Florida Legislature Moves to Pass New Laws for Death Penalty Procedure

Right now, the 2017 Florida Legislative Session is likely to pass new legislation to help prosecutors get the death penalty back in action.  Here is what is happening up in Tallahassee:

Florida Senate SB280

In Florida, SB 280 is proceeding through the Florida Senate having made its way out of its first committee earlier this month with unanimous approval.  Next stop:  the Senate Rules Committee, where it is scheduled on the calendar for February 22, 2017, at 3:30 PM. 

SB 280, if passed into law, will require Florida juries in capital cases to have 100% juror approval of the death penalty before capital punishment could be recommended.  The judge would still be responsible for sentencing itself. 

Follow Florida Senate Bill 280 here. 

Florida House of Representatives HB527

The Florida House of Representatives has a similar proposal in HB 527.  As originally drafted, HB 527 would not only require the jury have a unanimous recommendation of death before the death penalty could be imposed, but it would also require the jury to recommend life without parole as the sentence if the jury could not reach a unanimous recommendation of the death penalty. 

HB 527 is still moving through the committee process, calendared as follows: 

  • Criminal Justice Subcommittee agenda for: 02/15/17 9:00 AM
  • Judiciary Committee agenda for: 02/21/17 4:00 PM.

Follow Florida House of Representatives Bill 527 here.

Guest Post: Dylan Roof's Death Sentence Bucks Trend in America

Dylan Roofs death sentence for the South Carolina shooting which left nine people dead, departs from the national downward trending of death penalty cases. 

Before the June 17, 2015 mass shooting, Roof’s only contact with police had been two arrests each occurring in the months immediately before the deadly attack. Following a February 28 incident at a Columbia mall, Roof was questioned by law enforcement and arrested on a misdemeanor charge of drug possession and banned from the mall for twelve-months. Roof was captured and held with no bail up until trial. 

From the mid-1990s when death penalty cases stood at over 300 a year, the number of new death penalty cases has dropped to 30 in 2016 according to the Death Penalty Information Center.  The previous low was a 40-year low of 40 in 2015. 

Executions have dropped from almost 100 in 1999 to twenty in 2016 according to DPIC. Better defense teams, publicity of wrongful-conviction cases and changing public opinions of capital punishment have all led to the decline according to Robert Dunham, Executive Director of DPIC. 

We’re in the middle of a climate change on the death penalty,” Dunham said. “The long-term trend shows a reduced utilization of the death penalty.” 

Roof, who fired a .45 caliber handgun told jurors “I felt like I had to do it. I still feel that way.” 

The jury recommended the death penalty after three hours of deliberation.

In some ways, Roof’s case is an anomaly. He decided to defend himself, didn’t show any remorse and talking about killing again. 

Someone representing themselves is not going to be able to put on that type of case,” said Brandon Garrett, a professor with the University of Virginia Law School. 

Is Dylann Roof’s Execution Justified? 

The drop in death penalty cases can be linked to improvements in capital defense teams nationally. Also, there are fewer cities and counties pushing the death penalty for budgetary reasons. 

Texas, with 538 executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, is seeing a decline as well. Death sentences have fallen from a zenith of 48 in 1999 to three in 2015 and three in 2016, said Kristin Houle, director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. 

In a 2016 Gallup Poll, a majority of people across America — 60-percent — favor the death penalty. That figure is down from 80-percent who supported the punishment in 1994. 

Garrett feels the shift from death sentences may be irreversible. “The trends are long-standing and ingrained,” he said. “I see them continuing.”

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Contributed by New York criminal defense attorney Arkady Bukh, 14 Wall St, New York NY 10005, (212) 729-1632)

New ABA Report: Severe Mental Illness and the Death Penalty

The American Bar Association Death Penalty Due Process Review Project has published its report, "Severe Mental Illness and the Death Penalty."

You can read it online here. 

ABA Report To Be Tool For Change

From its Executive Summary (emphasis added):

Despite broader efforts to reform the criminal justice system’s approach to mental illness, individuals with these types of conditions can still be sentenced to death and executed. It is, therefore, now time to convert the ABA’s policy into a meaningful tool to help states pass laws that will establish clear standards and processes to prevent the execution of those with severe mental illness.

Focusing on Four Areas in Capital Case

It includes discussion of the following areas of a capital case where mental illness is an issue that is not provided "complete or sufficient protection":

  1. Competency to Stand Trial
  2. The Insanity Defense
  3. Mitigating Factors
  4. Competency to be Executed.

It's less than 50 pages long.  Definitely worth your time to read. 

