Tag Archives: 3-strikes

A Twist in the Marissa Alexander Case

I haven’t been able to cover the Marissa Alexander case much on this blog. For those unfamiliar, Ms. Alexander was convicted and sentenced to 20 years for Aggravated Assault for firing what she claimed was a warning shot in the vicinity of her estranged husband, as well as two of his children. It has drawn comparisons to the Zimmerman case, as self-defense was claimed. Factually, it differed because the testimony was that she went out to the garage to retrieve the gun, before returning and firing it. Her conviction was overturned on appeal for an error in the jury instruction.

Marissa Alexander

Marissa Alexander

A group of Jacksonville pastors are encouraging the State to reopen their original offer, which was for 3 years in prison. Ms. Alexander would not have to serve much more time, thanks to the credit for time she has already served. She had initially rejected the offer, choosing to go to trial on her justified use of force defense. This new push is interesting, as it differs from many outside pundits claiming that she should not have been charged at all. This middle ground suggests that she would be punished for resorting to gun play (which was not found to be justified by the jury at the first trial), but would allow for a much more reasonable punishment than the 20 years mandated by Florida’s 10-20-Life Law. Under recent legal developments, the court must impose each 20 year sentence consecutively, so if she is convicted again of three counts, the court will be obligated to sentence her to 60 years.

The Florida legislature is currently considering a “warning-shot” bill that would be an exception to 10-20-Life, but even if it passes, it may be too late for Alexander. Her trial is set for late July, and she is expected to again argue self-defense / justifiable use of force. The Florida Supreme Court may take up the issue¬†to determine whether the legislature intended to mandate consecutive sentences.

This case is a better example of the unjust sentences that can occur with non-discretionary sentencing than it is an exemplar of Stand Your Ground. The judge found that Stand Your Ground did not apply due to the fact that she returned to the confrontation. Still, outside of prosecutor Angela Corey’s office, it would be hard to demonstrate that 60 years in prison, essentially a life sentence, would be just under the circumstances. Ms. Alexander was in an abusive relationship, had no prior criminal history, and nobody was physically harmed when she discharged the firearm. Ms. Corey’s office has chosen to proceed with the greatest level of charges, and if successful, will mandate 60 years, even if the judge does not want to do it, and regardless of any mitigating circumstances. For that reason, California has been reexamining its notorious three strikes law, in an attempt to prevent costly, unjust sentences.

California is Dialing Back the 3 Strikes Sentencing Policy

California recently passed a law that will require review of nonviolent 3-strikes cases that ended in life sentences. The LA Times estimates that there are over 2000 inmates across California that will be affected by the change. Their story discussed how it’s unfolding in Los Angeles, where one judge has been assigned the review of all the local cases, to work toward consistency in the amended sentences.

I have long been a critic of automatic, overly harsh sentences. Laws that take away all discretion often lead to unjust results. The idea behind such laws is that they will be a deterrent, but the reality is that many crimes are not logically thought out. Florida used to advertise the 10-20-Life gun laws heavily, in diverse media formats. Lately, I haven’t seen any of the ‘Use a Gun and You’re Done’ commercials: which may be related to state budget constraints. Without advertising the harsh penalties, the deterrent effect is eliminated, and the penalty is just as harsh for someone unfamiliar with the law.

Unjust results frequently occur when discretion is taken away from the judges and prosecutors that handle the cases. The LA Times story tells about a 74 year-old who has served over 15 years for possessing a mere $10 worth of drugs. Florida was in the news last year on the case of Marissa Alexander, a first-time offender who fired a warning shot at her allegedly abusive husband. She didn’t hit anyone, but was convicted and the judge bound to giving her a 20-year sentence. That’s a day-for-day sentence, with no possibility of early release. That’s years more than the maximum sentence for other serious felonies, such as rape or manslaughter. Certainly, it is appropriate to severely¬†punish certain offenses harshly, but it’s an injustice if the punishment does not fit the crime. California has exercised reason in revisiting its harsh mandatory penalties, and Florida would likely benefit by revisiting some of our minimum mandatories as well.