Florida “Warning Shot” Bill Inspired By Marissa Alexander Case Doesn’t Authorize Warning Shots Or Excuse Alexander

Posted at 10:35 am on April 04, 2014 by Bob Owens

Fox News (and other media outlets) are reporting that Florida’s so called “warning shots” legislation inspired by the Marissa Alexander case is almost certain to become law.

The Florida Senate on Thursday approved the so-called warning shot bill, moving to significantly revise the state’s self-defense laws for the first time since the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

The bill, which was partly inspired by the case of a Jasonville woman sentenced to 20 years in prison after firing a shot near her estranged husband during an altercation, passed the chamber 32-7. The woman, Marissa Alexander, is out on bail awaiting a new trial.

The bill, which earlier received backing from the Republican-controlled House, now goes to the desk of Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Alexander had tried to assert a “stand your ground” defense, but a judge rejected her claim. She was sentenced under a 1999 law called “10-20-life” in which mandatory sentences are imposed for using a gun in certain cases.

That law requires that anyone who shows a gun in the commission of certain felonies receive an automatic 10 years in prison. If a gun is fired, it’s an automatic 20 years under that law. Shoot and wound someone and the mandatory sentence is 25 years to life.

The warning shot bill, however, would allow for instances of threatened use of force without falling under the rule of “10-20-life.”

NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer and supporters said “10-20-life” wasn’t intended to be used in self-defense cases.

ripped into the bill last month, concerned over just how deadly a bill authorizing warning shots would be. Worldwide, hundreds of people are killed every year by bullets fired into the air, and bullets fired into hard ground, walls, ceilings or floors kill and injury people every year.

My mistake is that I trusted that the mainstream media journalists reporting on the law actually knew what they were talking about.

They aren’t even close.

Andrew Branca, Bearing Arms contributor and author of The Law Of Self Defense, did an excellent job yesterday of dissecting the legislation, SB-448, at Legal Insurrection:

Much of the discussion of SB-448 is replete with terms like “warning shot” and “stand-your-ground.” In reality, however, the law does not even mention the term “warning shot,” nor does it make any substantive changes whatever to Florida’s stand-your-ground law.

So, what exactly does SB-448 do (note: the full text of the proposed bill is embedded at the bottom of this post, but all hyperlinks are to the statutes as they currently exist prior to modification by SB-448)? Here’s a bulleted list, with details below. In summary SB-448 provides:

  • No statutory authorization for firing “warning shots”—indeed, the statutory language would deny justification to any “warning shot” that “poses a threat to public safety,” which would seem to apply to all but the rarest circumstances.
  • No substantive change to stand-your-ground.
  • Where the use of force would have been lawful in defense of a person, the mere threat is also lawful in defense of a person.
  • Where the use of force would have been lawful in defense of a home, business, or occupied vehicle, the mere threat of force is also lawful in defense of a home, business, or occupied vehicle.
  • Where the use of force would have been lawful in defense of personal property or to prevent a forcible felony, the mere threat of force is also lawful in defense of personal property or to prevent a forcible felony.
  • Where immunity would attach to a use of force, immunity will similarly attach to a mere threat of force.
  • Allows for expunction of criminal history associated with a lawful act of self-defense.

You’ll notice that nothing in the bill authorizes the firing of warning shots. In fact, as Branca is careful to note, the bill contains language that makes it clear that warning shots cannot possibly be authorized in most circumstances:

First, SB-448 modifies Florida’s 775.087, “10-20-Life” statute to exclude cases of aggravated assault where a court makes a finding that:

  1. The defendant had a good faith (even if erroneous) belief that they were acting in lawful self-defense;
  2. The aggravated assault was not committed in the course of another crime;
  3. The defendant did not pose a threat to public safety; and
  4. The totality of the circumstances involved in the offense do not justify the imposition of a “10-20-Life” sentence.

Make particular note of condition (3)—this would explicitly exclude “warning shots” that represented a threat to public safety. Contrary to those who claim that SB-448 advocates or authorizes “warning shots,” this bill actually makes clear that such “warning shots” would be acceptable only under circumstances where discharging a round would “not pose a threat to public safety”.

Basically, the bill serves to make it legal to warn people that you have a weapon and that you will use it in self defense. It addresses what must be considered a “glitch” in existing Florida law that allowed people to use force for self defense, but wouldn’t allow those under attack to warn aggressors that they were about to use such force.

As for Marissa Alexander, who was found guilty of three counts of aggravated assault and sentenced to 20 years before being granted a new trial, the bill won’t help her a bit.

Alexander—who has tried to claim immunity under “Stand Your Ground”twice to have it rejected by two different courts and which is currently trying to assert it again—was on trial because she left her abusive husband’s home, retrieved her handgun from her car in the garage, and returned to fire a shot at him that missed him head-high, as the bullet hole in the center of the wall in the picture below clearly shows.

Alexander wasn’t “standing her ground” and wasn’t firing a shot that could be construed as warning… it was simply a miss.

If there is any justice in Florida, Marissa Alexander will once again be denied “stand your ground” immunity, and will once again be tried and convicted.

This  new legislation won’t matter in her defense, but will go a long way towards helping prevent charges for the truly innocent.