Columns

Please, Governor, Clemency for Marissa Alexander

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: May 21, 2012 3:55 AM
I Beg to Differ
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.

Marissa Alexander

Marissa Alexander

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's it.

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 nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

Comments (23)

Dr. E. Faye Williams
2:21PM NOV 15TH 2013
The article on Marissa Alexander is well done and I for one, appreciate the writer. We need more people to speak out on behalf of Marissa and against Florida's insane laws.
Winona Kitto
7:01PM SEP 10TH 2013
I will be toasting to Marissa on Sept. 14th, and I look forward to her freedom!
LOL
2:00PM MAY 23RD 2012
When will people realize that simply parroting the contrivances of a criminal defense marks perhaps the lowest nadir human intelligence? Marissa Alexander's demonstrably false, factually contradicted narrative is not the gospel truth, folks. Police encounters and reports, witness testimony, forensic evidence, trial disclosures, and family statements to investigators ALL show conclusively that Ms. Alexander was both a liar in her defense and an aggressor in the act. The only reason that she wound up bearing the brunt of a mandatory sentencing statute is because she thought she could game the system, and get off scott-free from a firearms felony charge instead of taking a deal for a 3-year term that could have been further reduced. Why in the world would any sane person considered granting her clemency???
Tony
9:15AM MAY 23RD 2012
20 years for not hurting anyone?

This law is evil.
Both she and her husband agreed she didn't shoot at him. If she was really trying to shoot him, she would have shot a second time.
Despises Morons
3:04PM MAY 23RD 2012
What a lying SOB! You know perfectly well that no one in this country has ever been sentenced to anything under the charge of "not hurting anyone." She was sentenced to 20 years because she insisted on testing the sentencing requirements after committing a violent crime. The fact that no one was *physically* hurt was just a fortunate happenstance (although I will bet you dollars to donuts that her kids were deeply harmed emotionally and psychologically).

She was guilty of a violent crime. She had a chance to take a lesser sentence adjusted for time served. She effectively chose to proceed to the longer minimum sentence. She should not be given a "Get out of Jail Free" card just because her violence didn't lead to direct physical harm this time or because she is vain and foolish.
Tony
9:13AM MAY 23RD 2012
So, let's see, both her she and her husband agreed that she didn't aim the gun at him, but instead at the wall.
20 years is ridiculous.

thepetitionsite.com/503/600/056/dont-imprison-marissa-alexander-for-standing-her-ground/
Ryan
10:18PM MAY 22ND 2012
She could have accidentally hurt her kids by being so reckless. I don't feel bad at all for her.
Walker
5:28PM MAY 22ND 2012
She tried to kill the man, and didn't because she's a poor shot. If she wasn't shooting at him, what was the point of the gun. She left the house . . .was free . . .and went back in. What part of attempted murder do you not understand, Nancy?!!
Then, when Angela Corey tried to plea bargain to keep her from getting a 20 year sentence . .she refused. That was her chance and she refused to take it.
Or . . .are you saying she should get NOTHING for attempted murder Give me a break.
And when the uneducated, ignorant, racist , Corinne Brown defended her, that took away any sympathy I might have felt. They tried to play the race card. NONE of this happened because she was black. I am sick of this.
By the way, what does having a Master's degree have to do with anything? Are you saying that educated people don't commit crimes??? How naive are you? Also, you use the term "relatively law-abiding". In other words, she abides the law "sometimes" . . . .
Nancy, Nancy . . . . . . .I think you're prejudice is showing . . .you are arguing emotions, not facts.
John Young, Homeless Advocate
10:50AM MAY 22ND 2012
Why are Judges here in Florida only handing out 1 yr probation, Fines, Community Service Time and Court Ordered anger Management Class for an Aggravated Assualt with a Deadly Weapon Charge which got plead down to Improper Display of a Deadly Weapon. And this incident took place in a congested area with people around? And this woman was not in fear of her life. do we have two different sets of laws here in Florida????
Chuck
11:28PM MAY 21ST 2012
When the husband violated the restraining order he posed a threat to her, she should have the right to defend herself and her children. She should have shot him instead of the wall.
Robert Lloyd
10:45AM MAY 22ND 2012
Well stated.
LOL
2:11PM MAY 23RD 2012
Except for the part where he makes himself seem an idiot. BOTH parties were in mutual violation of restraining orders on the other. Ms. Alexander had actually returned to court asking that the terms of her restraining order be modified so she would have the discretion to live and have sex with Mr. Gray while concurrently maintaining the latitude of being able to have him thrown in jail if he displeased her. The judge, of course, laughed her out of court. Not dissuaded from her amorous pursuits, Ms. Alexander voluntarily moved in and conceived a child with Mr. Gray four months after the parties obtained PROs on each other, and then voluntarily married him a few months after that. Her behavior both on the initial day of her arrest and subsequently, on the day when witnesses observed her travel to Gray's home, kick and scream at the front door, and pummel his face without receiving any return blows from him, shows conclusively that she harbored no great fear of this man.

