Florida Mom Get 20 Years for Firing Gun without Harming Anybody

Florida Mom Get 20 Years for Firing Gun without Harming Anybody July 24, 2013

She fired in anger, but didn’t even hit her abusive husband. It was a stupid thing done in anger. But nobody was hurt and she apparently only meant to frighten him.

But then again, she Fired While Black and, most importantly, unwealthy. So 20 years.

20. Years.

Update: I was wrong. Zimmerman did not invoke Stand Your Ground but self defense (not that it matters much with respect to this story). Also, the woman’s Stand Your Ground defense is vitiated by the fact that she went outside to get the gun and returned to fire it.

That said, despite what people may be assuming, you will note that I have not commented on the Zimmerman verdict–and for a very good reason: I wasn’t there. Nor is *this* blog entry about Zimmerman except insofar as it is a story about a person who felt threatened and fired a gun (only without causing any injury), rather *like* Zimmerman. This note was not about the injustice/justice of the Zimmerman verdict. Nor is this note a claim that the woman was innocent. This note was about the ridiculous injustice just meted out to this woman. Her crime simply does not deserve 20 years of prison. If you *think* you hear me “really” commenting on Zimmerman and not on her, your ears are playing tricks on you.

But you weren’t there for her crime either!

True. I’m just here for her sentencing and 20 years is a gross injustice no matter how you slice it for firing a shot meant to frighten. But then we live in a country where you can steal $3 billion dollars and get 3 years (if you are the Right Sort) but if you are a homeless black guy who takes $100 because you are hungry, then feels remorse and returns it, you get 15 years. It’s just wrong. Her *main* crime was not being able to afford the sort of lawyer Claudine Longet (or, I might add, OJ Simpson) could afford. If she had been able to she needn’t have fired a warning shot. She could have gone ahead and committed cold-blooded murder and walked.

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  • David K

    I can’t see much evidence that her being black had anything to do with it. This seems more a story about the stupidity of mandatory sentencing rules.

    • David K

      And another thing – Zimmerman didn’t invoke the SYG statute in his defence. At all. It was a traditional self-defence case.

      • Paul

        I don’t believe that this is an accurate statement, as the parties’ lawyers are involved in the preparation of jury instructions and a Stand Your Ground instruction was in fact given to the jury.

        • Andy, Bad Person

          But Stand Your Ground is a specific defense that the lawyers have to announce, and they didn’t (probably because they would never have won on that); they used self-defense only.

          • Paul

            Not exactly. Nate’s comment below makes the good point that the SYG statute removes the duty to retreat from the self-defense analysis, making it part-and-parcel of the same defense and not a separate defense in its own right. Thus, all self-defense cases would involve stand-your-ground.

            Admittedly, these distinctions are semantic more than anything. The point is that, in Zimmerman’s case, the jury was instructed that Zimmerman had no duty to retreat.

        • carlamariee

          The jurors who have spoken to the media have stated that it was part of their jury instructions and was part of their consideration in coming to a verdict, so yes this is a SYG case.

  • Doug

    She was convicted of attempted murder. I find YOU guilty of attempted race-baiting.

  • Steve

    During this confrontation she actually went to another room, got the gun, then fired it at her ex-husband. At the time he wasn’t actively hostile and she had opportunities to exit safely. Stand Your Ground isn’t just a magic word you get to apply to any scenario where a person feels threatened.

    Further, she was offered a plea deal of 3-years – which she rejected. That’s what happens when you reject a plea deal, the prosecutor throws the book at you. In this case, she was pretty obviously guilty of firing a weapon at a person who wasn’t attacking her.

    To invoke racism in this case is to accuse someone of racism. So, Mark, who do you wish to accuse of racism? The judge, the jury, the prosecutor? Whose hearts do you have the privilege of seeing into?

    • Andy, Bad Person

      It’s worse. She didn’t go to another room. She went out to her car, got the gun, and fired it “as a warning shot” while aiming towards her husband and her children. Warning shots, by the way, are illegal almost everywhere and put the lie to any claim to self-defense.

