Florida Supreme Court: Retroactive Application of Hall v. Florida

Well, there was another big case out of the Florida Supreme Court regarding capital punishment this month. Walls v. State was released on October 20, 2016.

Retroactive Application of Hall v. Florida

Last week, the decision in Walls v. State was issued. In this case, the High Court has ruled that over two dozen Florida Death Row inmates who unsuccessfully argued that they should be spared the death penalty because of intellectual disabilities should have the opportunity to do so now.

In sum, Walls is taking the Hall v. Florida decision and agreeing that it should apply retroactively.

In Hall v. Florida, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Florida procedure for deciding who suffers intellectual disability for purposes of the death penalty violated the constitution and imposed cruel and unusual punishment.

As you may know, defending the issue of intellectual disabilities in defendants facing the death penalty is a particular passion for Terence Lenamon. 

In case you're interested, we’ve uploaded the entire opinion in Terry’s online library for your convenience. Here it is:


Walls v. State by Reba Kennedy on Scribd

What Does the New Hurst Decision Mean for Florida Death Penalty?

 As Florida deals with the aftermath of the recent Florida Supreme Court decision in Hurst v. Florida (see our last post), media coverage includes considering what this means for the State of Florida and the state of capital punishment now.  In the short term, if not the long run.

What Happens Now?  Miami Herald Asks Terence Lenamon and Other Death Penalty Experts

For instance, Terry Lenamon was among those queried by the Miami Herald in the wake of last week's decision. 

Read that story by Mary Ellen Klas and David Ovalle, published on October 14, 2016, "Court again tosses state death penalty; ruling raises bar on capital punishment."

Impact Upon Death Row Sentencing Hearings

One thing that is clear -- this is the second round.  Florida's capital punishment statute was ruled unconstitutional once already.  That's why the Florida Legislature worked fast to pass the new law, the one that has just been ruled to violate the federal constitution, as well.

So, just like before, there's a lot of talk about those sentencing hearings under the unconstitutional framework.  Some are predicting hundreds of case reviews.  386, to be precise.

For details on that issue, see the October 18, 2016 Miami Herald coverage by Michael Auslen in "Death penalty ruling could mean new sentencing for 386 murderers in Florida."

Perry v. Florida in Online Library

Last week, we placed the new Hurst decision in Terry's online library for ease of access.  Today, we've also uploaded the Perry v. Florida decision that was announced the same day. 

In Perry, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that any new statute from the legislature cannot be applied to pending cases where the State is seeking capital punishment.  This halts any sentencing until the legislature finalizes a new statute. 

Read Perry here:

Perry v. Florida 2016 by Reba Kennedy on Scribd



Florida Supreme Court Rules in Hurst v. Florida: Unconstitutional

The Florida Supreme Court has published its opinion in Hurst v. Florida.  You can read the opinion below.

The state supreme court has held that the law passed earlier this year by the Florida Legislature is unconstitutional. 

The law allowed the death penalty if the jury recommendation was 10 to 2 at a minimum.  Two jurors could vote against death and capital punishment could be the sentence anyway, under the law.

This Florida Supreme Court case finds that is wrong.  The jury recommendations to impose the death penalty must be unanimous. 

From the opinion: 

"By requiring unanimity in a recommendation of death in order for death to be considered and imposed, Florida will achieve the important goal of bringing its capital sentencing laws into harmony with the direction of society reflected in all these states and with federal law."

The full Hurst v. Florida opinion has been stored in the Terry Lenamon Online Library.  Here it is for your convenience:


Hurst v. Florida, Florida Supreme Court Ruling Released on October 14, 2016 by Reba Kennedy on Scribd

SCOTUS Opens Door to PTSD, Child Abuse Mitigation Evidence in 25 Death Penalty Cases

This week, the United States Supreme Court refused to take a case.  The High Court's refusal to hear arguments and grade the papers of a lower Arizona court decision means that decision stands.  It's good law.  It's final.

Sometimes, SCOTUS's power lies it is decision not to exercise that power. 

The Arizona Case Where Writ Was Denied by SCOTUS

Last fall, the U.S.  Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that James McKinney's sentence of death by the State of Arizona was unconstitutional.  His capital punishment sentence was overturned, and McKinney's federal appeal was a victory not only for himself, but for around 25 other people sitting on Arizona's Death Row.

The Ninth Circuit opinion can be read online here at Google Scholar. 

Mitigation Evidence of Child Abuse Victim and PTSD

In sum, the federal appeals court ruled that the Arizona rule of "causal nexus" had violated the federal constitution by keeping out evidence of McKinney's being abused as a child and his diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The abuse McKinney suffered as a child and the resulting psychological trauma is detailed in the Ninth Circuit's majority opinion.

This is mitigating evidence used by defense lawyers to argue against the sentence of death during the sentencing phase of a capital trial.  (Terry Lenamon is passionate about this issue and the fight for balancing psychological and mental issues of the defendant on the sentencing scale.)

This means that the McKinney opinion can now form the basis of other appeals, seeking review of the mitigation evidence and sentencing trials of other defendants who were sentenced to death in Arizona. 

Heated Dissent in the Ninth Circuit Case

The dissent pulls no punches.  There is strong disagreement about what the majority decides, and the refusal of SCOTUS to grant writ in this case may be a surprise to many.

As the dissent (five justices joining) points out, for one thing this case may well impact every death penalty given in Arizona from 1989 to 2005 and more.  From the Dissent:

"Also quite troubling, the majority wrongly smears the Arizona Supreme Court and calls into question every single death sentence imposed in Arizona between 1989 and 2005 and our cases which have denied habeas relief as to those sentences."

For more, read the Associated Press coverage by Astrid Galvan, "US Supreme Court Won't Hear Arizona Death Case."

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