Jacob Sullum

At that stage, however, the burden was on Alexander to prove her self-defense claim by a preponderance of the evidence. During her trial, the burden shifted to the prosecution, which had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she did not act in self-defense.

Hence the jurors, who deliberated for only 12 minutes, could have acquitted Alexander even if they deemed her story less plausible than Gray's. Similarly, Zimmerman's acquittal did not necessarily mean the jury was thoroughly convinced his shooting of Martin was justified.

Since Zimmerman claimed Martin tackled and pinned him, he did not assert the right to stand your ground when attacked in public, the defining feature of Florida's law. Likewise Alexander, who claimed her husband threatened her in the home they shared. Under a decision the Florida Supreme Court issued six years before the state legislature enacted the "stand your ground" law, women in that situation have no duty to retreat, either.

If racial bias played a role in Alexander's case, the problem seems unrelated to the 2005 changes in Florida's self-defense law. Data collected by the Tampa Bay Times indicate that since then blacks making self-defense claims have fared as well as whites.

The Alexander case does clearly indict another aspect of Florida law: the state's absurdly harsh mandatory minimum sentences. Whether you believe her story or not, this woman does not deserve two decades in prison.


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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