All In   |  July 15, 2013

What Marissa Alexander tells us about Florida justice

Chris Hayes talks about Marissa Alexander's case and her 20-year sentence with Jelani Cobb and Barry Scheck.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we offered her three years and kept that open. no, ma'am, three years in the prison which is down 17 years of of the 20 years. and we offered that to her and kept the offer open until right before she chose to go to a jury. you asked, did we show her mercy? we offered her a plea bargain . that's what we offer in cases where we weigh.

>> that's state attorney angela corey who was a prosecutor in the george zimmerman case. explaining her decision to offer a plea to marissa alexander . she did not take that plea. she's now doing 20 years in prison. still with me, jelani cobb from university of connecticut . and mr. scheck. there are differences, but side by side in the same jurisdiction, what do you see?

>> the thing i find most striking about this is she brought charges. she brought these charges against miss alexander voluntarily. she didn't have to. they were forced, essentially, by political pressures, and ongoing mass demonstrations to bring the charges against mr. zimmerman. so what it says to me is that she found this case more palatable. despite the fact that there'ses exculpatory evidence here, there is a track record of domestic violence. the ex-husband, the estranged husband did say he had been violent toward her and two previous women describing punching his ex-wife in the mouth. there are the instances of the restraining orders. and so this gives you a reason to say this person's life is in jeopardy.

>> and i think part of what makes the -- what made the verdict so hard to swallow on saturday night in the broad context is the fact that the way the criminal justice system works is that we all got to see this trial which is great, and the system working, and the reasonable doubt and a very vigorous defense, which i think is a very well-done defense in the context of putting on a defense, right? most of the american criminal justice system looks absolutely nothing like that. i mean, you look at this, it looks nothing like that.

>> nothing like it, and the overcharging, though, by angela corey, in this marissa alexander case, is so troubling. given the fact that the abusive husband , admittedly abusive husband , at one point recants his testimony, then flips back at the time of the trial. the son had recanted. you know, she's giving these statements that, oh, she went into the garage and came back and therefore she's not entitled to stand your ground . when she went into the garage, she couldn't get out. she was looking for her keys. that's why she brought the gun back. i mean, it just is the kind of case that screams out for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion. she should have never been put into that position in the first place where she's running the risk of 20 years.

>> i thought it was interesting this idea, well, we offered the plea and she didn't take it. pleaing is what the criminal justice system does. that's actually what these officers are prepared to do. the sheriff's criminal case going to trial dropped sharply. in 2010 , it's less than 5%. so what we're seeing is a system that now has, can dangle much harsher possible penalties for people. the much harsher penalty is the thing that scares people into pleaing. we have a system that is only equipped to plea people out. if everyone went to trial, the entire thing, right, the entire thing would collapse in on itself.

>> what we effectively do is curtail the right to a jury, a trial by jury of your peers. because you have two options, and a draconian sentence or a possibly terrible plea bargain .

>> right.

>> and so this is what we have. we wind up with situations like marissa alexander which we should say the issue is not solely her, but what happens to the next person who's innocent and knows about this case? they take a plea bargain . something they really shouldn't have ever been charged.

>> people will say about the criminal justice system , they'll be like, well, all these people are guilty. you know, that's -- and you, you know, you find the odd person who's innocent with your innocence project , and you find the dna.

>> not just a few.

>> but does the system do a good job of essentially exercising any discretion? i mean, is it mindful? is it just in who it prosecutes and who it doesn't?

>> well, it's become almost mindless because we have such an expansion, just take misdemeanors. people go to criminal court all the time on cases where they can't afford lawyers. the lawyers are overburdened, themselves. they don't have enough resources. if you want to come back to court five, six, seven times and lose your job, you have that option or take this misdemeanor plea with the collateral consequences. there are more people pleading guilty to misdemeanors who are innocent. it's beyond imagination.

>> once you plead a misdemeanor, you are marked by the system. you are now sorted into the pile of people that are suspicious from there on. jelani cobb from the university of connecticut . civil rights