By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
Angela Corey has become a minor legal celebrity for her tough-minded prosecution of the Trayvon Martin murder case. Her toughness has also drawn the ire of U.S. House member Corrine Brown in a racially charged case in Jacksonville. The case involves Marissa Alexander who was charged under Florida’s “10-20-life” law which mandates progressively tough penalties for violent felonies when firearms are involved.
Saying he had no choice, Judge James Daniel sentenced the mother of an 11-year-old to 20 years in prison after a jury convicted her of aggravated assault for firing a warning shot to discourage her estranged husband from choking her. In a cruel irony another judge had rejected Alexander’s invocation of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, ruling she wasn’t in fear for her safety when she returned to her house to get the car keys she had forgotten after she ran into her garage in an attempt to escape.
The prosecutor was singled out for failing to exercise discretion in the case. “There is no justification for 20 years,” Brown told Corey, “All the community was asking for was mercy and justice.”
Corey had offered Alexander a plea deal which carried a three year sentence. Alexander bet on the good sense of the jury, and crapped out. Judge Daniel seemed frustrated by the case:
“Under the state’s 10-20-life law, a conviction for aggravated assault where a firearm has been discharged carries a minimum and maximum sentence of 20 years without regarding to any extenuating or mitigating circumstances that may be present, such as those in this case.”
Rep. Brown was not so diplomatic saying, “She was overcharged by the prosecutor. Period. She never should have been charged.” Brown, the Jacksonville congresswoman, told reporters that the case was a product of “institutional racism.” Corey said the case deserved to be prosecuted because Alexander fired in the direction of a room where two children were standing.
Mandatory minimum sentences ignore mitigating factors and punish under a “bright-line” test. They are the darling of the “law and order” crowd who see the world in stark shades of black and white and who eschew any discretion for “lily-livered” judges who have the disturbing habit of mixing compassion and justice in sentencing decisions.
Proponents of the 1999 “10-20-life” law point to the fact that violent gun crime rates have dropped 30 percent statewide since the law was enacted. Is 20 years fair for a woman trying to defend herself? Should the prosecutor have heeded Rep. Brown’s suggestion and backed off the charges altogether? Can a law be just in the face of a result that flies in the face of “natural justice”?
`Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger