An appellate court on Thursday ordered a new trial for a Florida woman who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a gun to scare off her allegedly abusive husband. The Appellate court ruled that the jury was improperly instructed on self-defense.
A jury convicted 31-year-old Marissa Alexander of aggravated assault in March 2012 after just 12 minutes of deliberation. Now, the Florida woman will now have a new trial because of those improper jury instruction. The jury was wrongly told that, for her to claim self-defense, she needed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that her husband was about to seriously harm her. However, the appellate court pointed out that the prosecution had the burden to prove that Alexander herself was guilty of aggravated assault. “Because the jury instructions on self-defense were fundamental error, we reverse” the conviction, a three-judge appellate panel said.
During her first trial, Alexander claimed self-defense, saying she was attempting to flee her husband, Rico Gray, on August 1, 2010, when she picked up a handgun and fired a shot into a wall. She said her husband was angry and tried to strangle her because he had read cell phone text messages that she had written to her ex-husband.
State Attorney Angela Corey had said the case deserved to be prosecuted because Alexander fired in the direction of a room where two children were standing.
Corey had said she offered Alexander a plea bargain that would have resulted in a three-year prison sentence, but Alexander chose to take the case to a jury trial, where a conviction would carry a mandatory sentence under a Florida law known as “10-20-life.”
The law mandates increased penalties for some felonies, including aggravated assault, in which a gun is carried or used. During sentencing in May 2012, a judge said he had no choice but to sentence her to 20 years.
Under the state’s 10-20-life law, a conviction for aggravated assault where a firearm has been discharged carries a minimum and maximum sentence of 20 years without regarding to any extenuating or mitigating circumstances that may be present, such as those in this case.