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'Warning shot' bill in Florida passes: Fla. self defense law amended

Crime scene tape (file photo)
Crime scene tape (file photo)
Wikimedia Commons

A "warning shot" bill in Florida was passed by lawmakers Thursday and is the first time the Sunshine State's self-defense laws were amended in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, where George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder. It was inspired in part by an outdated and "misused" law that gave Marissa Alexander a 20-year sentence after her conviction of on firing warning shots at her abusive husband, citing an April 4 Fox News report.

Alexander, a mom and Jacksonville resident was handed a lengthy mandatory jail sentence in 2012, which stemmed from a domestic shooting case two years earlier. Court reports say the woman was encountered at her home by her estranged husband, who was threatening her with violence.

Fearing for her safety, she fired warning shots in the direction of the man and two of his children. No one was hurt in the incident, but Alexander was charged with three counts of aggravated assault. She stood trial on the matter, was convicted by a Florida jury, and a given the mandatory sentence under the state's gun laws.

Essentially, the 1999 law -- which many say applies to felons trying to skirt the system -- says that anyone who shows a gun during certain acts receives a mandatory 10-year-sentence if convicted. If warning shots are fired or the weapon is discharged for any reason, another 10-year-sentence is attached. And if a person is wounded in the shooting, the accused receives a mandatory 25-to-life sentence.

Alexander tried to assert self-defense under the state's "Stand Your Ground" laws, but a judged denied the motion. However, she was released on bail and a new trial was ordered after another judge said the instructions to the jury were in error.

Currently, the woman's defense team is awaiting a decision on a motion for "Stand Your Ground" immunity, which could prevent her from standing trial again.

The passage of the "warning shot" bill largely received bi-partisan support and praise, but a minority of opponents spoke out against its implications.

There's two magic words the public's going to hear — warning shot. I just don't think it's responsible right now to encourage people to give warning shots — in the air, in a crowd or wherever," said Sen. Chris Smith, R-Fort Lauderdale, in rebuttal to the bill.

It's unknown what effect, if any, the "warning shot" bill will have on Marissa Alexander's case. However, many believe it represents a step in the right direction for changing Florida's controversial self-defense laws.

The bill is headed to Governor Rick Scott's office for a signature, but his staff will scrutinize it on its merits before it becomes law.

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