Marissa Alexander is a Florida woman and mother, who, supporters say, rightly stood her ground but was wrongly imprisoned without protection under a law that has continued to receive national criticism.
In May of 2012, Alexander was charged with three counts of aggravated assault, or the attempt to cause injury to another person with a dangerous weapon, after she shot a potentially lifesaving warning shot in defense against her allegedly abusive husband. The charge came with a heavy sentence: Circuit Court Judge James Daniel and a jury of six ruled that Alexander was guilty and she was sentenced to 20 years as a mandatory minimum under Florida’s “10-20-Life” law which orders sentencing for offenses involving a firearm.
Alexander’s representation at the time motioned to invoke “Stand Your Ground”, which, according to the text of the legislation, allows a person to “meet force with force” in an effort to prevent death or harm if he or she is attacked. The judge ruled against it, citing the fact that by continuing to return to the home where her abusive boyfriend resided, she must not have been in fear of her life.
Congresswoman Corrine Brown of Florida took special interest in the case.
“I have spoken to countless lawyers and they have yet to discover any cases in Florida where an African American was able to successfully use the ‘Stand Your Ground Law’ defense in a hearing,” Brown said in a statement in 2012. “This is just the beginning, not the end.”
True to her word, Congresswoman Brown has since secured additional representation for Alexander, including that of Attorney Michael Dowd who has worked extensively with cases of domestic violence. According to a statement, Dowd said that he believed Alexander’s case “is one of the worse examples of domestic and judicial abuse” that he has encountered.
The court’s interpretation of the Stand Your Ground law has come under public scrutiny in the Trayvon Martin case, as police did not initially take George Zimmerman into custody under the protection of this law.
Even after a year of sentencing, the fight for justice persists. Her ex-husband and the father of two of her children, Lincoln Alexander, started an online petition that has more than 17,000 signatures. The case has received national attention from several organizations, including Florida’s NAACP chapter.
While chapters of NAN have not yet partnered directly to advocate for Alexander, their leaders have not been afraid to express outrage.
“I am horrified about many of the cases that have transpired in Florida,” Lawanna Gelzer, president of the Central Florida NAN chapter, said.
The controversy of the Stand Your Ground law will continue, as the verdict of the Trayvon Martin trial will serve as another example of how Stand Your Ground is used in the court of law.