In the months leading up to the trial of the Florida man who sparked national controversy over state Stand Your Ground laws when he shot dead 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, several defendants have escaped criminal liability for deadly shootings under the law. Just last week, a Florida jury acquitted a man who killed his wife’s lover in his home after firing three shots into his head and back. But just months after Trayvon’s death, Florida’s notorious Stand Your Ground law did not spare Marissa Alexander, who fired a mere warning shot into the wall during a violent incident with her husband.
Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year, after a judge rejected her Stand Your Ground defense and a jury convicted her on three counts of aggravated assault. Alexander’s husband was arrested twice before on misdemeanor battery charges against other women. But authorities said Alexander initiated the 2010 incident and pointed the gun at her husband and two step-sons before firing the warning shot into the ceiling.
Alexander would not have needed a Stand Your Ground law to defend her action. While that law goes so far as to authorize unfettered deadly force in self-defense without a duty to retreat, Alexander used significantly lesser force that would fall under a typical self-defense claim. But the judge’s failure to allow the claim comports with studies that have shown the ALEC and NRA-backed laws are discriminatory and applied arbitrarily. Last week, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission voted to undertake an in-depth investigation into racial bias in Stand Your Ground laws, the first such investigation by the agency in decades.
In the meantime, laws that allow deadly force without any duty to retreat remain the law in at least 21 states, and efforts to repeal or alter the laws have failed thus far. And in spite of outcry from the NAACP and others, Alexander remains in prison.