Tag Archives: marissa alexander

Bill Clinton Admits Error on Overreaching Mandatory Prison Sentences

You won’t find me agreeing with Bill Clinton on a lot of things, but he has come out today to speak out against the harsh sentencing policies that he helped put in place when he was president. I have written many times on the problems of mandatory sentences, from unjust results due to a lack of judicial discretion, to the lack of deterrent effect they actual have. See Marissa Alexander. The pros do not outweigh the cons in most instances. My last post about the man in Bradenton facing 15 years (and $270,000 in taxpayer expense for incarceration) is merely exemplar of a bigger problem.

The good news is, there is an interest in change, and it’s apparent on both sides of the political spectrum. From John Oliver’s takedown of the racist results of decades of draconian sentencing policies, to Senator Rand Paul’s criticism of harsh sentences for Marijuana, there is a real movement developing for common sense in sentencing. The reasons are plentiful for fiscal and moral grounds and in the interest of real justice.

Marissa Alexander Released from Custody Today

Marissa Alexander

Marissa Alexander

Marissa Alexander, who garnered national news for the prosecution and 20-year sentence she received for firing a warning shot near hear abusive ex-husband, with 2 other people in the room, was released today. She lost at trial and received 20 years, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. However, she would have faced a 60 year sentence if she had been convicted on the retrial. By taking a plea to 3 years, she finished her time on the case today, though she will still have community control (essentially house arrest), with ankle bracelet monitoring.

Alexander coverage: https://crimcourts.wordpress.com/tag/marissa-alexander/

Federal Judge Helps Reduce a Sentence he was Forced to Impose

I’ve complained about the inequities of mandatory sentences, and the problems inherent in removing all judicial discretion from sentencing. When you impose blanket rules, you will end up with unjust results. The Federal system has already moved to roll back some of the mandatory sentences that have been imposed on drug offenses. Now, one federal judge took it upon himself to push the prosecutor’s office to drop some charges to allow a re-sentencing of an offender the judge had been forced to impose an extremely harsh sentence. Some might not have any sympathy for Francois Holloway, as he was undoubtedly guilty of the crimes, but the required stacking provisions meant he got sentences several times longer than his codefendants, and he wasn’t even the one carrying the firearm.

Mandatory sentences that eliminate discretion spawn cases like Marissa Alexander, who may be facing 60 years for firing a warning shot that harmed nobody. Very rarely to violent offenders have sympathetic stories with a chance of swaying the legislature, but hers is the rare exception that may affect positive change. There are not many judges like Judge Gleeson, who took it on his own initiative to push for a just sentence. Gleeson criticized the system further, blaming prosecutorial abuse for a “significant number of federal inmates who are serving grotesquely severe sentences.” I counter that the prosecutors are not abusing their power, merely exercising the power granted to them through harsh sentencing schemes. The legislators have told them, both on the federal level and in states like Florida, that they want harsh sentences: it’s literally mandated by law. Those draconian rules should be the ultimate focus of our concern: they merely provide the framework under which the criminal justice system operates.

Also, the buildup in lengthy incarceration is wildly expensive and taxing on our system. Ironically, crime rates have been dropping just as incarceration rates are finally coming down. Harsh sentences are probably not the most effective crime deterrent, and certainly not the most cost effective.

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.

Angela Corey to Personally Prosecute Michael Dunn Shooting

Angela Corey

Angela Corey

Michael Dunn has been accused of murder for shooting at a car full of teenagers, killing 17 year-old Jordan Davis. The alleged victim’s friends say Mr. Dunn became enraged and shot them because they were playing music too loudly, while Mr. Dunn says they pointed a firearm at him, and that he was acting in self-defense. The State Attorney for the circuit, Angela Corey, has announced she will be personally handling the prosecution. We have discussed Ms. Corey multiple times on this blog, including highlighting how her aggressive tactics recently caused a murder conviction to be overturned.

Ms. Corey was also recently in the news for using $235,000 in taxpayer dollars to upgrade her pension payout for she and her chief assistant, as pointed out by blogger Matt Dixon. She has been criticized many times for her demeanor, as laid out by blogger Ron Littlepage, and overseen some highly controversial prosecutions, such as Cristian Fernandez, Kenitra Casper and Marissa Alexander. A change.org petition to have her removed from office has already garnered over 1,000 supporters. Her personal handling of the Dunn case and her involvement on the George Zimmerman case promise to add intrigue to some of the most heated cases pending in Florida.