State of Alabama vs. Brittany Smith, directed by Ryan White and produced by Jessica Hargrave, begins streaming on Nov. 10, 2022. According to Netflix, the documentary tells the “harrowing story of a woman trying to use Alabama’s Stand Your Ground law after killing a man she says brutally attacked her.”
In 2018, Brittany Smith shot and killed a man she says attacked and raped her in her Stevenson, Alabama, home. Now, her story is being covered in a Netflix documentary titled The State of Alabama vs. Brittany Smith. Director Ryan White, widely noted for his documentary, The Keepers, details the case against Brittany, an Alabama mother struggling to get her life in order only to find herself in a situation that ended in tragedy.
When Brittany Smith shot 38 year old Todd Smith (no relation), a former acquaintance she had known in her teens, she and her brother were trapped in her house with him. According to court records, Todd had a long history of violence and assaults, including numerous attacks on his ex-wife and other partners over the course of two decades, Todd had been arrested over 70 times for various violent crimes and domestic assaults. Smith had told Brittany that he would kill her if she called the police.
In most circumstances, a person who kills someone while being attacked by that person in their home would be covered by Alabama’s “stand your ground” defense. Many people in this situation would never be charged. That was not the case with Brittany, due in at least part to her brother’s arrival on the scene to help her and a subsequent scuffle between him and Smith. When Brittany acted to protect herself and her sibling, she was charged with murder and sent to jail to await trial.
Journalist and executive producer of the Netflix documentary, Elizabeth Flock, has followed Brittany’s story since shortly after the young mother’s not-guilty plea. According to Flock’s research, women are much less likely to use “stand your ground” laws successfully.
Flock began filming Brittany’s journey shortly after they met and continued to do so throughout the trial and beyond. At one point, Brittany was offered a 25-year sentence in exchange for pleading guilty but she refused, insisting that she had done nothing wrong and wouldn’t willingly go to jail for protecting herself from harm.
Eventually, Brittany gave in and changed her plea to guilty, accepting a 20-year sentence instead. She would ultimately be sentenced to 18 months, which was reduced further by time already served—she had spent a year behind bars awaiting trial. Her sentence included a further 18 months on house arrest upon her release.
Even Todd Smith’s cousin, Jeff Smith, seemed to understand the injustice of the charges against Brittany. According to Flock, Jeff had come into the courtroom with a deep resentment for the woman who had shot his cousin. However, after seeing the testimony of a nurse examiner who detailed all of the injuries Brittany had suffered during the attack and rape that led up to the moment when she shot her attacker, he began to see her as the victim she clearly was. He even penned a note to Smith, offering her his apologies.
Before the attack, Brittany had a history of methamphetamine abuse, something she had fought hard to overcome. She was active in recovery and had recently been approved for further visitation with her children, whom she’d lost custody of during her dark days of addiction. The children had been staying with an uncle during the course of her trial.
Whatever the public may think of Brittany’s personal choices, it does not change that she was attacked in her home and acted out of self-preservation. There is a tendency from many to view her as less of a victim because she had her own faults. Statistically, it was already pre-determined that she, as a female, would be viewed far more harshly than a male counterpart who had claimed a “stand your ground” defense. These two facts add up to what many consider persecution rather than prosecution.
In the trailer for the new Netflix documentary, Brittany says:
"I was arrested for murder; the man was in my home. I did what I thought I had to do because if I wouldn't have, my brother and I would both be dead. I want to get my children back. I want them to know that mommy's not a murderer and that mommy defended herself - and that you should always defend yourself."
There is far more to Brittany’s saga. After her trial and incarceration, authorities continued to treat her in ways that many would deem unfair and harsh when compared to others in similar situations. You can read more of her story in a previous article I wrote about her case and tune in for the upcoming Netflix documentary to learn more about the person behind the headlines. The documentary also includes commentary from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ashley Remkus of AL.com, who has followed this story from the beginning.