Alexander retrial delayed by 'warning-shot bill'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A circuit judge on Tuesday pushed back Marissa Alexander's retrial by five months to consider the implications of the so-called "warning-shot bill" passed by the Florida Legislature and awaiting Gov. Rick Scott's signature.

Alexander's 2012 conviction and 20-year sentence were overturned last fall.  She was found guilty of firing of what she claimed was a warning shot during a fight with her estranged husband.

Alexander was sentenced under the state's 10-20-Life guidelines on charges that she fired a gun at Rico Gray and two of his children.

Before the first trial, Alexander's request for immunity under the state's self-defense law, better known as the stand your ground law, was denied. But as she awaited a new trial on charges of armed aggravated assault, her lawyers have filed a motion for reconsideration of her stand your ground claim.

Her attorney is now asking that Alexander should be granted a second "stand your ground" hearing prior to her retrial.

At Tuesday's hearing, the defense argued that with the pending legislation, it would be unrealistic to get everything together and organized for trial by the scheduled July 21 date, and the state agreed.

"It changes the standard that would be applied to her," defense attorney Bruce Zimet said of the pending law. "Obviously the new standard was passed partly with her in mind."

Judge James Daniel pushed back the trial to December, with jury selection set for Dec. 1 and opening statements to being on Dec. 8.

"Everyone calls it the warning-shot bill, but it's a lot more than that. It addressed a lot of ambiguities," Daniel said, adding it's fair to wait on trial to "examine whether it (the warning shot bill) has retroactive properties."

Alexander's case has drawn national attention and frequent protests. Her attorneys are hopeful she will have a more favorable outcome this time around, and despite the wait, they said at least Alexander will have more time with her family.

"It's not easy, but considering the alternative to where she was, it's certainly a much better opportunity to be with her family," Zimet said. "As we said from Day One, Marissa believes in the system, and sometimes the system doesn't work as quickly as you want it to, but she believes at the end the system will get the right result."

Alexander's next court date is set for Aug. 1, when the judge may rule on allowing Alexander to have a stand your ground hearing before her trial. The state and defense will be given the opportunity to talk about any other motions.

"If she goes to trial and she loses, she faces the possibility of 60 years in the Florida state prison," said attorney Gene Nichols, who's not affiliated with the case. "Her lawyers are going to take every step possible to keep that from happening."

As for the warning shot bill, Nichols said nowhere in the warning shot bill does it mention retroactivity. He said even if it did, it would be retroactive to the date of her trial, not the date of the crime for which she's charged.

"The statute didn't exist at that time, and since it didn't, even if it does not, she will not be afforded the opportunity to allege this new immunity if it does become law," Nichols said.

He said rarely do you see anything come out of the legislator in a criminal case that's retroactive because of the repercussion.

"Just imagine that if it was retroactive, in those cases that are five years old, 10 years old, 15 years old, somebody had the right to have a hearing if they've been sitting in prison on a 20-year sentence and it's 15 years in, the problem with witnesses, files, if the case could even be proven or not, it would create such a can of worms that you almost never see a case where a law becomes retroactive in the criminal realm," Nichols said.