Now that the trial of George Zimmerman is over and the outrage has abated
- in the media at least - the world has found other and frankly more outrageous crimes on which to focus. Sorry, we're not supposed to call that a crime on account of his acquittal, so let's just say that Martin didn't deserve to die, and leave it at that.
There have though been three other "stand your ground" cases that have been in the news recently, including that of Marissa Alexander
. While there was outrage at the acquittal of Zimmerman, there is similar outrage at the conviction and especially the sentence handed out to Alexander.
As might be expected, the usual suspects have attempted to make a race issue of this, but black woman shoots or shoots at black man is clearly no such thing. Leaving that aside, was her sentence of 20 years for firing "a warning shot" at her husband fair? Let's leave aside both race and stand your ground for a moment, and look at a couple of far more serious cases, one from the UK.
In January 1967, Dennis Stafford and Michael Luvaglio
executed a man in cold blood then faked an alibi. On their conviction they each received the mandatory life sentence, but were paroled after twelve years.
The second case is that of John Gordon, who is black. In 1992, Gordon committed a murder
, served a mere 12 years before being paroled, and two years ago was being sought in connection with another murder, a shooting.
Comparing disparate cases in different jurisdictions often leads to such anomalies, but what is the real issue here? It is not stand your ground, but the plea bargain system.
Plea bargaining has a bona fide
role in any criminal justice system. In the Joana Rodriguez case
, the state offered all the defendants except Linda Carty this option. This was because they were "obviously guilty" but minor players; it was Carty who planned and organised the kidnapping, and Carty alone who carried out the actual murder.
A plea bargain allows a defendant who may truly be remorseful to show remorse in a meaningful way, and to save both the time of the court and the cost of a trial.
In the United States though, truly Draconian sentences (except apparently for men like John Gordon) mean that defendants are often faced with stark choices, in Alexander's it was three years or twenty. Clearly she made the wrong call.
Although she has now been granted a new trial, she would be wise to take the offer of a plea bargain - if she is indeed offered one - which would mean she would have less than two years left, or may even walk free time served.
Whether or not that happens, the American courts should look at both their plea bargaining system and at some of the minimum sentences handed out, particularly in Florida, Texas and California. These should be replaced with the common sense legal principal of proportionality. In the UK, the maximum sentence for shoplifting is seven years. No one ever gets anything like that, even professional criminals.
There are two other stand your ground cases that have been in the news recently, both of them extraordinary. In July, a woman in Houston, Texas shot a man dead
at a gas station. Little or nothing has been heard of the case since, but the consensus of legal pundits appears to be that she will not be charged.
Finally, in Florida again, a man shot dead his own son. Here is the video
, and look who is commenting on it. Charged with only second degree murder, would you believe he was acquitted
? Having said that he was a police officer, albeit a retired one; the privilege money can't buy