2012-04-19 13:16:21

How do “Stand Your Ground” laws apply to victims of domestic violence?

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Over on her new website, CNN HLN anchor Richelle Carey asks a very interesting question: Does ‘Stand Your Ground’ apply to domestic abuse?

The ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws that have become well-known in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin.  The laws are supposed allow an individual to use lethal force if they reasonable believe they are in imminent harm. So what about victims of domestic abuse?  On August 1, 2010, Marissa Alexander, a 31 year old Florida mother of 3, is about to be sentenced for aggravated assault after firing a warning shot at her husband.  The shot she fired missed him, but the charges stuck.

Alexander’s friends and family claim that if the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law applies in other cases, it should certainly apply in this case where she was attempting to prevent abuse from her husband after 4 years of violence. (Alexander previously filed a protective order against him after he was arrested for abusing her.)

Her sister says, “She did what she had to do to live.  I believe if she didn’t do that then I wouldn’t, my sister would be sitting in jail today — she’d be sitting in a coffin.”  During a fight where her husband threatened her, Alexander fired a “warning shot into the ceiling.”  Under ‘Stand Your Ground’, there is no duty to retreat if you fear for your life.

The judge in the case dismissed the ‘Stand Your Ground’ defense at the pre-trial hearing, which decides whether or not the law applies to the case before the court. Her defense attorney chose not to use the “Battered Spouse” defense, which requires an expert to validate her status as a victim of violence through measuring what psychological factors would lead her to defend herself with violence. Experts actually say that there are elements of both “Stand Your Ground” and “Battered Spouse” in this case, but that the facts given are difficult to prove either. And Alexander rejected a plea deal because she felt confident that the jury would find that she acted in self defense.

Apparently not. With Florida’s mandatory minimums and the fact the judge has no discretion to lessen the sentence given the fact that Alexander is a victim of domestic abuse, she awaits sentencing, which is expected to be 20 years.

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