Marissa Alexander and the Stand Your Ground Double Standard

Marissa Alexander and the Stand Your Ground Double Standard



The case of Marissa Alexander, a Florida woman facing 20 years in prison for aggravated assault, is a tragically twisted mirror of the Trayvon Martin case. The court documents for Marissa’s case report that a domestic altercation ensued between Marissa and her husband in her home, that Marissa ran from her husband momentarily to her garage, eventually retrieved her registered firearm then fired a warning shot through the roof of her own house to protect herself.

After her husband fled the house to call the police in response to the warning shot, Marissa was arrested on the scene, processed and charged.

Now: Juxtapose the facts of Marissa’s case with those of the Trayvon Martin case. George Zimmerman, under no duress or threat, took it upon himself to surveil Trayvon, pursued Trayvon against the instructions of a police dispatcher, shot and killed Trayvon and was not arrested or charged with any crime for more than 46 days following the killing.

The inconsistent treatment of George Zimmerman and Marissa Alexander is a terrible commentary on the fairness of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law and its effectiveness to protect individuals who use lawful force in self-defense pursuant to its provisions.

At the scene of Marissa Alexander’s incident, she invoked Florida’s Stand Your Ground law by giving her account of the event. Section 776.112 of the statute states that a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to herself.

Section 776.032 states that a person who uses force as permitted in Section 776.012 is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution (which includes arrest).

Marissa informed the law enforcement agents on the scene that she feared for her life.  She provided further context for the officers by informing them that her husband had a history of abuse, and that she obtained a protective order against him that same year in connection with an assault that resulted in her hospitalization.

Despite Marissa’s account and evidence of her husband’s abuse that could have easily been confirmed by the officers on the scene, the officers proceeded to arrest her.

By contrast, George Zimmerman avoided arrest for 46 days simply by stating that he was forced to shoot and kill Trayvon after Trayvon allegedly jumped on him out of nowhere and physically assaulted him. Further, but for public outrage and activists shining the spotlight on Trayvon Martin’s death, it is almost certain that George Zimmerman would never have been arrested at all.

The disparity in treatment between Marissa Alexander and George Zimmerman by law enforcement is glaring, and its absurdity is undeniable. Beyond the discriminatory application of the law by the police is the misapplication of the law’s immunity provision by the judicial officer presiding over Marissa’s Stand Your Ground hearing. At the hearing to determine if Marissa did indeed have immunity under the statute, her counsel presented the sworn statement of her husband confirming that he was the aggressor and threatened to kill her. In ruling that immunity did not apply, the judge cited that Marissa had opportunities to exit the house and escape the fight. One very controversial aspect of the Florida statute is that it expressly states there is no duty to retreat. Whether you agree that there should always be a duty to avoid physical harm and death, if at all possible, during an altercation, or it is your position that a person should never have to take ownership for the safety of another who created the perilous situation, there can be no dispute that the law, as enacted does not require Marissa to have escaped her own house. Marissa had a strong case for immunity at the scene and at her hearing; however, she was unfairly denied. Which begs the question, why?

Opponents and proponents of the Florida statute alike, must ask why the law as it currently reads, was successfully used by George Zimmerman, but was unsuccessfully invoked by Marissa Alexander.  Supporters of George Zimmerman and proponents of the Florida statute should be up in arms on Marissa’s behalf. The incident for which she was convicted is text book self-defense, expressly permitted by the statute, yet she is unjustly facing 20 years of incarceration for defending herself against spousal abuse. If the law is inapplicable in Marissa’s case, how much protection can others facing a life or death situation expect if they stand their ground?

Meanwhile, opponents of the Stand Your Ground law should be vigilant in investigating such cases to determine what patterns of discrimination exist. By highlighting such inequities, the case for examining Stand Your Ground is strengthened. Good laws applied unequally cannot go unchallenged. It is essential that bad laws applied unfairly receive even deeper scrutiny. Parties on all sides would do justice to these cases by seeking congruent administration of the law. Marissa has yet to be sentenced and post-trial motions are being considered. Her counsel is seeking a new trial. If she is ultimately sentenced to 20 years in prison, everyone loses as incongruent administration of the law cuts against our sense of racial and gender equality.

TRAVIS TOWNSEND, ESQ. is Managing Partner at Atlanta-based Townsend & Lockett, LLC and author of When the Cops Come Knockin’.


      • Yes. A double standard indeed. And the Trayvon Martin prosecution team should be addressing this issue with the courts. The law needs to be repealed and brought before the highest court system as incongruent. This time

      • Equal rights under the law is a joke. American legal system is twofold one for white the other for none white. Merrisa has a better legal ground than Zimmerman yet things didn't come out that way…. Shame shame…….

      • Remind me not to travel to Florida. How can a State be so oblivious and unjust??. Is there anything anyone can do to help Marissa Alexander ?. How about impeaching all the lawmakers regarding those ridiculous laws.

    • The law has nothing to do with her case…if it was on the books or not she would be in jail…the law was the only thing that could have helped her….she should be allow to use the law to keep her out of jail…you got it all wrong!

