Mandatory Minimum Sentencing and Marissa Alexander

October 4, 2013

File of Marissa Alexander in Duval Country court in JacksonvilleMarissa Alexander, a Florida woman sentenced to 20 years of incarceration after firing a warning shot into a wall near her then-husband at their Jacksonville home, has been granted a new trial.  The 1stDistrict Court of Appeal ruled that a jury instruction was improperly handled by the trial judge.  However, the appeals court upheld the trial judge’s ruling denying Florida’s Stand Your Ground (F.S.A. 776.013) law as a defense. See Alexander v. State, 1D12-2469, 2013 WL 5354419 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. Sept. 26, 2013)

For those unfamiliar with the story: Alexander was married to Rico Gray. According to Alexander, Gray cornered her at their home during a confrontation.  Alexander claims to have entered the garage to escape but was trapped behind a jammed door.  While in the garage she grabbed a gun and returned inside the house.  When Gray threatened to kill her, Alexander fired a single shot towards him and his two sons.  Gray fled the home with his sons and called police.

Prosecutor Angela B. Corey claims the evidence does not support Alexander’s version of events.  A bullet hole was found to the right of an archway between the home’s kitchen and living room, not in the ceiling where Alexander claimed to have fired the shot.  Additionally, Alexander might have made a statement to Gray prior to entering the garage, something along the lines of, “I got something for your ass.”  Corey argued that Alexander fired the shot out of anger not fear.  Ultimately, the trial judge rejected the Stand Your Ground law as a potential defense for Marissa Alexander.  She was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault and sentenced to 20 years in prison under Florida’s 10-20-Life law (F.S.A. 775.087).

New Sentencing Policy

Marissa Alexander’s 20-year sentence has placed mandatory minimum sentencing at the center of debate.  States such as Ohio, South Carolina, New York and Texas are reforming their penal policies by reducing draconian sentencing and expanding drug-treatment and re-entry programs.  In Texas, new policies have resulted in lower crime rates and have saved taxpayers millions

Additionally, many states are proposing amending or repealing mandatory minimum sentencing laws.   In our view, these policies likely result in fairer sentencing in the criminal justice system.   In an extended preamble to Hawaii’s Act 280, the legislature is said to have found:

  • “…since the enactment of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug users, the Federal Bureau of Prisons budget increased from $220,000,000 in 1986 to $5,400,000,000 in 2008. From 2000 to 2009, appropriations for the Hawaii department of public safety increased ninety per cent, from $128,000,000 to $243,000,000.”
  • “According to the United States Department of Justice, the time spent in prison does not affect recidivism rates.”
  • “Nationwide, mandatory minimum sentences have consistently been shown to have a disproportionate impact on persons of color…” despite the fact a government survey shows that “drug use is fairly consistent across racial and ethnic groups.”

To find these proposed and enacted bills, we ran a simple terms and connectors search on WestlawNext:

adv: mandatory /3 minimum /3 sentenc!

Filter for the four enacted bills and you’ll also find Mississippi HB 1231 which created a Criminal Justice Task force charged with, among other things, reviewing  “the total number of offender populations in Mississippi correctional facilities to determine which offenders receive or serve differing sentences for the same crimes, enumerating any discrepancies in sentencing for conviction of the same crimes and documenting the percentage of offenders whose sentence was a result of mandatory minimum sentencing.”

Not all states, however, are necessarily reconsidering the wisdom of mandatory minimums.  Idaho HB 152, for example, proposed new minimum sentencing for first time offenders found of “lewd” conduct with a minor child. Virginia HB 2008 proposed disallowing those serving a mandatory minimum from participating in a work release programs.

For more, try the following WestlawNext Searches:

adv: TI(“mandatory minimum sentencing”) (15)

Search Type: Boolean T&C

Content: Secondary Sources

Jurisdiction: All State & Federal

“mandatory minimum sentencing” (25)

Search Type: Plain Language

Content: Florida Secondary Sources

Jurisdiction: Florida

Jurisdiction: State > Florida

Date: Last 3 years