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Battered Spouse Syndrome vs Stand Your Ground As A Defense

5:33 AM, Apr 19, 2012   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Marissa Alexander is a First Coast mother facing 20 years in prison after firing a warning shot at her ex-husand.

She told police he had abused her for years, and she feared for her life when she pulled the trigger on August 1, 2010.

Still, she was convicted of three counts of Aggravated Assault.

Many people had questions about how, given the couple's history, she could have been convincted. 

Turns out, it's a fine line.

"She knows in her heart, in her gut, however you want to put it, this is it. It's her or him," said Quigley House CEO Peggy Payne.

Payne works with battered women every day as the CEO of Quigley House, a domestic violence shelter in Orange Park.

She said the moment a victim fights back against her attacker, it's a case of a life or death.

"For that victim, at that moment, the only thing she is thinking about is surviving," she said.

Florida was one of the first states to approve the Battered Spouse defense in 1999.

Stand Your Ground came six years later.

In Marissa Alexander's case, her attorney did not try to use the Battered Spouse defense, and lost a Stand Your Ground motion in court.

"The Battered Spouse Syndrome is a psychiatric defense where you would need an expert to present at trial, so right off the bat, you're starting with an uphill battle," said defense attorney Janet Johnson.

Johnson said Stand Your Ground and Battered Spouse Syndrome are difficult defenses to prove in court.

Both defenses say the victim has no duty to retreat, and that the victim must be in fear for his or her life.

And while Marissa Alexander's case had some elements of both, Johnson doesn't think her attorney will be able to prove either.

"It's the same with Stand Your Ground. There was some evidence that this happened, but you have to get beyond a reasonable doubt," she said.

Alexander was offered a plea deal, but turned it down.

Her family told First Coast News she felt confident in her defense, so she went to trial.

Now under Florida's mandatory minimum sentencing requirement, she will serve 20 years in prison.

"That's why it's risky when there's a gun or a shooting in the state of Florida, because it's a toss up whether or not it's going to work," she said.  

Regardless of the court ruling, Peggy Payne believes Marissa Alexander feared for her life that day.

"I know legal minds like the black and white. For survivors and victims alike it's not that clear,"  said Payne.

First Coast News

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