Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Closer Look at the Marissa Alexander Case

If you have been paying attention to the news, you probably know the Marissa Alexander case was reversed by the First District Court of Appeal  on September 26, 2013.  [Alexander v. State, 38 Fla. L. Weekly D2067 (Fla. 1DCA 2013)].   This was the case where a woman in Jacksonville was sentenced to a twenty year mandatory jail sentence for firing a "warning shot".    Initial reaction from media, and just about everybody else was that this was a total travesty.  After reading the appellate court opinion -- I'm not all that sure -- although I will agree that twenty "mandatory" years is absurd, draconian, unnecessary, and disgraceful.  Of course, as you can probably tell, I'm not a big fan of mandatory sentences (except in first degree murder cases).   However,  let's take a quick look at this case.

According to the trial judge,  he denied immunity because Alexander shot directly at her estranged husband while he was standing still, and had both hands raised in the air.  In other words -- it looked more like a "miss" than a warning shot.  To make it worse,  the home was not hers or where she was living, but was the husband's,  and while she claimed she only retrieved a firearm from her vehicle because she could not get the garage door open to leave -- the evidence tended to show the garage door was working fine.  Assuming this wasn't enough -- there was also evidence that Alexander had committed previous and subsequent acts of violence against the estranged husband without justification.  All this apparently came out on the immunity motion, as well as in the actual trial -- although the evidence was conflicting.

However,  the appellate court reversed the guilty verdict because the jury instructions "shifted the burden of proof" to the defendant by requiring her to prove she was resisting an attempted aggravated battery, rather than requiring the State to prove the case against self defense.  Of course,  the burden of proof was always on the prosecution -- not the defense -- and part of that burden was to "disprove" the self defense assertion beyond every reasonable doubt.  Not the other way around.

So, Marissa Alexander is gonna get a second bite at the apple, and assuming the evidence really is how the trial judge viewed it -- that two year plea  bargain that was offered doesn't seem all that bad.  While I'm not in favor of mandatory sentences -- still -- a jail sentence tailored to the individual and the crime is perfectly OK as far as I'm concerned.    Only time will tell how this case ultimately ends.



  1. I hadn't read about the plea offer. Was that from the previous trial, or is it on the table now?

    Thanks for the info.

  2. Newspaper and online articles some time ago reported the plea offer -- not sure if it was two or three years prison time. I do not know if there will be a current offer, but my guess is there will be.