Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Alexander Case Shows Need to Reform 10-20-Life Law

d to form 10-20-Life Law
For Immediate Release
 April 24, 2012
Contact: Monica Pratt Raffanel, media@famm.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) President Julie Stewart today called on Florida lawmakers to repeal the state’s “10-20-Life” automatic prison sentence for assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill. The call comes as Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old mother of three, prepares to be sentenced for a 2010 incident in which she fired a gun into the ceiling of her house to persuade her abusive husband to leave.

“A lot of attention has been paid to Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law and far too little to the state’s extreme, one-size-fits-all sentencing laws,” Ms. Stewart said. “Less than three years ago, Orville Lee Wollard, a lawful gun owner, fired a warning shot in his home to chase off a young man who had been abusing his teenage daughter. After Wollard rejected a plea deal and a jury rejected Wollard’s self-defense claim, a Florida judge was forced by the state’s mandatory minimum sentencing law for assault to send Wollard to prison for 20 years. Mr. Wollard’s judge stated that he thought the sentence was excessive, but said his hands were tied.

“In the coming weeks, Marissa Alexander, who was also found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon, will likely be sentenced to the same 20-year mandatory minimum prison term. While reasonable people can disagree on whether Mr. Wollard or Ms. Alexander deserve any prison time for their conduct, no one can honestly believe that these were the types of cases the legislature had in mind when it passed the 10-20-Life automatic gun sentence,” Stewart said.
According to press reports and court records, Ms. Alexander’s husband, Rico Gray, abused her on more than one occasion before the incident that led to her conviction. Mr. Gray described one incident of abuse in a deposition, saying, “And the third incident (with Alexander) we was staying together and I pushed her back and she fell in the bathtub and hit her head and I-- you know, by the time I ran downstairs and got in my car to leave, you know, that's the time I went to jail, the police picked me up down the street.”

In that same deposition, Mr. Gray admitted that he threatened his wife’s safety on the day she fired the gun into the ceiling. He also admitted that Ms. Alexander never aimed her gun at him (or his two children who were also present). According to Mr. Gray, after she told him to leave her house and he refused, she discharged the gun into the ceiling and no one was hurt. He later called the police and told them what had happened. Ms. Alexander was arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault (one count related to her husband, and two more for her stepsons). Ms. Alexander strongly maintains her innocence.

Greg Newburn, director of FAMM’s Florida project, said, “Based on everything we have heard to this point, we believe that sending Marissa Alexander to prison for 20 years would be a tremendous injustice and a colossal waste of Florida taxpayers’ hard-earned money.
“This is not an issue about race – it’s about individualized justice. Ms. Alexander is black, but Orville Lee Wollard is white. Rather, this is another, powerful example of how inflexible sentencing laws prevent courts from considering highly relevant circumstances, such as whether the offender is a hardened criminal or a first-time offender and whether someone was motivated by malice or genuine fear,” said Newburn.

For more information on Marissa Alexander’s case, see news articles in the Florida Times-UnionInternational Business Times, and Loop 21.

For more information on Orville Lee Wollard’s case, see his profile and an op-ed by Ms. Stewart that appeared in The Washington Times. For another case involving an excessive sentence imposed under the 10-20-life mandatory gun law, see FAMM’s profile of Erik Weyant.

1 comment:

  1. I should first say that I do not have all of the facts but based on the stories, I don't believe these people were committing a crime when they used their guns, so they shouldn't be eligible for the 10-20-Life law.

    I don't understand how defending self/family/property is seen as "assault" in Florida.

    It sounds to me as if the attorneys defending these people were inadequate. Perhaps some of the circumstances of these cases may not have made it to the ears of the jury. One shouldn't have to hire F. Lee Bailey to get a fair shake in court.

    I think our systems are failing:

    The prosecutors could have dropped these cases. I would remind the prosecution. You are also part of the judicial system. You don't have to press a case when you know justice will not be served.

    I would remind the judges, you can set aside verdicts for many reasons. Conversely, minimum sentencing laws wouldn't be needed if the public had confidence in the judicial system in the first place.

    Since legislators want to control the judicial branch, Pardons should be more available, especially when we have an obvious legal misfire. The Governor is not limited by the rules of evidence and can make a judgement based on all of the circumstances.

    Personally, I'm against legislation of the judicial process. If we could simply write a law to cover everything then we wouldn't need judges.

    Our criminal rehabilitation system shouldn't be coddling career criminals and sentences should be more transparent. (He got 4,000 years. Not to worry, he'll be out in 6 months)

    Judges should be more accountable to the public. The performance of all judges should be publicly available and the public should have a reasonable recourse to remove poorly performing judges.

    But that's just what I think. . . . .