexander's prison term if she is convicted this time around could be three times as long as the one she originally received—effectively a life sentence for actions that injured no one.

Alexander, who was freed on bail last November after 21 months behind bars, is charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon because her husband was accompanied by two of his children during the confrontation. Under Florida's notoriously harsh sentencing rules for crimes involving guns, each of those counts carries a 20-year term. Daniel made the terms concurrent, since all three charges arose from the same act. But last year the First District Court of Appeal ruled that state law "expressly authorizes consecutive mandatory minimum sentences" in such a situation.

Whether "authorizes" means "requires" is not completely clear from the decision. But the language of the statute suggests that judges have no discretion in the matter, saying "the court shall impose any term of imprisonment provided for in this subsection consecutively to any other term of imprisonment imposed for any other felony offense." Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei, the lead prosecutor in Alexander's case, maintains that a 60-year sentence will be legally required if she is convicted again. But University of Florida law professor George Dekle, a former prosecutor, says such an outcome would create the appearance of vindictiveness, which could give Daniel, who is still overseeing the case, a reason to stick with the original sentence, or at least give Alexander grounds for appeal.

Other Florida appeals courts have reached different conclusions about the propriety of consecutive mandatory minimum sentences for charges arising from the same course of conduct. That issue also came up in the case of Michael Dunn, who last month was convicted on three counts of attempted murder for firing a gun at an SUV full of teenagers after an argument over loud music at a Jacksonville gas station in 2012. If Dunn's sentences for those offenses and a related charge are imposed consecutively, his total prison term will be 75 years, compared to 20 years if he serves the sentences concurrently. Ultimately the Florida Supreme Court will have to settle the question of which approach is correct.

Whatever the court decides, one thing is clear: If a 20-year prison term was a grossly disproportionate sentence for Marissa Alexander, which it surely was, the equivalent of a life sentence is, or should be, unthinkable. Even if you do not buy her story, even if you believe she fired more in anger than in fear, the time she has already served (nearly two years) should be adequate punishment for firing a single round into the ceiling. Mantei complains that "Ms. Alexander has rejected all efforts by the State to resolve the case short of trial." But if all of the state's offers have involved additional time in prison, as seems likely, the responsibility for the enormous injustice predicted by Mantei lies with him, not with Alexander. If he takes seriously his responsibility to seek justice and not merely convictions, he will try harder to avoid a trial.

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  • Sigivald||

    1) Mandatory minimums are always bad.

    2) Never fire "a warning shot".

  • Grand Moff Serious Man||

    Even if you do not buy her story, even if you believe she fired more in anger than in fear, the time she has already served (nearly two years) should be adequate punishment for firing a single round into the ceiling.

    The problem with this case is obviously mandatory minimums that remove discretion on the part of the judge for sentencing. But she fired a round in the direction of her own children. That kind of negligence should be punished by at least 5 years.

    Other than that, I don't have much sympathy for her given the fact that she left the house, retrieved the gun, and went back to escalate the situation further. Her self-defense claim was rightly rejected in her first trial because there's no evidence to think she was in any imminent danger once she left the house.

    Plus she plead guilty to assaulting her ex-husband outside the courthouse during her the course of her first trial. She's not exactly the picture of restraint or self-control.

  • Outlaw||

    Yes, she's a crazy bitch.

  • JD the elder||

    IIRC, she claimed that the garage door was broken, so she had no choice but to go back through the house, but when the cops tested the garage door later, they couldn't find anything wrong with it. There is also the matter that she didn't bother to call police after the incident, whereas her husband did; that doesn't prove anything either way vis-a-vis self-defense, but it sure doesn't look good for her.

    Cases like these mostly serve as socio-legal Rorschach tests, frankly - everybody's got an opinion and is so sure they know exactly what happened.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Mantei complains that "Ms. Alexander has rejected all efforts by the State to resolve the case short of trial."

    Turning down a plea deal is a heinous crime against society.

  • ||

    I wonder if they offered up another deal before this retrial.

  • Brett L||

    Only the State's Attorney could make me feel sympathy for this woman.

  • Coeus||

    Even if you do not buy her story, even if you believe she fired more in anger than in fear, the time she has already served (nearly two years) should be adequate punishment for firing a single round into the ceiling.

