How foolish or sensible a law really is comes to light first when someone actually breaks the law or, as in the Stand Your Ground trials in the States can clearly be seen, when different people claiming the same law as their defense have different stories to tell.
The first one is quite easy to relate: Zimmerman shot Martin who was unarmed and, apparently, had not threatened Zimmerman in any way. Apparently simply because there are conflicting stories and the case hasn’t been decided by a court yet.
The second is also easy to relate: Marissa Alexander shoots a weapon in the direction of her husband in her own home, no injuries reported.
There can’t be that many people who don’t know the Zimmerman / Martin case, it has been splashed across the newspapers and TV screens for quite a while, occasionally disappearing backstage when something else newsworthy appears, but still there pending the trial. The Alexander case is, however, something else.
Here we have a woman who has been abused and threatened by her husband – something which has been proven as fact through two previous court cases where he was convicted of physical abuse – who fears for her safety and wishes to get out of the house, She claims to have fled from his abusive advances but had to return into the house to get her car keys, did so with a gun and shot into the ceiling of the room when he came at her again. For this act the State Attorney prosecuted her, and the judge ruled that Stand Your Ground doesn’t apply.
The judge is, in effect, quite correct with his decision, although it is a shame it had to come so far. Alexander did not have to use a gun to protect herself, she did not have to leave the house using a car, she could have walked to a neighbor, to a friend, to the police and sought protection. Returning into the house was absolutely unnecessary and put her back into danger not only from her husband but also from the law. The Stand Your Ground law allows people to protect themselves without the need to retreat; Alexander had retreated and came back again, thus negating her legal protection.
To my way of thinking, though, the fact that this case came to trial is an failing of the State legal and personal protection systems. Regardless of the fact that Alexander could have left the house without using her car, that she didn’t need to return into the house, she was in a dangerous situation where her welfare, her safety was at stake. Her husband is a convicted abuser who was in the process of abusing her, or threatening violent abuse, again. At the very least she should have been able to find some form of protection from him rather than being prosecuted herself.
Admittedly, the Stand Your Ground defense was a major mistake on her part or on the part of her Attorney, who must have seen that she had removed herself from its protection by purposefully putting herself in danger. Likewise the refusal to accept a three year prison sentence deal and go to trial could be seen as a mistake; she must have been advised that the minimum sentence a judge can hand down in this case would be ten years without parole or early release.
That the State Attorney brought this prosecution in the first place is a bad reflection on the Attorney’s Office. Whilst I can understand their need to prosecute, a different offense as base for their prosecution would have been far better, far more efficient and would have stopped the wrong message being sent out to all other women who are threatened and abused by their husbands or other men. And, it must be added, to men who find themselves in the same situation.
To go a few steps further: why was the family allowed possession of a weapon? The man is a convicted criminal with a history of abuse, and yet there is a weapon permit issued either to him or to another family member in the same house?
Why, when she was constantly being violently abused by her husband – two convictions for battery – and has children, did Alexander return to him or let him back in the house to live with her? This is, sadly, a question which will probably never be answered in so many cases around the world.
Why, finally, did she have to return to the house to get her car keys when she could have walked – or run – away? Are we – as a generalisation – so lazy, so unused to walking any distance that we can’t even get out of danger’s way without a vehicle?
The case will go for review, whether an appeal court will see the whole in the same light as the State Attorney and judge depends on whether this Stand Your Ground defense is tried again. If it is, and I suspect it will be no matter how foolish, she will lose.
- Viktoria Michaelis.