Sentencing/Post Conviction

Fla. woman serving 20-year prison sentence for 'warning shot' gets new trial


A Florida woman serving a 20-year prison sentence for firing what she said was a warning shot at her abusive husband has been awarded a new trial.

A state appeals court ruled Thursday that the instructions on self-defense that were given to the jury that convicted Marissa Alexander were erroneous, according to U.S. News & World Report.

By including the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt” when instructing the jury on the aggravated battery prong of the self-defense instruction, the appeals court held, the trial court improperly transmuted the prosecution’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt into the defendant’s burden to prove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

“At trial, the only real issue was whether (Alexander) had acted in self-defense when she fired the gun,” Chief Judge Robert T. Benton wrote in a 3-0 ruling (PDF) for the First District Court of Appeal. “Because the jury instructions on self-defense were fundamental error, we reverse.”

Alexander was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon last year for firing what she said was a warning shot to scare off her abusive husband. The sentencing judge said his hands had been tied by a state law requiring a 20-year prison term for anyone who fires a gun in the commission of certain felonies.

The defendant had rejected a plea bargain that called for a three-year sentence. The judge also refused to grant her immunity from prosecution under Florida’s controversial stand-your-ground law.

Bruce Zimet, Alexander’s lawyer, said he was pleased with Thursday’s ruling. He also said he was trying to reach Alexander to give her the good news.

State Attorney Angela Corey said she intends to retry the case.

“The defendant’s conviction was reversed on a legal technicality,” she said in a statement released by her office. “The case will be back in (court) at the appropriate time.”


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