Florida Supreme Court Gives Green Light to Death Penalty

This week, in two opinions published by the Florida Supreme Court , it appears that the government got the green light to continue with death penalty cases.

For discussion, check out Sentencing Law and Policy and Fox35.  Many are still digesting what all these cases mean ....

Florida Supreme Court Rules Death Penalty Cases Can Move Forward

Here are the Florida Supreme Court opinions, provided for your convenience in the Terry Lenamon Online Library:

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. 

 
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