In the wake of the recent Zimmerman trial, Shan Diddy (@shannycat81) posted a tweet that was retweeted over 7,000 times, including by noted skeptic, Paul Provenza.

Meanwhile, ALSO in Florida, a Black single mother gets 20 years in jail for firing "warning shots" into the AIR. cbsnews

The linked news article states:

A Florida woman who fired warning shots against her allegedly abusive husband has been sentenced to 20 years in prison. [...]

She was recently denied a new trial after appealing to the judge to reconsider her case based on Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law. The law states that the victim of a crime does not have to attempt to run for safety and can immediately retaliate in self-defense.

Did the Florida court system jail Marissa Alexander for 20 years merely for firing warning shots in the air, in self-defense?

  • What source claims that she was sentenced "for firing warning shots in the air, in self-defense".
    – user5582
    Jul 14, 2013 at 15:23
  • @Sancho: The cited tweet says "into the AIR". The "self-defense" part is trickier. The CBS News article says her attorney says she was defending herself. I also interpret "warning shots" as indicating self-defense. If they are interpreted as an offensive move, there is less of an issue to be upset about. (Then the issue isn't that she was found guilty, but that she received such a heavy sentence for it.)
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 14, 2013 at 15:45
  • 1
    I know this is not the part you were asking about, but the use of the term "Meanwhile" in the tweet is pretty disingenuous. The sentencing for this case happened over a year ago.
    – Kip
    Jul 21, 2013 at 20:22
  • It seems like the fact is she served three years. Secondly, "In the air" is a very dubious phrase. If I aim to shoot you in the eyeball, and it misses your head, I just fired a shot "in the air".
    – Fattie
    Jun 12, 2018 at 17:47

2 Answers 2



  • Yes, she was found guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and sentenced to 20 years prison.
  • Yes, there was testimonial from a witness that she fired "in the air" (while inside the house).

The news article in question says:

(CBS News) JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Florida woman who fired warning shots against her allegedly abusive husband has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

I looked into Duval County public records. Duval County is the county which Jacksonville is in.

From Duval Public Records

From the picture above. Judge name: Daniel James. It's the same as is credited to in the news article. Her name is the same too. The incident happened August 2010.

More from Duval Public Records

Date of her being sentenced to prison is correct too, it's 11th May 2012. And she is sentenced to 20 years.

Article also state she had earlier run-ins with the law. Which also is true, according to picture below.

enter image description here

All side data is correct. Do notice she asked for a divorce in 2011, and the name of her husband. Now onto the claim of her being sentenced 20 years to prison for firing warning shots.

enter image description here

Aggravated Assault - Deadly weapon.

A person is guilty of aggravated assault if he or she attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another or causes such injury purposely, knowingly, or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life; or attempts to cause or purposely or knowingly causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon.

Wikipedia on Assault

At Common Law, an intentional act by one person that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent harmful or offensive contact.

An assault is carried out by a threat of bodily harm coupled with an apparent, present ability to cause the harm. It is both a crime and a tort and, therefore, may result in either criminal or civil liability.

A threat of bodily harm is enough.

Aggravated Assault

Aggravated assault is, in some jurisdictions, a stronger form of assault, usually using a deadly weapon. A person has committed an aggravated assault when that person attempts to:

  • cause serious bodily injury to another person with a deadly weapon

It's enough to be considered to ATTEMPT to cause serious bodily injury, or even just use threats about it. Shooting a warning shot can easily be considered as aggravated assault.

Her husband had been to court for domestic violence earlier.

enter image description here

Florida also have the 10-20-Life law when it comes to guns.

The law's name comes from three main mandatory sentences: 1) producing a firearm during the commission of certain felonies mandates at least a 10-year prison sentence; 2) firing one mandates at least a 20-year prison sentence; and 3) shooting someone mandates a minimum sentence of 25 years to life regardless of whether a victim is killed or simply injured.

The second part of the question is whether she fired "in the air" in "self-defense".