Terence Lenamon at Work: Defense Counsel in Trial for 2008 Pawn Shop Owner Killing

With all the hoopla surrounding the Florida death penalty statute (see our prior posts), some may be wondering what capital defense lawyers in Florida are doing right now.  Well, there are those sentencing hearings, right? 

Lenamon is Defending a Murder Case in Miami

And there are still murder trials.  The prosecutors are still busy trying homicide cases in Florida, no matter what controversy surrounds seeking the death penalty right now. 

Like the one that Terence Lenamon is involved in this month over in Miami. 

Back in 2008, a North Miami pawn shop owner named Marty Sprung was shot and killed.  Check out the 2008 Spot Crime report here.

Last Thursday trial began in the murder trial where Stevenson Charles is being accused of killing the pawn shop owner.  The District Attorney's Office is seeking life imprisonment for the crime.

Terry Lenamon is defense counsel in the murder mystery case. 

Read the details of the story here in the Miami Herald coverage, "Who killed pawnshop owner? Miami jury to decide identity of killer."  It's a real life whodunit in the article by David Ovalle, published on January 19, 2017.

 

Read and Watch WLRN News Story: "Cell 1: Florida's Death Penalty in Limbo"

This week was the debut of "Cell 1: Florida’s Death Penalty in Limbo," which is a special production of WLRN News.

Read the story online in six parts.

Here's a short 3 minute overview:

Federal Death Penalty for Dylann Roof in Charleston Church Shooting

The jury has made its decision in the case of Dylann Roof, charged with the shooting deaths of nine people attending church in Charleston, South Carolina.  Roof has been sentenced to death.

Federal Hate Crime Death Sentence

As the Associated Press reports, this is the first time that an individual has been sentenced to death in this country for what has been designated as a "hate crime." 

Roof represented himself before the jury.  Read details of his statements prior to sentencing in the CBS News coverage, " Dylann Roof sentenced to death for Charleston church shooting."

Moratorium on Federal Death Penalty

Right now, there is a federal moratorium on the death penalty.  There are 62 Federal Death Row Inmates on the federal government's Death Row.  Dylann Roof apparently will be number 63, joining Death Row inmates like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon Bomber. 

Will Federal Moratorium on Death Penalty End?

What will happen during the new Presidential Administration?  Some suggest that Trump will change the moratorium and federal executions will proceed. 

Florida Supreme Court Rules on Post-Hurst Sentencing Hearings

Right before Christmas (on December 22nd), the Florida Supreme Court issued two opinions that answer the question of vacating the death sentences of Florida Death Row inmates after the SCOTUS ruling that their capital punishment had been decided unconstitutionally (Hurst).

Asay v State and Mosley v State

The two cases are Asay v State of Florida and Mosley v State of Florida.  Both opinions have been stored for your convenience in the Terence Lenamon Online Library. (Click the link in the left sidebar.)

Hearing for Mosley; Not for Asay

In sum, Asay holds that Mark James Asay does not get a new sentencing hearing because he had finished his direct appeal process before the SCOTUS decision in Ring v. Arizona. 

In Mosley, the High Court finds that he was sentenced to death by a judge who disregarded the jury's recommendation and did so after Ring v. Arizona.  He gets a new sentencing hearing.

Read Mosley here: 

 

Happy 2017!

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What Happens To Pending Florida Death Penalty Trials?

What happens with the current Florida prosecutions, where the death penalty is being sought by prosecutors?

Here's a great article using in part the example of the Michael Lamar Woods' case, where Terence Lenamon acts a defense counsel. 

Jury Instructions in Death Penalty Cases

Read all about how things are working in the current legal limbo in the piece written by Nicky Gorny for the Ocala Star Banner and published on December 15, 2016, in "On hold: Death penalty debate affects Marion defendants," with quotes from Terry Lenamon.

Key here, Jury Instructions.  Terry explains how things may be delayed because of the need for proper jury instructions in capital cases.

 

Florida Plan to Use Etomidate in Lethal Injection Executions?

News reports are the State of Florida is getting ready to execute more folk, even though SCOTUS and the Supreme Court of Florida pretty much have Florida executions on hold right now indefinitely. 

Florida Lethal Injections Executions With Etomidate

The Sun Sentinel and others are reporting that the Florida Department of Corrections paid money to get its drug supply ready for upcoming lethal injections. 

This apparently includes the purchase of a new drug, one that has never been used before in an execution. 

It's called ETOMIDATE.  Read about the drug here.  It replaces midazolam in the three-drug cocktail.

