Warning shot legislation passes Fla. House

Measure could have implications on Marissa Alexander trial

By Scott Johnson - Reporter , Elizabeth Berry

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Florida House has approved a measure that will allow warning shots; that measure could have implications on the Marissa Alexander trial.

Supporters of the change said people can be serving too long of sentences because they fired a warning shot, while others say it could be too hard to determine what would be considered a warning shot.

"What legislators are saying is that the way that the law had been previously applied by prosecutors was not their intent, that they did not intend for people firing a warning shot to be subject to Florida's 10-20-Life law and looking at 10 to 20 years minimum mandatory (in jail)," said attorney Rhonda Peoples-Waters.

Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk County, who sponsored the bill, said the bill came from prosecutors misapplying the 10-20-Life law when there's the commission of a crime.

"I think people understand that there's a need for it. They do understand that there's a conflict between 10-20-Life of 'stand your ground,' there's examples that we're all aware of," said Combee. "We think there's been a misapplication of the law of the 10-20-Life that we need to fix it."

Most of the debate Thursday, however, centered on an amendment by House Minority Leader Perry Thursday, D-Fort Lauderdale, that sought to repeal the "stand your ground" law.


Thurston filed the amendment, he said in an email before the vote, because under the law, "Innocent people have been killed and the perpetrators have been able to walk away. … 'Stand your ground' encourages citizens to use force if they 'feel' threatened even if no real threat exists."

Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, pointed to black mothers who warn their teenage sons, "Be careful, because a black boy's life is not as valuable."

The law "may work for your community, but it's not working for ours," Fullwood, an African American, said to other House members.

While Democrats and Republicans went back and forth about the law, few of the arguments were new and Thurston's amendment failed in an 83-31 vote.

The so-called warning shot measure could also have implications in the Alexander case. Alexander was released, having argued that she fired a warning shot at her estranged husband, Rico Gray. Alexander is facing up to 60 years in jail after rejecting a plea deal because of 10-20-Life.

"It certainly may, if it is clear through the evidence that is laid out that this is just an warning shot and no intent to do any other type of harm," said Peoples-Waters.

Peoples-Waters said one issue that could come up is proving a warning shot was actually a warning shot. That's an issue in the Alexander case; prosecutors said Alexander did not fire warning shots at her husband, but rather tried to shoot him while his children were present.

The Senate version of the bill (SB 448) could be approved next week.

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