Warning Shot

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. State lawmakers spent two hours discussing whether people who feel threatened should be immune from prosecution if they fire a warning or non-lethal shot. The change is intended to send a message to prosecutors whom lawmakers believe have misused the current stand your ground law.

In 2012, Marissa Alexander was offered three years in prison for firing a gun in the direction of her estranged husband. She refused, claimed self-defense under Stand Your Ground, lost and got 20 years. A court has ordered a new trial.

Now lawmakers are moving quickly to add the words "threatened use of force" to the Stand Your Ground law. Marion Hammer of the N.R.A has some strong feelings. "You should not be punished and sent to prison for refusing to take a life."

Rep. Neil Combee, Republican of Polk County says they say they're sending a message to what they believe are over-zealous prosecutors. "We want to send a message to prosecutors everywhere that here's the intent of Stand Your Ground, here's the intent of our law."

The measure has cleared the full house and is slated for a final vote in the Senate. Lawmakers say that they're sending a message, prosecutors say, they're not really listening.

Prosecutor Willie Meggs of Tallahassee says the law already allows people to threaten the use of force without going to jail. "If you can cause somebody to leave you alone that you're in fear of by shooting a shot in the ground or up in the air, I think you probably always been able to do that."

But Meggs and others are worried about one part of the bill, which they say turns their job upside down. "The prosecutor has the burden of proving what a defendant was thinking."

The legislation also lets people who are arrested but later let go for threatening force to have their arrest records expunged.

The legislation also encourages people like Marissa Alexander to apply for clemency, sending a message to the Governor that lawmakers don't think threatening force should send someone to jail.


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