      Is the 20-year sentence, instead of a lesser stint, a result of race? That actually might have merit, and is absolutely an issue in this country (black people getting longer sentences for the same crime that white people commit). But let’s stop pretending this is anything like the Zimmerman case, as has been put forward by the media, or that the woman isn’t guilty of a crime at all. She is.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      Although since you brought up the prosecutor, that’s probably where the scandal here lies. The fact that she got 20 years is because that is the mandatory minimum sentence for an attempted murder charge. Is that charge an overreach? That seems likely. But when has this prosecutor ever developed a reputation for far overreaching on charges?

      Oh, it’s the same prosecutor that went after Zimmerman on 2nd degree murder charges when she probably could have gotten him on manslaughter. Let’s look at her.

  • Deacon Don

    Yeah, c’mon, Mark. You know that there is no racism anymore in this country – we solved all that. Blacks are treated absolutely fairly in every justice situation – they just happen to need more frequent sentencing, longer sentences, and the more frequent use of the death penalty. It’s for their own good. That’s why the SCOTUS could get rid of the Voting Rights Act – that problem has been solved too. Move on, there’s nothing to see here. (Um – that’s all sarcasm for those who didn’t catch it.)

    • Andy, Bad Person

      Don’t let the facts of this case get in the way of a good righteous rant.

      • Dan C

        Mandatory sentencing guidelines were part of the harsh Reagan era laws that were built to target folks such as her.

        • Andy, Bad Person

          Folks such as her? You mean people who use firearms in the commission of a crime?

  • Faithr

    I heard she had been in trouble with the law before for assault and that’s what triggered the mandatory sentencing. And also that it wasn’t stand your ground because she went out of the house and came back and shot the gun off endangering the children present. The real problem here is the mandatory sentencing which was a big movement back in the 1980s. To me it is like No Child Left Behind in that it takes the authority away from the judge (or teacher) on how to, you know, judge or teach. So instead they have to follow guidelines that may or may not make sense in an individual’s case.

  • Dave G.

    Do we know that the main difference was her race? I mean, is there evidence? Do we need evidence to make that claim? Some have said we don’t. In the wake of the Zimmerman trial, it was stated more than once that there may not be any proof of racism, but we can’t let that stop what we know to be true. Given the push for hate crime legislation, call me simple, but that bothers me as much as other things our country is doing bother me. We are going to punish more harshly based on something even if there is no proof since we know it’s obviously true? In this case, I would want to know what the law says, what the typical sentence for this sort of thing is, and why she couldn’t use this law (though neither did Zimmerman), and what was found in the trial. It could be based on racism. It’s not like there isn’t racism still out there. But in an age of hate crime legislation, I would rather there be actual proof before i jump on board with the conviction.

    • Dan C

      Law and race have a long contentious relationship that persists. Its why we have crack vs. cocaine mandatory sentencing differences.

      • Dave G.

        Of course. But that doesn’t mean race applies in this case, and I’m one who thinks that before the charge of race/racism is made, some amount of evidence or proof is needed.

  • J.J. Lee

    I would strongly advise that you withdraw your statement or at least
    revise it. It’s clear you’re not a legal scholar, especially
    self-defense law.

    Zimmerman never invoked Stand Your Ground law in FL.
    You race baited. If you look at the facts, she unlawfully discharged a firearm. This is has nothing to do with race.

    Here is what you don’t understand. NO ONE is allowed to fire a warning shot. Not even the police.

    case of a man firing his AR as a warning shot also got arrested. Must I
    say WHITE, because why does it matter? He broke the law and so did this
    woman. Race is NOT the issue.

    Warning shot also implies that the 3 elements needed for a proper defensive firearm discharge was not there:

    Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy.

    Ability means that the other person has the power to kill or to cripple you.

    Opportunity means that the circumstances are such that the other person would be able to use his ability against you.

    means that the other person’s actions or words provide you with a
    reasonably-perceived belief that he intends to kill you or cripple you.

    Unfortunately, you’re seeing this situation through the media’s race’s tainted angle.

