By now some of you may have heard about the Marissa Alexander case in Florida.
Many people are trying to twist the facts of this case in a fashion that will be familiar to the rational among us who watched the Zimmerman case.
Essentially they want to know why Florida’s stand-your-ground law was sufficient to win Zimmerman an acquittal yet when applied in the Alexander case it produced a speed-of-light guilty verdict in a mere 12 minutes (did the jurors even bother to sit down, or were they putting on their coats while coming to consensus?), and a sentence of 20 years.
The essential facts of the Alexander case are as follows. She and her husband, Gray, were engaged in a heated verbal dispute in the presence of his two children. There seems to have been little if any physical confrontation, but whatever might have occurred was of a non-deadly nature. At some point Alexander walked past Gray and the children into the garage, where she obtained a gun. She then fired the gun at, or in the direction of, Gray and the two children.
Alexander was charged with multiple counts of aggravated assault, and asserted a “stand-your-ground” defense.
What IS Stand-Your-Ground, Anyway?
Before we compare this fact situation to Zimmerman, we must first ensure that we all understand just what “stand-your-ground” means.
Traditionally, it was required that you take advantage of a safe avenue of retreat, if such was reasonably available to you, before using deadly force in self-defense. This was what is referred to as a generalized duty to retreat. It always had exceptions, such as the Castle Doctrine which lifts the duty when you are in your home.
The “stand-your-ground” law expands the scope of the Castle Doctrine beyond your home to every place you have a right to be. So, even if there were a safe avenue of retreat reasonably available to you, you no longer have a legal duty to attempt to make use of it before using deadly force in self-defense.
The duty to retreat itself, however, only applies where safe retreat is possible. If there is no safe avenue of retreat, there is no duty. If there is no duty, the “stand-your-ground” statute that relieves you of that duty is irrelevant.
Why Stand-Your-Ground Was Irrelevant in Zimmerman Case
This was this situation in the Zimmerman case. When George Zimmerman made the decision to use deadly force in self-defense he had already been trying to escape for at least the 45 seconds he was screaming for help and getting his head smashed into a sidewalk. There simply was no reasonably safe avenue of retreat available to him. Therefore he had no duty to retreat, and without any such duty “stand-your-ground” has no role to play in lifting that duty.
Why Stand-Your-Ground Is Also Irrelevant in the Alexander Case
So, now that it is clear that “stand-your-ground” was irrelevant in the Zimmerman case, how might it apply in the Marissa Alexander trial?
It simply doesn’t.
Here, if we consider the facts in a manner most favorable to Alexander, there was an initial physical, non-deadly conflict with her husband. Perhaps we can even assume that her husband was the aggressor in that conflict. In that case he may well bear legal liability for that non-deadly fight.
Alexander, however, took things to another level when she retrieved her firearm. She escalated a non-deadly confrontation to a deadly confrontation. In the eyes of the law this is effectively a second, separate fight, one in which Alexander was the aggressor.
And how does being the aggressor affect one’s right to “stand-your-ground”? It obliterates it. Florida’s “stand-your-ground” provision, 776.013(3), applies ONLY to “[a] person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked . . . ”
Here Alexander WAS engaged in criminal activity–she initiated a deadly force confrontation–and it was not she who was attacked but she who was doing the attacking. The Court tossing out stand-your-ground in this Florida case was not even a tough call, as “stand-your-ground” was inapplicable on its face.
Note: For a much more detailed discussion of the Alexander case, including a great deal more background and context than I have included here, I suggest a piece by Sean Davis at mediatrackers, “No, Marissa Alexander’s Conviction Was Not a “Reverse Trayvon Martin” Case in Florida”.