By Roland S. Martin
There is no reason Marissa Alexander should spend the next 20 years in prison.
If you are the most hardened law-and-order person in the world, even you should have some compassion for Alexander and the ridiculous Florida law known as 10-20-Life.
The law requires that anyone convicted of an aggravated assault when a firearm was discharged serve a minimum of 20 years in prison, with no regard to extenuating circumstances.
In Alexander’s case, she says that Aug. 1, 2010, her husband went into a rage and tried to strangle her after reading some text messages she had sent to her ex-husband. She fled the family home, got to the garage and realized she didn’t have her keys. Fearing for her life, she grabbed a gun and went back into the home to retrieve her keys.
She says her husband threatened to kill her, and to keep him at bay, she fired a warning shot into the ceiling.
Why was she charged, convicted and sentenced? Because State Attorney Angela Corey, the same prosecutor leading the Trayvon Martin case, said that the gun was fired near a bedroom where two children were and that they could have been injured.
Did the bullet hit the children? No. Did Alexander point the gun at her husband and hit him? No. She simply fired a warning shot, and according to Florida’s shameful law, that’s enough for a minimum 20-year prison sentence.
Corey offered Alexander a three-year plea bargain, but the mother still felt she did nothing wrong and rejected the plea.
In sentencing her, the judge made clear that despite all of the pleas for mercy — including those of Alexander’s 11-year-old daughter, who took the stand — he was left with no choice but to send her to prison for at least 20 years.
Alexander tried to invoke Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law in her defense, but that was rejected. Critics of the law in the Trayvon Martin case have said this shows how uneven the law is.
But the real issue here isn’t the faulty “stand your ground” law. It’s the ridiculous mandatory minimum sentences that have been approved by countless state legislatures and Congress.
In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal sentencing guidelines established should be seen not as mandatory but as “advisory,” giving judges the leeway to considerable multiple factors before sentencing someone.
In a 2003 speech to the American Bar Association, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy railed against federal mandatory minimums, saying, “Our resources are misspent, our punishment too severe, our sentences too long.”
“I can accept neither the necessity nor the wisdom of federal mandatory minimum sentences,” Kennedy said. “In too many cases, mandatory minimum sentences are unwise or unjust.”
Unfortunately, on the state level, far too many law-and-order legislators, most with no courtroom or law enforcement experience, set such laws without giving any thought to cases like Alexander’s.
This 10-20-Life law has no business being a part of the Florida legal system — or that of any other state, for that matter.
Judges should have the discretion to consider a variety of factors, and I have no doubt that had this judge been able to determine a variety of sentences, Alexander wouldn’t be going to prison for 20 years.
These types of injustices are common in our legal system, and it is necessary for everyone with a conscience to stand up and decry these so-called legislative remedies that end up as a nightmare.
Marissa Alexander was a woman trying to flee an enraged husband. She easily could have pointed the gun at him and pleaded self-defense and, like George Zimmerman, possibly never have been arrested. But she didn’t.
Our prison systems are too overcrowded as it is, and folks like Marissa Alexander do not belong in them.
Let’s hope that Gov. Rick Scott will find some compassion and grant Alexander a pardon and that the Legislature will revise the law to prevent future miscarriages of justice.
Florida’s elected officials and residents should be ashamed of this law and do all they can to change it.
Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN analyst and author of the book “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as Originally Reported by Roland S. Martin.” Please visit his website at RolandSMartin.com. To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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