Justice in Florida isn’t always the same as other places around the country. Florida has some antiquated and old west style laws that are held onto using the excuse of tradition. Many states, including Florida, have mandatory minimums which means that certain crimes require a minimum sentence for the convicted individual. Numerous studies have shown the mandatory minimums to be racist and yet, many states still require them.
You may have heard of the story of Marissa Alexander. In May, 2012, Ms. Alexander was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. In short, she fired a warning shot into the ceiling with her gun in an effort to keep her abusive boyfriend from attacking her. Was she right to shoot a gun into the ceiling? No. But that does not justify her twenty year sentence. Yes, that’s correct: a Jacksonville jury convicted her then sentenced her to twenty years in prison. Why? Because, under Florida law, they were required to give her a minimum sentence of twenty years.
You might also remember that a man was acquitted of murdering a young man in Sanford, Florida, this past summer. This trial and subsequent verdict set off a firestorm of support for Ms. Alexander. If a man who killed someone could claim self defense, why in the world is someone spending twenty years in prison for shooting a bullet into the ceiling? An appellate judge in Jacksonville agreed with that sentiment and a new trial for Ms. Alexander has been scheduled for March, 2014. Even better, she was released from prison the night before Thanksgiving.
Mandatory minimums are a massive subject that is difficult to discuss in a full blown study, let alone a short article. So, we’ll leave that for another day. But, what does it say about our system that a man can literally get away with murder but a woman who fires a warning shot is sentenced to twenty years in prison?
Some of you might be screaming right now – “he didn’t get away with murder! He was justified!” You are correct, in part. Even though a jury deemed his actions justified, George Zimmerman still killed Trayvon Martin. It doesn’t matter that it was deemed a justifiable act because of self defense, the act of murder still occurred.
So why, then, does someone have to spend twenty years in prison for not murdering someone? It’s almost as if our system is more accepting of self defense when one person dies. Seriously. A person can easily claim self defense when the victim is not alive to tell their side of the story. But when you’re being attacked and choose to do the humane act and fire a warning shot rather than a kill shot, you risk the chance of spending the rest of your life in prison. So, I guess the moral of the story here is to just kill the attacker. Makes sense, right?