People in Florida who feel threatened can now use non-lethal force to scare away potential attackers without the fear of prison time.
The so-called “warning shot” legislation signed by Gov. Rick Scott last week was inspired by a Jacksonville mother who was sent to jail for shooting at her estranged husband.
Marissa Alexander was originally offered a plea deal that included three years in prison. She turned it down.
She was convicted in 2012 of aggravated assault on charges that she fired a gun at Rico Gray and two of his children and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. But the conviction and sentence were overturned last fall, and Alexander is now out, awaiting a retrial that is scheduled for December.
But if she is re-convicted, the “warning shot” legislation encourages her -- and anyone convicted under the statute -- to apply for executive clemency.
“It absolutely is a message to the Clemency Board,” said Marion Hammer of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida. “The Clemency Board can make right the wrongs committed by prosecutors.”
It was Alexander's case that first inspired the so-called “warning shot” legislation championed by the National Rifle Association.
“This bill is not really about warning shots,” Hammer said. “This bill is about stopping abuse and protecting your right of self-defense.
“Self-defense is not a crime. Self-defense is a right guaranteed by the Constitution.”
More cases besides Alexander's could qualify for clemency under the legislation, but how many won’t be clear until they start making applications.
Also, anyone who is initially charged and later has the charges dropped can apply to have the arrest record expunged.