A Florida woman who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot at her estranged husband during a dispute will get a new trial.
Marissa Alexander, who fired a shot at a wall to scare off her husband when she felt he was threatening her, has been held up as an example of the unfairness of the application of the state's controversial "stand your ground" laws, which came to national prominence after the shooting death of teen Trayvon Martin last year.
The state's 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Thursday the trial judge handling Alexander's case had failed to properly instruct the jury on what is necessary to prove self defense.
Just Robert Benton said the trial judge's instructions had put undo pressure on Alexander to prove self-defense "beyond a reasonable doubt."
"The defendant does not have the burden of proof to prove the victim (her husband) guilty of the aggression defended against beyond a reasonable doubt," the appeals court said.
Alexander was blocked by the judge from using the "stand your ground" law in her defense, which the appeals judge said was the right decision.
"This is a welcome development in a case that represents the double standards in our justice system," said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. "From the streets to the courthouse, race continues to influence the judicial process, and it certainly seemed to have played a role here."
Alexander had no prior arrests on Aug. 1, 2010, the day she fired a bullet at a wall in the home she formerly shared with her husband, Rico Gray. They'd had a baby together just nine days earlier, but she had a restraining order out against him.
Alexander said she went to her home, thinking he was gone, to pick up some of her belongings. After an argument began, she went out to her car to get her legally owned gun and returned to the house.
Gray testified she aimed at him and looked away before firing, and the trial judge threw out the "stand your ground claim" because she went outside to get the gun, rather than just leaving.