TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - A woman sentenced to 20 years in prison after firing a "warning shot" during an argument with her abusive husband won a new trial on Thursday in a case under Florida's controversial self-defense law.
A state appeals court ruled that Marissa Alexander, 32, deserved a new trial because the judge failed to properly instruct the jury regarding her claim of self-defense.
No one was injured in the shooting but because Alexander fired a gun in the incident, Florida's mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines required the judge to sentence her to 20 years in prison.
The case of Alexander, who is black, drew criticism from civil rights groups concerned about self-defense laws and mandatory minimum sentencing rules.
Alexander's fate received little attention until her May 2012 conviction in the wake of the case of volunteer watchman George Zimmerman who said he shot a teenager in self defense.
Under the so-called "Stand Your Ground" law, people fearing for their lives can use deadly force without having to retreat from a confrontation, even when it is possible.
The 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee said in Thursday's ruling that the trial judge made a "fundamental error" when he instructed the jury that Alexander was required to prove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.
"The defendant's burden is only to raise a reasonable doubt concerning self defense," Appeals Court judge Robert Benton wrote for the court.