    Here is a secret to avoiding race-baiting.

    Read each of the scenarios and pretend all involve are white.

    each verdict come out just? I would answer both Zimmerman and Marissa
    Alexander’s verdicts followed the laws as the facts were applied.

    • The Deuce

      Plus, her “warning shot into the ceiling” actually wasn’t.

  • Marcus

    As Mark has pointed out many times, I’d say the disparity in justice is more pronounced between rich and poor than white and black (though not sure either is the case here).

    However, here’s an interesting one also from the great state of FL involving a young, black male arrested for jokingly barking at a police dog:


    Read the policeman’s comments. He was clearly on a power trip and decided this young, black male needed to learn a lesson about respecting his authoriti. Thankfully the kid is a high-profile athlete, so after this story broke the FL state attorney’s office dropped the charges and issued a release that almost, sort of chastised the policeman saying “the power to deny someone’s liberty cannot be abused, even when one’s patience is thin”. Again though, this is a case of justice for the “rich”, in so much as this kid had the clout of the University of Florida football team behind him.

    • Dan C

      So…the target’s race had no bearing on the matter on the initial police man’s annoyance? Because, again, race has no bearing on these types of interactions?

  • J Chisholm

    Mark, what part of Christian charity encompasses race-baiting? JJLee has it exactly right below. Ignoring for a moment the fact that she LEFT THE BUILDING to get a gun (and therefore was not in danger), if she fired a “warning shot” she did not reasonably fear for her life, and therefore the use of a deadly weapon was not justified. The jury found that Zimmerman was punched in the face, mounted, pounded, and had his head bashed into the sidewalk. He reasonably feared for his life, and the use of a deadly weapon was therefore justified.

    America’s laws regarding the use of deadly force in self-defense are generally remarkably well-aligned with Catholic thought on the same topic. I’ll post some links to a couple good law review articles I’ve read on the same if I can find them online.

    Also, to reiterate the point, Zimmerman did NOT invoke Florida’s stand-your-ground law. Your failure to get this basic fact right should, I think, give you pause when you reflect on your current opinions about this matter. Embrace the WHOLE truth, right?

    You aught to be ashamed of this post. I second JJLee’s suggestion- take it down and put up a retraction.

  • J Chisholm

    Now, if you want to discuss the justice or injustice of mandatory minimum sentences, that might be a fruitful conversation. I tend to think you’re on solid moral ground if, as your post implies, you would decry severe mandatory imprisonment as a failure of true justice in many circumstances.

    • Dan C

      So…here is the claim: mandatory sentencing were tinged throughout by racial motives of lawmakers.

  • The Deuce

    Hey, Mark, I was pretty mad when I first heard about the case a week ago too, but I double-checked before sounding off. Turns out it’s not at all what’s been represented. Her “warning shot into the ceiling” actually went into the ceiling in the next room after passing through the wall behind her husband: http://mediatrackers.org/florida/2013/07/16/no-marissa-alexanders-conviction-was-not-a-reverse-trayvon-martin-case-in-florida

    As for your race-baiting “Fired While Black” nonsense, the truth is that Stand Your Ground in Florida has disproportionately *helped* black people: http://dailycaller.com/2013/07/16/blacks-benefit-from-florida-stand-your-ground-law-at-disproportionate-rate/

    And for the last time, ZIMMERMAN DIDN’T INVOKE STAND YOUR GROUND! If you’re still ignorant of that basic fact, which has been repeated many times by many people, then what do you think the chances are that any of your other opinions about the Zimmerman case, this case, and SYG laws in general are well-informed and accurate, and not just the product of media propaganda that you’ve lapped up unquestioningly?

    • Guest

      And for the last time, ZIMMERMAN DIDN’T INVOKE STAND YOUR GROUND! If you’re still ignorant of that basic fact, which has been repeated many times by many people, then what do you think the chances are that any of your other opinions about the Zimmerman case, this case, and SYG laws are well-informed and accurate, and not just the product of media propaganda that you’ve lapped up unquestioningly?

