Please, Governor, Clemency for Marissa Alexander
Around the State
There is no task force looking at Florida's minimum mandatory sentences and in all probability, none is coming. What a travesty.
The shocking case of Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville gives the state the perfect excuse to go beyond "Stand Your Ground" and poke around in the controversial, 12-year-old 10-20-Life law.
Talk about a law that needs tweaking.
And a case that cries out for the intervention of a compassionate, common-sense governor.
Frightened for her life, tired of being a victim, Marissa Alexander, with her three children in the house, fired a bullet into a wall to scare off her abusive husband.
That -- plus the fact that she went out of the house, got the gun from her car and brought it back indoors -- that was the extent of her crime.
Nobody was killed. Nobody was even wounded. And Alexander had a permit to carry the gun. Her estranged husband, who had a restraining order against him, testified that he believed she was shooting at him. That's all it took.
On May 11, this employee of a payroll software company, this relatively law-abiding woman with a master's degree, who was making positive contributions to society, was sentenced to prison for 20 years. Two decades sitting out of her children's lives, taking up jail space at the taxpayers' expense.
And all because of Florida's 10-20-Life law.
Ten years in prison is automatic for anyone who shows a gun in the commission of a felony; 20 years is automatic for firing the gun; 25 to life for shooting and wounding somebody.
In 1999, the first year of Gov. Jeb Bush's two terms in office, Florida's court system was perceived as being soft on crime. The Legislature solved the problem by removing the judges' discretion in crimes committed with a firearm, forcing them to discount the circumstances in each "event" and voting instead for a one-size-fits-all law. Proponents of the 10-20-Life law claim it has lowered the violent crime rate in Florida; detractors say the law turns too many people victimized by bizarre circumstances into bad guys.
Incidentally, Alexander rejected a plea deal that would have forced her to serve no more than three years. She believes to this day that she is innocent. But the judge threw out her "Stand Your Ground" self-defense claim, saying she could have run out of the house to escape her husband but instead got the gun and went back inside. With 10-20-Life, it was easy for the jurors. They took only 12 minutes to convict her.
When asked about the Alexander case, Republican Victor Crist of Hillsborough County, who crafted 10-20-Life when he was serving in the Florida House, said lawmakers never had anybody like Marissa Alexander in mind when they passed the bill. "We were thinking about the punk robbing a liquor store who has a gun and pulls it out and either threatens to shoot or shoots somebody while committing a crime."
Greg Newburn, Florida project director for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said, "Here's the thing about the 10-20-Life law: The people who actually think they're innocent of the crime, they roll the dice and take their chances, and they get the really harsh prison sentences. The people who think they are actually guilty of the crime take the plea deal and get out (of jail) quickly. So it certainly isn't working the way it's intended."
State Attorney Angela Corey, who also is overseeing the prosecution of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case, says there just wasn't enough evidence to prove Alexander fired in self-defense. Cory claims she aimed the gun at her husband, and the bullet she fired, which ricocheted, could have hit anybody in the room.
The bottom line is, you shouldn't have to kill your attacker to stay out of jail. If Alexander had shot her husband dead, she might not have served a day. Now she will be locked away for two decades; her attacker is home free -- literally.
Before the sentencing, Circuit Judge James Daniel listened to Alexander's relatives beg for leniency. But, he told them, the 10-20-Life law is as good as etched in stone for those who don't "cop" a plea deal. It's "out of my hands," Daniel said. "The Legislature has not given me the discretion to do what the family and many others have asked me to do."
But Gov. Rick Scott does have the discretion.
The rules of executive clemency have been described as this: Clemency is an act of mercy that absolves the individual upon whom it is bestowed from all or any part of the punishment that the law imposes.
Scott can talk with Greg Newburn. He can look at the cases of those like Marissa Alexander, posing zero threat to society, languishing senselessly in Florida prisons. It's a do-the-right-thing kind of action.
Exercising his authority to grant clemency is another way the governor can demonstrate his leadership.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.