FLORIDA: SUPREME COURT HALTS DEATH PENALTY CASE
October 28, 2016: The Florida Supreme Court stopped a judge from proceeding with a death penalty case, signaling that courts might not be able to move forward with capital trials until the Legislature changes a law that justices earlier this month struck down as unconstitutional.
In the 5-2 decision, the court granted a request by lawyers for Patrick Albert Evans to stop Judge Joseph Bulone from moving forward with a trial slated to begin Monday.
Friday's ruling is the strongest indicator yet that Florida's death penalty remains in flux in the aftermath of a pair of opinions issued by state's high court on Oct. 14.
Those decisions found that a statute passed in March in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Hurst v. Florida was unconstitutional "because it requires that only 10 jurors recommend death as opposed to the constitutionally required unanimous, 12-member jury."
The majority in the decision in one of the cases, involving Death Row inmate Larry Darnell Perry, found that the law was unconstitutional because it did not require unanimous jury recommendations and "cannot be applied to pending prosecutions." Attorney General Pam Bondi last week asked the Supreme Court to "clarify" their rulings in the Perry and Hurst cases, maintaining that trials already underway should be allowed to move forward. In Evans' case, Bulone issued an order Wednesday saying he would begin to empanel a death-qualified jury on Monday and, if Evans is found guilty of 1st-degree murder, "proceed to a penalty phase consistent with" the Oct. 14 Supreme Court decisions.
"I don't think it would be all that hard to draft those jury instructions. I don't think it would be all that hard to come up with a verdict form," the judge told lawyers on Oct. 20, according to his order. Bulone's decision prompted Evans' lawyers to immediately ask the Supreme Court to intervene, warning of a "jurisprudential quagmire" if the court allowed the case to go forward "without appropriate guidance." "It is not a court's job to write the law," wrote Allison Ferber Miller and Jane McNeil, lawyers in the Sixth Judicial Circuit Public Defender's office, and Pete Mills, an assistant public defender in the Eighth Judicial Circuit, in the 137-page motion filed Wednesday.
Mills is chairman of the Florida Public Defender Association's death penalty steering committee. "There are 67 counties in the state of Florida, 20 judicial circuits and literally hundreds of judges. It simply cannot be this court's intent for each circuit judge to write his own law according to that judge's interpretation of the court's decisions in Perry and Hurst," Evans' lawyers wrote. In Friday's order, the Supreme Court majority wrote that Evans' petition "demonstrates a preliminary basis for relief," and gave prosecutors until Nov. 14 to show why the petition should not be granted.
Evans' lawyers have until Nov. 28 to respond.
The order put a stay on the circuit court proceedings. In her request for clarification, Bondi's lawyers argued that death penalty prosecutions can continue without a change in the law, so long as trial courts require unanimous jury recommendations. (Source: news-press.com, 30/10/2016)