      • wlinden

        That hasn’t stopped any of the people insisting it “proves” that “Stand Your Ground” is Bad because guns! racism!

  • Paulie

    As usual, there is way, way much more to the case than this simple summary. Steve and Andy explained why pretty well.

    • Dan C

      When the laws of mandatory sentencing were passed in the mid to late 1980’s and early 1990’s, race had no bearing on these matters? The case studies pushing the matters forward were not especially selected urban concerns?

  • Nate Winchester

    1) Ian already pointed out below that “SYG laws” disproportionately help blacks AND that Zimmerman didn’t invoke them (after all, hard to stand your ground when you’re pinned to it, being beaten – the idea behind them is that you COULD retreat)

    If Mark is REALLY interested in the truth (and not just playing the
    race game for… some reason), then he would have a better comparison: Roderick Scott (black, 43) shooting Christopher Cervini (white, 16) in 2009.

    Brought to trial and… what happened? Scott was acquitted!

    Hmm… may not be such a black and white issue after all, huh? (pun intended)

  • entonces_99

    I’m calling bullshit on this. (Seehttp://legalinsurrection.com/2013/07/the-marissa-alexander-case-wasnt-about-stand-your-ground-either/ ) That “Florida Mom” endangered her children by firing recklessly in their direction. Oh, yes, and her victims were black, so this is hardly a good example of how our society treats blacks so badly. But if you can show me that her husband had just broken her nose and knocked her down, and was pummeling her, MMA-style, pounding her head against a concrete surface, then you might have a point.

  • carlamariee

    For anyone interested in facts about the case:
    Also, her father taught her to shoot, and she kept in practice at a shooting range with her father. He has told media that if she wanted to kill anyone, she would have.

    • The Deuce

      Those are the facts about what her lawyers argued in court, but not the facts as such. Somehow the so-called “warning shot into the air” ended up in the ceiling of the next room, after passing through the wall behind her husband.

  • Polombo

    20 years is hardly a grotesque sentence for attempted murder, which was what she was convicted of. The jury, after a full trial, must have concluded that she fired with intent to kill. Maybe the jury was wrong, and racist, and maybe this is as vile an injustice as ever sullied the history of man, but this it is not the ideal occasion for berating the abstract ‘system.’ This is just like your bizarre attack on the Chief Justice. Mark, I beg, beg, beg you not to talk about law without consulting people who know it. There’s no pleasure in seeing an intelligent and good man routinely make a fool of himself and invite acrimony into the bargain.

  • J Chisholm

    In your original post, YOU directly drew the comparison to the Zimmerman trial. Several responses below took you to task on that comparison, and not because ears were tricked- you posted the comparison, which you have since deleted.
    But not “fired while black.” You’re better than this Mark.

    • chezami

      Comparing it to the Zimmerman case is not a comment on the justice or injustice of the Zimmerman verdict. My comment is solely on the fact that I think *this* sentence is outrageously unfair. Her principal crime was not being able to afford Johnnie Cochran.

      • J Chisholm

        Your original post compared the case to Zimmerman, and stated that the difference in the cases is that she “fired while black.” (Your original post did not include “and, most importantly, unwealthy.”
        I think there’s an opportunity for a great discussion on mandatory sentences, and on the updated tack of comments you’re making- whether justice is truly served when the skill of individual attorneys makes or breaks a case (and whether that actually happens or not). There is actually a quite well-developed legal literature on both points.
        But that’s not what you originally posted. You compared the case to Zimmerman, and tagged the [potential] injustice as attributable to race. That’s completely gratuitous, factually incorrect (what evidence do you have of race being a factor in either verdict?) and a low comment from someone of your talents and convictions.
        I ask again, what part of Christian charity is embodied by tossing the “Fired While Black” bomb?

        • chezami

          As OJ demonstrates, it’s the “unwealthy” part that is the most important, but the reality is that, in this country, income and race are very correlated, statistically speaking. If you are black, you are likely to be unwealthy and if you are unwealthy, you don’t get Johnnie Cochran and you do very often get absurd sentences, like this one. You also get people who are *vastly* more upset that somebody made a crack about “Firing While Black” (a riff on “Driving While Black”) than that somebody is going to jail for 20 years for this bush league crime of domestic passion in which nobody got hurt.