  1. I reading this here in Canada and I have to say, "What the F…? What is going through your head sitting in the jury finding this formerly-battered woman, threatened by the same guy who beat her earlier, the same guy who told officers he would have beaten her if she DIDN'T have the gun, this woman who fired into the ceiling so as NOT to kill him (which worked, he ran away) … how the hell do you find this woman guilty of felony assault? She non-violently (unless you're a garage ceiling) ended the confrontation, she's fine, the kids are fine, even her wife-beating (as police records show) husband is fine, I mean what did she do – disturb the neighbors with her felonious firearm discharge? How do you give a whole state a reality check? The whole state of Florida should dunk their heads in cold water. They can come up for air when Marissa Alexander gets out of jail.

  2. Interesting enough the Stand Your Ground/Castle Law was discussed in my Substantive Criminal Law class a few weeks ago. My classmates and I had a discussion with our professor and it was quite interesting. I feel that these are good laws if applied correctly. It appears that in this case it was not. The irony between this and the much more publicized Trayvon Martin case is that Marissa Alexander fired a warning shot and her admittedly abuser husband is alive. Had she shot and killed him, she would have more than likely not been charged or acquitted. The old saying, unfortunately, is that "dead men tell no tales."

  3. Did you not get the memo that Mr. George Zimmerman is black?

    The world’s most famous "white Hispanic" is part black

    George Zimmerman's Black Ancestry is Revealed

    George Zimmerman Has ‘Black Roots’

    George Zimmerman: the black, Hispanic, Peruvian, kind-hearted non-white, not-racist poster boy

  4. WTF is she even being charged with??? She didn't even hurt anyone. She killed her roof. WTF is going on here??? If she gets ANY time that is a travesty of justice. What a joke.

    • Its Florida!!! A Police state that makes money iff arrests And not too disrespect Good Honest Officers most Florida cops don't have a clue, are corrupt & think they are above the law. How many cops you see on cell phones, or smoking in patrol car, speed, or don't signal without lights on? these are nothing in contrast to when they harass innocent people, lie on reports & plant evidence

  5. Is all about Racism, One advise I have for all black family is encourage their kids to get good education and occupy most of these big position in the government offices. I think some of the problem with racism will be solve.

  6. Stand your ground has been US states laws for years. In the last 40 years like in this case it was not applied by the court. Why stand your ground. It makes it fair i.e. you are the innocent person, and for e.g. should not have to run to only be shot/cut/beaten in the back as you retreat. Most likely as in Marissa's case the aggressor will minimize your escape route. There are many reason why people are afraid of the law e.g. they personally fear such a confortation believing that they and majority of others would assume the fetal position. So why let anybody have a gun/knife/bat/screwdriver/chain/rocks in a sock. It is because the laws in the last 40 years have given the criminal even more reason not to fear the consequences. Their are always going to be people for what ever the reason think that they should do harm to you. Their is no reasonable person with a weapon going to be gun happy, and start shooting. Why because they know that even if they do everything legal they will run a great risk that they will be found guilty of a criminal offense, and/or civil sued. So think about it. I get a gun license. Show that gun off, and invite thieves, sell my assets for legal services to fight criminal/civill charges. The only way that my gun is coming out from concealment is because someone has convoked me that I am in immediate threat of serious great bodily harm, or death. The courts just said that this law will not apply to Marrisa's trail. The stand your ground simply is intended to force these old laws to be enforce, and recognized by the courts, and law enforcement. The law enforcement in Zimmermans's case recognized. They covered themselves by involving the prosecutor. Stand your ground is not applicable if you are doing anything else illegal. This court did not take it seriously because Americans have not the school system as they do in e.g. Canada. It is not that she did anything wrong. She had a jury of uneducated people that were swayed by an educated professional prosecutor. The prosecutors job is to try to put people in prison. Anyone can read the laws, and see that they are written to be ambiguous. In the US. It does not matter if you are guilty or not. You have a 96% chance of being found guilty in any county in the US once you have been charged. I have not read about past violent history, or a record of any felonies of Marrisa. No one died. She saved her own life, and for that she gets 20 years. Think about it 20 years. I think for an educated person death would look to be a better option? Involuntary manslaughter is 10 years in most sates. From what I read and saw TV/Videos I believe that the man got violent, and when he saw the gun, and heard it go off he reconsidered her inabilities about resisting serious violent bodily harm including death. I don't think it is because she is African American, but more about cash for a great legal team, as well as the 96% factor.

  7. There needs nation wide review into the justice system addressing incarceration rates, drug treatment programs instead of prison, judges getting paid by private prisons and racial discrimination in convictions and sentencing.

    The statistics for alot of these problems are astounding, it ruins lives, blows out state budgets and damages the whole country.

  8. I heard this story on Let's Talk About It Radio, based in Florida. They have been covering this case and spoke with Prosecutor Angela Corey this week – check out the write up about the show or listen here – she was ANGRY:

    Angela Corey is angry that the media is covering this story, and told them so. They also spoke with Lincoln Alexander, Marissa's first husband, who has been advocating for her.