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December 2013: Quinn Emanuel Obtains Re-Trial for Woman Sentenced to 20 Years for Firing Warning Shot

December 2013

In an important pro bono victory, Quinn Emanuel succeeded before Florida’s First District Court of Appeal in obtaining reversal of the conviction of Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old Florida mother of three who was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to a mandatory minimum of twenty years under Florida’s “10-20-Life” statute. Alexander, a victim of serial spousal abuse, was forced to fire a warning shot to ward off an attack from her husband in her own home. Alexander was denied immunity under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law by the trial court on the ground that she could have fled from her home instead of firing her weapon. At trial, she argued that she had acted in self-defense. The jury returned a guilty verdict and she was sentenced to a mandatory 20 years despite having no prior record.

Quinn Emanuel entered the case at the appellate stage. After scouring the record, Quinn Emanuel’s attorneys identified two significant errors in the jury instructions given regarding Alexander’s claim of self-defense. First, the jury was instructed that, in order to find that she had acted in self-defense, Alexander was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she was in fear of an aggravated battery by her spouse, when it is the State’s burden as a matter of law to prove that Alexander did not act in self defense. Second, the jury was instructed that Alexander could not have acted in self-defense unless the victim suffered “injury.” Plainly, no one had been injured by her warning shot. As the jury instructions given were, in fact, the standard instructions approved for use generally by the Florida Supreme Court, it was incumbent on Quinn Emanuel to argue why, in Alexander’s case, those standard instructions were inapplicable, and, in fact, undermined her assertion of self-defense.

On September 26, 2013, the First District issued an order reversing Alexander’s conviction and remanding for a new trial. It agreed with Quinn Emanuel that the jury instructions were fundamentally flawed in both respects, and that, because both the defense and the prosecution had argued at trial that the jury’s only question was whether Alexander had acted in self-defense, the flawed jury instructions had deprived Alexander of a fair trial.

Quinn Emanuel intends to seek bail for Alexander, and will represent her at her re-trial.