Skip to main content

Shame of mandatory minimums shows in Marissa Alexander case

By Roland Martin, CNN Contributor
May 12, 2012 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Roland Martin says Marissa Alexander's imprisonment is a miscarriage of justice.
Roland Martin says Marissa Alexander's imprisonment is a miscarriage of justice.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Roland Martin: Marissa Alexander a victim of mandatory minimums
  • Alexander, who fired a gun into a wall, has been sentenced to 20 years
  • Martin says laws that prevent leeway in sentencing should be abolished

Editor's note: Roland S. Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for the TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."

(CNN) -- There is no reason Marissa Alexander should spend the next 20 years in prison.

If you are the most hardened law-and-order person in the world, even you should have some compassion for Alexander, the Jacksonville, Florida, woman who has been struck by the ridiculous Florida law known as 10-20-life.

The law requires anyone convicted of an aggravated assault when a firearm is discharged to serve a minimum of 20 years in prison with no regard to extenuating circumstances.

Alexander says that on August 1, 2010, her husband went into a rage and tried to strangle her after reading some text messages she sent to her ex-husband. She fled the family home, got to the garage and realized she didn't have her keys. Fearing for her life, she says she grabbed a gun and went back into the home to retrieve her keys.

She says her husband threatened to kill her, and to keep him at bay, she fired a warning shot into a wall.

Why was she charged, convicted and sentenced? Because State Attorney Angela Corey, the same prosecutor leading the Trayvon Martin case, said the gun was fired near a bedroom where two children were and they could have been injured.

Roland Martin
Roland Martin

Did the bullet hit the children? No. Did Alexander point the gun at her husband and hit him? No. She simply fired a warning shot, and according to Florida's shameful law, that's enough for a minimum 20-year sentence.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter and Facebook/CNNOpinion

Corey offered Alexander a three-year sentence in a plea bargain, but Alexander felt she had done nothing wrong and so rejected the plea.

In sentencing her, the judge made it clear that, despite all the pleas for mercy, including one from Alexander's 11-year-old daughter who took the stand, he was left with no choice but to send Alexander to jail for at least 20 years.

Alexander tried to invoke Florida's controversial stand your ground law in her defense, but that was rejected. Critics of the law's role in the Martin case have said this shows how the law is applied unevenly.

But the real issue here isn't the faulty stand your ground law. It's the ridiculous mandatory minimum sentences that have been approved by countless state legislatures and Congress.

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (PDF) that the federal sentencing guidelines in some types of cases should not be seen as mandatory but as "advisory," giving judges the leeway (PDF) to consider multiple factors before sentencing someone.

In a 2003 speech to the American Bar Association, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy railed against federal mandatory minimums, saying, "Our resources are misspent, our punishment too severe, our sentences too long."

"I can accept neither the necessity nor the wisdom of federal mandatory minimum sentences," Kennedy said. "In too many cases, mandatory minimum sentences are unwise or unjust."

Unfortunately, on the state level, far too many law-and-order legislators, most with no courtroom or law enforcement experience, enact such laws without giving any thought to potential cases like Alexander's.

The 10-20-life policy has no business in the laws of Florida or any other state.

Judges should have the discretion to consider a variety of factors in sentencing, and I have no doubt had this judge been given flexibility, Alexander wouldn't be going to prison for 20 years.

These types of injustices are common in our legal system, and it is necessary for everyone with a conscience to stand up and decry these so-called legislative remedies that end up as nightmares.

Alexander was a woman trying to flee an enraged husband. She could have easily pointed the gun at him and pleaded self-defense, and like George Zimmerman, the shooter in the Martin case who was not initially charged, Alexander might never have been arrested.

Our prison systems are overcrowded, and folks like Marissa Alexander do not belong in them.

One hopes that Florida Gov. Rick Scott will find some compassion and grant Alexander a pardon, and the Florida Legislature will revise the law to prevent future miscarriages of justice.

Florida elected officials and residents should be ashamed of this law and do all they can to change it.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland S. Martin.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2041 GMT (0441 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT