Florida HB 4051 Introduced to End Death Penalty in Florida

The Florida House of Representatives will be addressing the issue of capital punishment, as the memories of Georgia's execution of Troy Davis and Florida's execution of Manuel Valle are still fresh in the minds of legislators and the public at large. 

State Representative Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee) has introduced HB 4051, which will now proceed through the usual path of all bills in the statehouse: committee consideration, voting, etc.  Of note, Representative Rehwinkel Vasilinda introduced the same bill last year, and it never got out of committee. 

The bill was introduced in tandem with the execution of Troy Davis and the swirl of media controversy surrounding that event.  Balanced against that in the Florida media is the execution of Manuel Valle, labelled with the phrase "cop killer" in most media accounts of his story. 

Read the language of the original bill, as introduced on September 22, 2011, here as a pdf file available for download. 

From the Florida House of Representatives website, HB 4051 is described as follows:

Death Penalty: Deletes provisions providing for death penalty for capital felonies; deletes provisions relating to representation in death penalty cases; repeals provisions relating to capital collateral representation, jurors in capital cases, prohibiting imposition of death sentence on defendant with mental retardation, determination of whether to impose sentence of death or life imprisonment for capital felony or capital drug trafficking felony, issuance of warrant of execution, stay of execution of death sentence, proceedings when person under sentence of death appears to be insane, proceedings when person under sentence of death appears to be pregnant, grounds for death warrant, execution of death sentence, prohibition against reduction of death sentence as result of determination that method of execution is unconstitutional, sentencing orders in capital cases, regulation of execution, transfer to state prison for safekeeping before death warrant issued, return of warrant of execution issued by Governor, sentence of death unexecuted for unjustifiable reasons, & return of warrant of execution issued by Supreme Court.



Texas Death Row's Duane Edward Buck: Example of Importance of Sentencing Phase in Death Penalty Trial

The United State Supreme Court has just stayed the execution of Duane Edward Buck, and an excellent article providing the details of Mr. Buck's case - from crime to stay - can be found at The Texas Tribune, in a piece written by Brandi Grissom entitled "Supreme Court Grants Stay of Duane Buck Execution."

No one is arguing that Duane Edward Buck is not guilty of the homicides for which he was charged and convicted.  The controversy surrounding his case revolves entirely around that second phase of a death penalty case: the sentencing phase (the forte of Terry Lenamon, fyi). 

In Buck's sentencing phase, a defense expert named Dr. Walter Quijano took the stand in his capacity as a psychologist and told the jury that Mr. Buck likely would not be a danger to society in the future -- but (and here's the Big Issue) when he was cross-examined by the prosecution, Dr. Quijano testified that yes, he did believe that because Buck was black, there was an  increased risk that he would pose a threat to society.

Prosecution: "The race factor, black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons; is that correct?"

Dr. Quijano: "Yes."

Now, the United States Supreme Court will consider the events during that long ago sentencing phase of Duane Edward Buck's trial and decide whether or not the psychologist's answer of "yes" to the prosecution's question means Buck was denied his constitutional rights in that proceeding and that a new trial should be had.


Cruel and Unusual Punishment and the Death Penalty: Law Professors Give Us More to Ponder

Worth your time to read, this law review article just published by the Virginia Law Review in a continuing discussion of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as it relates to "cruel and unusual" punishment and the death penalty -- was the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause originally meant to prohibit excessive punishments as well as barbaric ones and that proportionality review is therefore unquestionably legitimate, as Florida's Professor Stinneford suggests?


by William T. Berry III, assistant professor of law at the University of Mississippi where Professor Berry responds to an earlier article written by John F. Stinneford, Assistant Professor of Law, University of Florida Levin College of Law, Gainesville, Florida:

Rethinking Proportionality Under the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, 97 Va. L. Rev. 899


Berry argues that there are perhaps two weaknesses in Professor Stinneford’s arguments - see where you stand. 

Freedom for the West Memphis Three - Much to Consider in the Aftermath

Back in February 2010, we pondered the case of the West Memphis Three in a post entitled, "Johnny Depp on 48 Hours Today Fighting 4 West Memphis 3, Will He Help the Dubose Brothers?"

Eighteen months later, and the West Memphis Three are free men.  It's a big deal and a big story in more ways than one -- here are some of the various online sources that provide various takes on what has happened here:

1. The Power of the Media in Freeing the West Memphis Three.

  "How Rockers Helped Free the West Memphis Three" - Rolling Stone delves into the contribution made by public figures shedding light on the case, here discussing musicians (from Henry Rollins to Ozzy Osborne) though other popular figures also made contributions (such as Johnny Depp, mentioned above, and film director Oliver Stone, among others).

2.  The Psychological Lessons to be Learned from the West Memphis Three.

In an op-ed piece published in the Los Angeles Times, Jennifer L. Mnookin discusses psychological lessons to be learned in "[t]he 'West Memphis Three' and combating cognitive biases."

3. What Public Service Can Really Do --  Who Did What in the case of the West Memphis Three.

The University of Arkansas' Clinton School for Public Service held a program to discuss the case, where more than 1100 people attended to hear the discussion, ask questions, and learn things like panel participant and West Memphis 3 prosecutor Scott Ellington telling the crowd that the state lab would look at the DNA evidence after the private lab in Virginia (hired by the defense) was done; the video is available online here.

4. The Defense Team's First Hand Revelations About Representing the West Memphis Three

AmLawDaily interviewed the white collar defense attorney considered key to the West Memphis Three being freed: Ropes & Gray partner Stephen Braga on the defense lawyer's perspective of the case - Braga took the case pro bono.

5.  The Legal Analysis of the Case of the West Memphis Three (and Can It Apply to Others?)

Lawyer and law professor Gerald L. Shargel gives a legal analysis of what went down - including the use of the Alford Plea in a piece he writes for the Daily Beast, "How the West Memphis Three Got Out."


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