    Weren't there three shots, one of which was in the wall near his head? And they just keep talking about the last ones where she lost control of the gun?

  • Coeus||

    Also, the fact she went back soon after she made bail and gave him a black eye leads me to believe the anger theory.

  • Edgehopper||

    The end of this article just demands a Simpsons quote:

    Sideshow Bob: I am presently incarcerated, imprisoned for a crime I did not even commit. "Atttempted murder," now honestly, did they ever give anyone a Nobel prize for "attempted chemistry?"

  • GILMORE||

    "In a few months, Marissa Alexander, the Jacksonville, Florida, woman who received a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence in 2012 for firing a gun during a fight with her abusive husband, will have a second chance to make her case that she was acting in self-defense"

    Wow, I bet the progressive blogs are just lighting up in indignation over THIS type of injustice! I bet Stand Your Ground is totally to blame somehow. Because, I mean, don't feminists tend to make a point of defending women being abused, especially when they're 'of color' and suffer all sorts of inherent violence in their daily lives of struggle against injustice and powerlessness and...

    No, its because FLORDA: RACIST, and also, the bitch deserves it.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.....51998.html

    "...Domestic violence prevention advocates would also be the first to tell you that introducing a firearm into a domestic dispute exponentially increases the risk to the woman being abused....The truth is there can be no real justice under the "Stand Your Ground" law. Equating someone who is protecting herself from domestic violence with a vigilante who arbitrarily metes out "street justice" only serves to embolden the next George Zimmerman"

  • Paul.||

    "...Domestic violence prevention advocates would also be the first to tell you that introducing a firearm into a domestic dispute exponentially increases the risk to the woman being abused....

    I love this framing.

    Paul.: *looks at Marissa and her husband, steps between them* Could you stop fighting for a moment? Thank you. I'd like to introduce this firearm into the dispute. I'll set it on the floor between you... on 3, go. One... two...

  • PapayaSF||

    Oh yes, my Facebook feed has the usual suspects clutching their pearls over this, but one guy actually did some research and changed his mind a bit. Turns out Alexander was convicted of assaulting her ex. Also, she married him after he beat her up so badly that she was hospitalized. What an idiot.

  • Paul.||

    Wouldn't a 20 year sentence in these circumstances come up to the level of "Cruel and unusual"?

  • ||

    At this point, there's nothing unusual about it.

  • Cyto||

    it is 3 20 year sentences to be served non-concurrently if the prosecution wins. In other words, 60 years for not actually hurting anyone.

    Even if you reject the warning shot argument, 3 counts of felony aggravated assault for a single incident is silly - well, silly in an evil way. Apparently it was a count for the ex and one for each of his kids who were in the house.

    This is what I find most interesting (and horrifying). They have decided that firing a gun at one person is an assault against everyone present. So if you pop off a shot at your boyfriend during the St. Patrick's day celebration down at Duffy's they can charge you with 300 counts of felony aggravated assault and give you 6,000 years in prison. An actual murder might net you 8 years.

    More to the point, whipping it out and taking a leak behind the dumpster might get you a 30 day sentence for indecent exposure. Doing the same thing at the St. Patrick's day event could net 300 months in prison - one for each "count" of indecent exposure.

  • ||

    OT: Los Angeles City Council approves e-cigarette ban

    No word on the rationale for such bans.

  • ||

    No word on the rationale for such bans.

    At this point, they do it simply because they can.

  • ||

    Yeah; but they babble on about "evidence-based" policy-making.

    "Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue." -- Francois de La Rochefoucauld

  • JD the elder||

    Because using e-cigarettes is like smoking, and smoking is bad, and we can't have people thinking bad things might be acceptable! We must keep the citizens' minds pure!

  • M.O.||

    "...should be adequate punishment for firing a single round into the ceiling."

    She didn't fire a single shot into the ceiling.

  • wagnert in atlanta||

    This article leaves out more than it includes. For instance, Alexander didn't fire a warning shot into the ceiling. She fired at Gray, narrowly missing his head. The bullet passed through the kitchen wall and ended up in the living room ceiling. A more balanced description is here:

    http://mediatrackers.org/flori.....in-florida

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