I think that I can safely say that every Jacksonville criminal attorney has heard of the Marissa Alexander case. This case is not just well known among Jacksonville criminal lawyers. It is popular throughout the nation, and it may change the law that governs self-defense cases in Florida. A couple of days ago, I wrote an article on the Jacksonville criminal defense lawyers website. The article was titled Florida Self Defense Law Expanded to Include Warning Shots. It discussed how the Florida House of Representatives passed a bill known as the Warning Shot Bill. The bill must still make it through the Florida Senate. “This bill was born from concerns about the case of Jacksonville woman Marissa Alexander who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a gun in the direction of her estranged husband. An appeals court has ordered a new trial for her.”
The Warning Shot Bill would expand Florida’s self defense laws. People are concerned that this new self-defense law will lead to people being able to fire a gun as a mere warning instead of when they truly fear that their lives are threatened. People are afraid that the bill will give people a green flag to solve their problems with guns and violence.
So what exactly is the Florida Warning Shot Bill? How will this bill change the self defense laws in Florida? WCJT News reported on a discussion between Florida Coastal School of Law professor, Rod Sullivan, and Karen Feagins of First Coast Connect about the proposed law:
“Sullivan said calling the proposal the ‘Warning Shot Bill’ is somewhat of a misnomer as the bill does not legalize the firing of warning shots. ‘The only time you could fire a warning shot is when you would already have the right to fire a lethal shot,’ Sullivan explained, noting that the bill does not allow the threat of lethal force to protect property. ‘The way the law works right now is, you’re better off, if somebody is threatening your life or serious bodily injury, you’re better off killing them,’ Sullivan said. ‘If you kill them you have Stand Your Ground, if you fire a warning shot, you don’t.’”
Today, a warning shot is considered aggravated assault in Florida. Aggravated assault triggers the Florida 10-20-Life Law. Sullivan stated that under the new law, “If a judge finds that you had a good faith belief that a warning shot was necessary, but you were wrong, and you’re convicted, we don’t have to put you in 10-20-life.” She further stated that, “The judge can use discretion to use the sentencing guidelines that are used for somebody who assaults somebody with a knife, and doesn’t have to put somebody in jail for the full 20 years.”
As a Jacksonville criminal attorney, I have seen problems with the 10-20-Life Law. Anytime a minimum sentence is imposed, it takes away discretion from the judge. It also creates an injustice in certain cases. While we do not want to encourage people to fire guns every time they feel threatened, I understand the premise of the new law. I also understand the fears that the general public may have with expanding the Stand Your Ground Law and the affect it could have on the community.