          • J Chisholm

            I’m very glad no one was hurt. And actually (as I think I’ve hinted) I believe mandatory sentences quite often end up producing “absurd” results, working a devastating injustice to many.
            Your original post set up one (1) point of comparison: Zimmerman walked, and is not black, and the woman in question was convicted and sentenced, and is black. The clearly implied point of “Fired While Black” is that she was convicted and sentenced because she is black. (I am familiar with “driving while black.” It means that you get pulled over for being black, not for lack of adequate access to gold-plated lawyers). Forgive me if I didn’t understand your clearly-implied syllogism (black => conviction) to be a nuanced commentary on the relative courtroom abilities of cheap versus expensive lawyers.
            The injection of race as the clearly-implied determining factor for different outcomes of different cases was and is baseless, and uncharitable.
            I’m going to stop now and check my own attitude before I cross that line. I admire much of the work you do, and frequently find your posts fruitful for contemplation. I simply think the racial cheap shot is indefensible.

            • chezami

              That’s why I edited the piece. Is that a problem?

      • Nate Winchester

        “Principle crime” based upon what? As I pointed out above, there was another case:

        Roderick Scott (black, 43) shooting Christopher Cervini (white, 16) in

        Roderick “shot while black” and I don’t see anything about the quality of his defense. (anyone have data on that?)

        So what makes you so sure that this verdict was unfair? To quote legalinsurrection:

        The essential facts of the Alexander case are as follows. She and her husband, Gray, were engaged in a heated verbal dispute in the presence of his two children. There seems to have been little if any physical confrontation, but whatever might have occurred was of a non-deadly nature. At some point Alexander walked past Gray and the children into the garage, where she obtained a gun. She then fired the gun at, or in the direction of, Gray and the two children.

        Now Mark, I thought you had some pretty strong feelings about guns & children. Yet in this case you think shooting at some kids warrants less than two decades? (and yes, I’m applying the same amount of legal and mental rigor to the case as you did in the original case)

  • Stu

    Andy BP said…”Warning shots, by the way, are illegal almost everywhere and put the lie to any claim to self-defense.”

    1,000 times “yes.” Anyone who knows anything about firearms knows that you don’t fire warning shots (contrary to the advice of Vice President Biden). It’s a very dangerous and reckless practice. Not only could she have actually hit members of her family, but she could have killed someone just walking down the street.

  • jroberts548

    Stand your ground abrogates the common law duty to retreat. It doesn’t mean you can retreat and then attack. Once she went to the car the opportunity for self defense vanished, unless she was subsequently attacked. If you leave a fight, grab a gun, and return to the fight, you can’t raise self defense.

    • chezami

      I’m not arguing for her innocence. I’m arguing that her sentence is grossly unjust.

      • Stu

        “Fired while black” isn’t the issue there.

  • NurseBob

    This case reveals more the problem of mandatory sentencing than racism.

    She got a mandatory sentence of 20 years because she 1) had previous problems with the law, 2) left the scene to get the gun, then came back with the gun, and 3) risks serious harm or death to others by shooting the gun in the vicinity of others, including children.

    Even given all of the above, 20 years is severe. Some are looking into the matter to appeal to the governor of Florida to reduce the sentence.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      I’m game with that. Given the facts of the case that I’ve seen, 20 years seems quite severe to me, too. Like you said, it has more to do with mandatory sentencing laws that need examining.

      That’s a problem with law in England/America in general, though. Specific circumstances don’t get any airtime in “mandatory sentencing” crimes.

  • Steve

    The minimum sentencing laws come from other horrific scenerios where children are hurt by people firing guns in random directions. “Do something!” the public says. Then the politicians put on a stern face and say, “If you fire a gun in public for a non-defense reason, you’ll get 20 years. RAWR!”

    But I think the circumstances of this crime is why she was offered a 3-year deal. Which she rejected.