steffanie rivers

Steffanie Rivers

*In Florida if you injure or kill an unarmed person – then claim self-defense despite all the evidence to the contrary – you can walk away without being arrested. And if by some miracle you are charged with a crime you could be exonerated. But if you fire a warning shot that doesn’t injure or kill anyone – because you feel threatened – you could get sentenced to a mandatory twenty years on prison.

Marisa Alexander of Jacksonville was sentenced to twenty years in prison last Friday after a jury convicted her in March of aggravated assault for firing a warning shot to scare away her abusive husband in August 2010. She didn’t shoot him. She shot towards him. But in some felony convictions in Florida, including aggravated assault where in Alexander’s case nobody actually was assaulted, there are mandatory minimums when a gun is used.

Angela Corey is the state prosecutor who tried the case against Alexander. Corey is the same prosecutor who took over the Trayvon Martin case in Sanford and charged Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, with second-degree murder. The Jacksonville woman turned down a three-year sentence offered as a plea bargain by the state before her conviction. But how anybody can justify an arrest, conviction and twenty year prison sentence for Alexander while millions of people across the country had to protest in the streets before Zimmerman was arrested for shooting and killing an unarmed teenager is beyond comprehension.

Then there’s the case in Miami last March where a homeowner stabbed to death a thief who tried to steal something from the homeowner’s car parked outside his apartment. Even though the car owner chased the thief at least a block away before stabbing him to death and even though the incident was caught on video from a nearby business and showed the thief trying to flee, a judge in Miami dismissed all charges against the car owner. Police offers who investigated this case were against dropping the charges.

‘Stand Your Ground’ is the controversial law at the center of all three cases. Clearly there is no rhyme or reason to how this law is upheld. That’s why the fight to get justice for Martin and his family is not over. Selective prosecution insures justice for nobody. State lawmakers in Florida and other places are teaming up with organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to push laws on the state level and under the national radar.  ‘Stand Your Ground’ was passed in Florida in 2005, but it’s hard to determine which of the 22 states passed it’s version of the law first. The Florida state lawmaker that introduced it credits the bill with decreasing crime there, but if you count all the people who are taking the law into their own hands crime actually has increased.

Instead of using selective prosecution tactics to pass and uphold questionable laws, Florida legislators should address the state’s growing illegal use of prescription drugs. In Florida anybody with a medical degree can write prescriptions. So drug addicts and users alike frequent Florida to get their stash. Most roadside clinics have in-house pharmacies. So if someone has the cash on hand he can pay for a doctor’s diagnosis, get a prescription and pick up the drugs at a one-stop-shop. One clinic in Orlando prescribed more oxycodone pills in four months than the entire state of California. And 93 of the medical doctors listed among the nation’s top 100 illegal pill pushers were residents of Florida in 2011. I wouldn’t be surprised if some Florida legislators are getting paid to ignore the lax medical laws the same way as they probably received incentives to pass “Stand Your Ground.”

But selective prosecution should not be tolerated. If you live in a state that has a ‘Stand Your Ground’ law tell your representative how you feel about it. And let him or her know you plan to stand your ground in the next election.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Send comments, questions and speaking requests to [email protected].