The Coronavirus Pandemic has caused trials to be put on hold in Florida and elsewhere in the country, as efforts to “slow the spread” prohibit groups of people to enter courthouses either as jurors, defense attorneys, prosecutors, or judges.
For the Florida Supreme Court Order suspending criminal proceedings beginning March 16, 2020, including Terry Lenamon’s capital defense of Markeith Loyd, read our earlier discussion in “Coronavirus Continuances: Florida Supreme Court COVID-19 Emergency Order.”
COVID-19 and Execution Schedules
Across the country, COVID-19 is also working to give more time to those facing execution as defense lawyers successfully argue that execution dates be pushed back.
Courts are acknowledging that the risk of those involved in the execution process (participants and witnesses) would be at risk of exposure to the Coronavirus, and as a result delaying scheduled executions.
One example out of Texas is the delay of the March 25, 2020, execution of Texas Death Row inmate Tracy Beatty, because of Coronavirus exposure concerns. This was the second execution rescheduled by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals because of COVID-19. Read, “Texas Court Stays Execution of 2nd Inmate over Coronavirus,” written by Danielle Haynes and published by UPI on March 19, 2020.
Yesterday, the Tennessee Supreme Court rescheduled the execution date for Tennessee Death Row inmate Oscar Smith from June 4, 2020, to February 4, 2021. See, “Tennessee Supreme Court Reschedules Oscar Smith Execution Due to COVID-19,” written by Steven Hale and published by the Nashville Scene on April 17, 2020.
For more, read: “How Coronavirus is Disrupting the Death Penalty,” written by Keri Blakinger and Maurice Chammah and published by the Marshall Project on March 23, 2020, and “Prisoner Executions Are Put Off Because of Pandemic,” written by Jess Bravin and published by the Wall Street Journal on March 26, 2020.
Coronavirus and Prosecutors Seeking the Death Penalty
Of course, execution schedules and trial dockets are two different things. Capital defense lawyers are well aware that in states where the death penalty can be sought in sentencing, prosecutors are free to file their notices of intent to pursue capital punishment in pending matters.
There is no barrier to the prosecution deciding to seek the death penalty because of the Coronavirus Pandemic, other than potential delays in investigation and preparation due to current quarantines, lockdowns, and/or stay-at-home orders.
For details here, read “Executions are on Hold, But States are Still Pushing for Death Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic,” written by Liliana Segura and Jordan Smith and published in the Intercept on April 5, 2020.