This document reasonable purports to the witness deposition statement from her second husband. (Warning: Contains disturbing descriptions of domestic violence.)

In the deposition, the husband several times uses the term "in the air" to describe Alexander firing away from him, while inside their home.

And she shot in the air one time. And when she shot in the air, that's when I grabbed the boys and I pushed the out the door.


The gun was never actually pointed at me. When she raised the gun down and raised it up, you know, the gun was never pointed at me.

In this context, "in the air" just seems to mean firing up - not pointed at him or the children - rather than meaning firing into the sky.

He also describes (prior to the shooting) physically and verbally threatening her, physically blocking her exit, and her getting past him, and running to the garage (where she got the gun from a car).

she ran through the laundry room into the garage, but I knew she -- I didn't know she was going to get a gun but I knew that she couldn't leave out the garage because the garage door was locked, because when I came home that morning my garage door wan't working because we was having problems with the garage and it wouldn't go up, you know, it wouldn't go up.

In relation to a question hinting at the self-defense angle, he stated:

I honestly think she just didn't want me to put my hands on her anymore so she did what she feel she have to do to make sure she wouldn't get hurt, you know. You know, she did what she had to do.

It might reasonably be argued that, in this statement, he is attempting to make Alexander sound innocent and diminish any criminal act she may have committed. He contradicts his previous police report (saying he was originally lying) and may not have been considered a reliable witness. Nonetheless, it seems reasonable for a newspaper reporter to use this witness testimony to describe the crime.

In conclusion, any tweet is too short to contain a full context, but it is a reasonable summary of the husband testimonial as to what happened, and is accurate about the outcome - with an understanding that "in the air" is used to mean "into the ceiling".

  • 1
    CNN had a really good write-up on this that I think would alleviate the need for most of the screen shots - cnn.com/2012/05/11/justice/florida-stand-ground-sentencing
    – rjzii
    Jul 14, 2013 at 15:02
  • Well, @Martin, that us a legal question and until there are appeals it has been ruled that that defence doesn't apply here.
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 22, 2013 at 1:26
  • @MartinSchröder - sounds like her husband lied about her shooting in the air given the original police report once he realized the consequences to her due to prior offenses. Do you even remotely understand the point of "stand your ground" laws aside from political talking point that they are "against minorities"?
    – user5341
    Jul 23, 2013 at 13:15
  • 3
    @Wildling not if one of the shots was just above a 12 year old's head. “[The shot] was at eye level with my client, right above his 12-year-old. When you have a 12-year-old child who testified to a jury that ‘I thought I was fixin’ to die,’ I’m sorry that is not a misdemeanor…When you shoot a gun that puts a 12-year-old child in fear for his life, that changes things and I think it was prosecuted appropriately.” allvoices.com/article/16718943 Anyway, she was only sentenced to 3 years jail plus 2 years monitoring after pleading guilty.
    – DavePhD
    Jun 4, 2015 at 15:47
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    note that the question asks "did a woman GET 20 years in jail". the first sentence of this answer could perhaps confuse things. (in the US, "initial" sentencing is a bit of a joke.) she got three years, and probably served 1 or so.
    – Fattie
    Jun 12, 2018 at 17:55

No, she has admitted under oath that she is guilty of assaulting two children and her husband with a firearm.

She "left the house to get a gun from the garage, returned and fired a shot in the direction of Gray and his two young sons." Source

She was originally sentenced to 20 years, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. She then pled guilty to 3 counts of aggravated assault with firearm and was sentenced to 3 years.

Please see the handwritten letter from one of the children she fired in the direction of:

I constantly see very disturbing things online, on television, and even posters around Jacksonville stating "Mom sentenced to 20 years for firing a warning shot....but 'nobody' was hurt". Well I might not of been hurt physically but I was hurt emotionally and mentally, so that tells me I'm a "nobody" in the mind of the public, and that puts me in more pain and and suffering then a bullet wound.

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