Yes, well stated, except for the fact that your statements reveal you to be an abjectly ignorant imbecile!
NORMA LEE MARKLEY
9:05PM MAY 21ST 2012
I never post, respond, or comment on things but this is absolutely shocking in its unfairness, surely someone will have the guts to tackle this injustice. If a law is unfair or if applying it makes it unfair. Someone MUST step forward. PLEASE use common sense in this case and someone do SOMETHING. Lee Markley former teacher 33 years Maryland.
joe america
8:51PM MAY 21ST 2012
they need to let that woman out and arrest the husband nobody knows for sure the circumstances that drove that woman to get the restraining order in the first place and noone knows the circumstances on why she got her gun but as a father i would think that her immediate feelings were that she needed to protect her children from an obviously dangerous person in her home. I carry a firearm daily, i am a law abiding citizen and i feel that although she shouldnt have fired a "warning shot" that she did have every right to protect her self, children, and property from this moron. It is in cases like this but where the woman doesnt attempt to protect herself that children and women are either kidnapped or found in shallow graves or burned houses. Yet instead she is punished for taking measured she deamed appropriate to keep herself and the children alive and safe. I gotta say that sir is bull[filtered word]!
EmeraldCoaster
6:45PM MAY 21ST 2012
Apparently the restraining order against the husband didn't work. One lesson gun owners can take from the case: "warning shots" seldom provide the desired result.
Oh, Boy
3:48PM MAY 23RD 2012
Yeah, restraining orders are kind of funny that way; they don't seem to work when you obtain them farcically and intentionally violate them. Tell me, since phone records and witness testimony prove that she spent the night with her husband, with her car parked in a garage featuring a door that worked perfectly, when and how was the protective order supposed to work to her benefit?
Mossy Berg
6:29PM MAY 21ST 2012
WOW! This sure sounds like a sure "Self Defense" situation here. The woman was in fear of her and her childrens life. Thats enough to "stand your ground." Good luck to this young lady and her family. Lock up the real Criminals and let the Law Abiding live their lives in peace. ps This State Attorney need voted out!
TexasFats
1:54PM MAY 21ST 2012
DA Angela Corey acts as though she would rather see 100 honest citizens killed by street goblins, abusive husbands, crazy boyfriends, and assorted other scum than to allow any of us peasants (in her eyes, it seems) to defend ourselves. Get her out of office and living as a private citizen like the rest of us.
Truthtalker
11:52AM MAY 21ST 2012
Angela Corey is lying...letstalkaboutit dot info
Truthtalker
11:50AM MAY 21ST 2012
Angela Corey is lying...period
MichaelStromm
11:32AM MAY 21ST 2012
"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." - What ????
RepublicanConscience
8:27AM MAY 21ST 2012
This would be an excellent opportunity for Governor Scott to flip-off the liberals again.
Frank
5:35PM MAY 23RD 2012
Yes, adversarial government of the vulgar by the vulgar - typical Mad Hatter Tea Party nonsense, once again.

Congratulations, another proclamation of good Christian and Family values - your kids should be so proud of you.

Even Scott's not this stupid.

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