Florida Mom Gets 20 Years in Prison for Gunshot That Didn't Hurt a Soul

Marissa AlexanderIt's been a year since a Florida mom named Marissa Alexander was sent to prison for 20 years for shooting a wall, but thanks to the George Zimmerman verdict, the mother of three is all over the news again. She didn't shoot anyone. In fact, she told police she was simply firing a warning shot to scare her abusive ex-husband.

She tried to use the same "stand your ground" defense that Zimmerman's attorney successfully used to gain acquittal. But for Alexander, it didn't work. She was sentenced to two decades in jail.

For not killing a soul!


If this sounds unjust, allow me to continue.

Prosecutors had offered Alexander just three years in prison if she'd pleaded guilty. She opted to hedge her bets and go to trial, hoping a jury would believe her side of the story, that her ex-husband was abusive, that she'd fired off a shot with her gun (for which she has a concealed weapons permit) to warn him, that she never intended to hurt anyone.

The prosecutor pursued 20 years in part because Florida has what's known as the 10-20-life law. Someone who pulls a gun during a crime gets a mandated 10 years in prison. For firing the gun during a crime, the mandated sentence is 20 years.

The prosecutor also hammered home that two of Alexander's kids were in the next room when Alexander fired. They could have been hit, according to the prosecution.

But they weren't.

And she could have gotten just three years. Instead she's spending 20 years in jail for a "could have happened."

I don't envy judges who have to hand down sentences only to have people like me Monday morning quarterback their decisions.

But then, people like me wouldn't be questioning their decisions if they weren't all over the map.

Here's a woman who admits firing a gun but who hurt no one and gets 20 years in prison. And yet last year someone was convicted of manslaughter in Oklahoma for an accident when they were drunk ... and their sentence is a requirement to attend church services.

Anyone seeing the problem here?

You cause someone's death and you walk free, save for some time on your knees on Sunday morning. You shoot a wall, and it's 20 years behind bars?

We can (and should) talk about the racial implications here -- Alexander is black -- and there certainly ARE racial implications here. There's a reason Alexander's case has been hauled out for re-examination in the wake of the shocking Zimmerman verdict.

But it isn't just about race.

It's also about sentencing laws in America and the way they are interpreted. 

It's about common sense.

Because there's nothing about 20 years for shooting a wall that makes sense.

What do you think of this mom's sentence? Is it just right or too much?


Image via police

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