Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law was enacted to grant someone immunity from criminal prosecution for the use of deadly force when he/she held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to himself/herself or another. Though controversial, law withstood strong criticism during the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn cases. Undaunted by objections to the law, Florida has recently expanded its Stand Your Ground statute due to another criminal case.
Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old married Florida resident fired a gun at her estranged husband during a domestic dispute and was prosecuted for Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon. She argued that the gunshot was merely a warning shot fired after her husband threatened to kill her. She unsuccessfully used “Stand Your Ground” as a defense during a pre-trial hearing, rejected a plea offer and was convicted after jury trial. Alexander, who had no previous criminal history, was given Florida’s mandatory sentence of 20 years in prison. The woman appealed her conviction and the appellate court reversed the conviction based on improper jury instructions and ordered a new trial. Alexander was released on bail and remains under house arrest as she awaits the new trial.
Marissa Alexander’s case was quite controversial due to its similarities to the Martin-Zimmerman case, her lack of criminal history, the fact that nobody was injured by the gunshot and the severity of her mandatory sentence.
The case’s controversy and widespread sympathy for Alexander led Florida to further amend its “Stand Your Ground” law in late June 2014 to include warning shots. While the old law required the actual use of deadly force, the new law allows a defendant to seek immunity under “Stand Your Ground” for threatening deadly force, as well. Ironically, though the amendment was enacted with Alexander’s case in mind, it cannot help Alexander because the law is not retroactive. In addition, the prosecutor claims that other circumstances show the gunshot was not really a warning shot.
The amended statute is also problematic, according to some gun owners. People opposed to the amendment claim that it will allow people to draw their guns and shoot into the air, into the ground, into a tree, or wherever they happen to point the gun whenever they feel threatened. These gun owners assert that bullets from warning shots can ricochet from many surfaces and endanger other people in the shooter’s vicinity. Whether or not the new law’s wisdom is debatable, we can expect to see it used as a defense in the near future.
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