JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Jacksonville woman who made headlines after she was denied the 'stand your ground' defense in 2012 calls the recent change to the law encouraging.
Marissa Alexander's case began seven years ago when an altercation with her estranged husband resulted in her firing a gunshot inside her home; he was unharmed.
She says she was initially only familiar with the 'castle' doctrine, or the idea that a person does not have to run away from an altercation if the offender comes into their home. However, after she was arrested for aggravated assault, which would carry a 20 year mandatory sentence if convicted, her attorneys told her she may have a defense under the 'stand your ground' doctrine.
The judge in her case did not agree and denied her request for a dismissal of the charges on the basis of self defense. Alexander's case went to trial and she was convicted in 2012. She spent nearly three years of her 20-year sentence in prison fighting against the verdict. On appeal, her case was overturned in 2013. Instead of facing a new trial, she decided to accept a plea deal for no prison time and two years of home detention that began in 2015.
As of Jan. 27, the sentence is behind her but not her concern that many others are facing a similar battle.
"There's so many other people that contacted me, explaining they have similar situations," Alexander said. "Their families are fighting for them and they were not able to be justified in their use of force."
Alexander publicly supported Republican lawmakers' push to bolster Florida's 'stand your ground' law. The proposed bill, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott June 9, shifted the burden of proof from the defendant claiming 'stand your ground' to the prosecution.
"You [shouldn't] have to prove yourself in the case when in every other case that burden is on the prosecution," Alexander said. "I think it's a step in the right direction."
Associated Press reports Florida is the first state in the U.S. to shift the burden of proof to the prosecution in a stand your ground defense. Of the 21 states with 'stand your ground' laws, only four other states mention burden of proof require the defendant to prove he appropriately acted in self defense.
Alexander is unsure if the outcome of her case would have been different if the law had been changed sooner.
She said it would have protected her from having to testify in the hearing on the 'stand your ground' defense, which she says violated her 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.
"It perhaps it would have made it where I didn't have to prove my action, but the state would have to prove that I was wrong and not justified in at least being able to defend myself," she said.