“Stand your ground” is a law in Alabama that gives any victim a chance to plead their case in court if the crime is committed as a matter of self-defense. In 2020, Brittany Smith, a resident of Alabama, made a claim to stand her ground after being charged with the murder of her rapist Todd Smith, but her case was rejected. The Netflix documentary, “State of Alabama vs Brittany Smith,” revolves around the issues faced by women and the breach of law. Brittany was charged with murder and had to serve a sentence. This documentary is not just about Brittany Smith, but the injustice faced by thousands of women in the USA who take action against their rapists or abusers. The documentary has been portrayed with views from Ramona (Brittany’s mother), Chris (Brittany’s brother), and Ashley Remkus (a journalist). The Supreme authorities of the state of Alabama chose not to make any comments for the documentary. “State of Alabama vs Brittany Smith” is a rollercoaster ride; it makes us sad, angry, and empathetic but, above all, makes us question the sanity of our system.
Brittany Smith is a mother of four children. She grew up with her brother Chris in Jackson County, Stevenson. Her mother, Ramona, got divorced when Brittany and Chris were around four and eight. She was a single mom and worked overtime to make a living. Brittany got married when she was 19; later, she got separated but would often get back together with her husband. Brittany had a hard time managing everything, but she hit rock bottom when she lost her baby to Potter’s syndrome. With no clear direction, she made peace with drugs while fighting depression. Brittany’s actions made her lose custody of her other children; she couldn’t live with it. She was miserable. Her mother took the initiative to get her clean, and she did relapse a couple of times, but with her mother’s constant support, she pulled herself back. She started working again, trying to make a comfortable living situation for her children. After getting clearance from social services, Brittany decided to get a puppy for her children. That’s how Brittany got in touch with Todd. Brittany had met Todd back in high school a couple of times. She thought she was getting a clean slate in life, but she was nowhere near prepared to handle what was coming next.
On January 18, 2018, Brittany got a phone call from Todd who asked her for a favor and requested her to pick him up from a park. Brittany agreed to help out a friend she thought was in need. She made it clear to Tom that he could stay on the couch for one night but would have to leave the very next day. Brittany narrates how they were talking, and she was telling him about how things were moving forward for her in life and that she was getting her kids back. It was at this moment that Tom attacked Brittany and headbutted her. He starts screaming. Brittany ran to her room and slammed her door. Tom entered the room, busted the door, and tackled her on the bed. He starts choking her on her bed, and she blacks out. She thought she was going to die at that moment. The moment she gains consciousness, she realizes she is being raped, and she has wet herself. Tom threatens to kill her if she tells anyone about it. Around 12.40, she called her mother, asking her to get a pack of cigarettes. Ramona had worked a long shift that day; she asked Chris to go over to Brittany’s and get her a pack. The Smiths had only one car available, so Chris went over. The camera then shifts to Chris as he narrates the events from his perspective. He thought that it was going to be just him and Brittany going over to buy a pack of cigarettes, but Todd appeared. Brittany sat in the front seat of the car, and Todd was behind them. Chris tells how he failed to notice that something was wrong. They went over to Mapco’s. Paige Painer, a store clerk, realized something was wrong and explained how Brittany, at that time, looked like she had been in a fight. She asked Brittany if something was wrong but was shushed. Without drawing much attention to herself, she explained to Paige her whole situation. After leaving Mapco’s, they head back to the house. Todd leaves first and heads to the stairs. Brittany took advantage of the situation and asked Chris to go back to Mapco’s and speak to one of the clerks. He was clueless, and after speaking to Paige, he headed back to the house. He had a pistol with him. In the kitchen, he asked Todd to leave, and with his gun on the counter, he tried to physically move Todd. Brittany comes down to the kitchen and finds Todd choking her brother. She holds the gun in her hand, asking Todd to leave peacefully. After constant callouts, she points the gun at Todd and shoots. She fires the first round, and nothing happens. She fires two more rounds, and the bullets hit Todd soon after which both Todd and Chris fall to the ground. At 1:37 am, she dialed 911, asking for an ambulance. Initially, Chris tries to take the blame for the shooting, knowing that if his sister gets caught, she will lose her kids. Brittany later turned herself in; she was charged with murder and had to spend ten months detained. Ramona pawned her wedding ring and bonded the title of her car to cover the $6,000 bail cost. Ramona is proud of her daughter for fighting back; she faced injustice when the police took her away. She was a victim too. She lost her children and her job.
After some research, the Smiths found out about the “stand your ground” self-defense law. Ron Smith, Brittany’s attorney, knew she would make the perfect case for standing your ground. She was in an endangered situation at her own home, where she was held hostage, and her brother was on the verge of death; she made a justifiable case. She was driven not to plead guilty and prove her innocence. “State of Alabama vs Brittany Smith” reflects how, in the South, women or people from minorities are ignored and neglected. Their stories and their circumstances are viewed from different perspectives. In a way, it’s considered okay to sustain domestic violence or sexual abuse, as if there is no problem with enduring pain for all these problems. Doesn’t that make us question how society makes us live with situations that aren’t acceptable? The “stand your ground” hearing took place on January 14, 2020. The hearing wasn’t easy on Brittany; she was asked some severe questions. Brittany testified to 33 injuries on her body; it was of great help, but the nurses denied that she could make a claim if those injuries meant that she was raped. Although, the nurses also mentioned that in sexual assault cases, it’s not easy to always clearly justify if the victim has been raped. The prosecutor came across a conversation between Brittany and 911 in which Brittany denied that she was being raped.
Brittany had been diagnosed with PTSD, and she was traumatized. Todd was traced with high levels of methamphetamine (meth) in his body. More charges against Todd were discovered with regard to domestic violence and assault. Todd’s ex-wife explained how she had gone through similar situations to what Brittany had had to face. She explained incidents where she was tied with duct tape by Todd for days. On finding the right opportunity, Brittany made a call to her mom, manipulating Todd into smoking. She felt her mother would be able to rescue her. She left her mother’s contact details with Paige too, but her dignity was questioned by the court. The court questioned: “If she was really in danger, why didn’t she call the police?” They failed to understand the lack of justice in the area. The women of the state of Alabama have confirmed how the police are biased toward men. After receiving sexual abuse and domestic violence calls, the police choose to put the women behind bars rather than look into the matter. So, I don’t find it strange that Brittany chose to confide in her mother rather than go to the law enforcement authorities. Brittany’s story lit a spark among other women. They were coming out to bring about a change because they were tired of letting the system rip them apart. They questioned the ethics of the stand-your-ground law, asking if its existence was to only serve white men. These women were boiling with anger, and they demanded change. Brittany’s case was denied stand-your-ground immunity by Judge Holt. Apparently, her case hasn’t been strong enough to justify her actions. Brittany’s credibility was questioned by the judge, and she failed to reclaim her innocence. After losing her hearing, Brittany faced trial and life in prison. Brittany decided to accept her charges and take a plea deal. Later, Brittany is shown in jail, where a heartbroken Ramona waits for justice and for her child to return home.
The documentary makes us question everything that is wrong with the system. Studies show that women are twice as likely to be convicted while making a claim for stand-your-ground self-defense law. Thousands of women have been imprisoned for the murder of their rapists or abusers. The lack of justice and worsening circumstances force the majority of these women to accept plea deals rather than further taking up their cases for trial. “State of Alabama vs Brittany Smith” makes us question the sanity of the law and the system we live in. In the end, we are left with only this question: What happened to Brittany? Did she get justice? Or will she ever get justice?
“State of Alabama vs. Brittany Smith” is a 2022 Netflix documentary film directed by Ryan White.