Follow the details on this story, including the News Service of Florida getting the scoop by obtaining the records, in the article written by Dara Cam and published on December 5, 2016, in the Sun Sentinel, entitled "Death penalty: Florida may be pondering 'novel' lethal injection change."

How Many Florida Death Row Inmates Will Get Resentencing Hearings?

Last week, the Florida Supreme Court released its opinion in Richard Franklin's case

New Sentencing Hearing for Florida Death Row Inmate Richard Franklin

Their decision?  Franklin should get a new sentencing hearing on his murder conviction of a prison guard. 

Why? There was not complete agreement among the jurors in his initial sentencing.  "In light of the non-unanimous jury recommendation to impose a death sentence," explains the Court, Mr. Franklin will have a new sentencing hearing. 

READ THE FLORIDA SUPREME COURT DECISION IN FRANKLIN V. FLORIDA HERE.

What's a Sentencing Hearing?

What's that? It's a trial in and of itself.  The prosecution presents its aggravating factors and arguments on why capital punishment should be given; the defense presents mitigating factors on why the death penalty is not appropriate. 

How Many New Sentencing Hearings in Florida?

Why is this happening?  Last January, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Hurst v. Florida.  They ruled that the Florida death penalty law was unconstitutional.  We've discussed this in past posts. 

Last week's Florida Supreme Court decision in Franklin is a result of the decision in Hurst. 

Thing is, it's also a big red flag to the State of Florida that we can expect lots more Death Row Inmates to be allowed a second sentencing hearing.

How many?  No one is sure.  Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center has been quoted as predicting it's in the hundreds

For more details, see the DPIC discussion here.

DSM and the Death Penalty: Issue in SCOTUS Oral Argument Transcript

The United States Supreme Court has just heard oral arguments in a death penalty case where the intellectual ability and mental capabilities of the defendant is an issue. 

Those interested in this aspect of capital punishment may want to read the oral argument transcript in Moore v. Texas, which is available online here.

DSM and Death Penalty

Notice the discussion of  the  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

What is appropriate?  What is accurate?

Here's an earlier post on the issue for a background on DSM -- did you know that narcissistic personality disorder was removed from DSM-V? See, "Use of DSM in the Law: the Doctors Need to Recognize this Reality in DSM-V."

See also, which discusses the impact of Hall v. Florida on this issue: Assessing Adaptive Functioning in Death Penalty Cases after Hall and DSM-5, Leigh D. Hagan, Eric Y. Drogin, Thomas J. Guilmette Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online Mar 2016, 44 (1) 96-105.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Steven Spears Georgia Execution Set for Today: Execution Schedule

While there have been many delays of executions this year, both by overall court decision (e.g., Florida) and by stays in an individual case (e.g., Texas), the death penalty is being carried out in this country.

Georgia Execution Scheduled Today: Steven Frederick Spears

Today, in fact, the State of Georgia is scheduled to execute Steven Frederick Spears for the 2007 killing of his ex-girlfriend, Sherri Holland. 

Details of his case can be read at The Marshall Project. 

As of the publication of this post, Mr. Spears was set to die in 4 hours and 53 minutes. 

 

 

 

Death Penalty 2016: Election Results

For details on yesterday's election results regarding capital punishment, read the coverage provided by The Marshall Project, the Catholic News Agency, and the ABA Journal

Here's the gist of it:

1.  California

Two different issues placed before voters in California.  The results:  they voted AGAINST repealing the death penalty.  And they voted on a proposal that many believe will work to clear the way for executions to begin again in California.

For more on California's Death Penalty, read our May 2011 post, "California 700+ Death Row Gets Good News: 2006 Moratorium on Death Penalty Will Continue For Now."

2.  Nebraska

Voters in Nebraska decided to put the death penalty back into action in that state.  Their legislature had repealed capital punishment, now it has returned.  Ten inmates currently reside on Nebraska's Death Row.

For more on Nebraska's Death Penalty, read our July 2015 post, "Two States May Bring Back the Death Penalty."

3.  Oklahoma

Voters agreed on an amendment to their state constitution which will recognize that the death penalty is not "cruel and unusual punishment" as defined by the federal constitution.  That's not all. 

Oklahoma also passed language that will allow its state legislature to provide alternative execution methods if it is decided that the lethal injection method is unconstitutional. 

(Notice how this does not jive with earlier polling results in Oklahoma, where pollsters reported that a majority favored life without parole over the death penalty.)

For more on Oklahoma's Death Penalty, check out our November 2015 post, "Lethal Injection Drug Controversies Stop Executions in Missouri, Ohio, and Oklahoma."

 

 
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