Charles Rhines sits on the South Dakota Death Row waiting to hear if his Petition for Writ will be granted by the U.S. Supreme Court this week (conference of June 14, 2018).

Mr. Rhines seeks review of his capital trial proceedings, arguing that there was an improper refusal  to consider evidence demonstrating that his sexual orientation was a factor in the imposition of the death penalty by the jury.

His petition includes an affidavit from a juror stating the jury “…knew that he was a homosexual and thought that he shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison.

Read the briefing here.  

For more analysis, see: Jimmy Hoover, If Jury Racism Isn’t OK, Neither Is Homophobia, Justices Told, Justice 360, May 30, 2018.

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its ruling on the request from Texas Death Row Inmate Carlos Trevino, who asked SCOTUS to review what happened in his criminal trial’s sentencing (penalty) phase and the introduction of mitigating evidence against the death penalty.

SCOTUS declined the request, and will not hear the case.  Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, arguing that the High Court should hear Trevino’s arguments. She is joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Read Justice Sotomayor’s 13-page dissent here

Constitutional Argument:  Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

His argument was based within the constitutional framework of his right to effective assistance of counsel.  By failing to investigate and present evidence at trial of Mr. Trevino’s intellectual disabilities arising out of fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), he argued that his constitutional rights had been violated.

The only witness presented at the penalty phase of the trial was Carlo’s aunt, who testified Carlos dropped out of high school and that his mother was an alcoholic.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

Trevino’s mother drank extensively during her pregnancy.  As a result, Carlos Trevino was born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and its accompanying permanent brain damage.

There is no controversy that Carlos Trevino suffers from FASD at this point.

Returned For Mitigating Evidence

The case had been before SCOTUS once before.  In 2013, SCOTUS reversed the Fifth Circuit’s decision not to hear Mr. Trevino’s ineffectiveness of counsel argument.  The case was returned to the appeals court for further consideration. See, Trevino v. Thaler, 133 S. Ct. 1911, 569 U.S. 413, 185 L. Ed. 2d 1044 (2013).

Additional mitigating evidence was provided to the lower federal court.

This included specifics regarding how much his mother drank during the pregnancy (19-24 cans of beer on a daily basis), and that Carlos Trevino was incontinent and wearing diapers until he was 8 years old.  A clinical psychologist testified that Mr. Trevino’s history of FASD “would have impacted any of [his] decisions to participate in or refrain from any activities that resulted in his capital murder charges.”  Dissent, page 5.

Still, the Fifth Circuit failed to find merit in the mitigation evidence.  This week, SCOTUS declined Mr. Trevino’s petition to review that decision.

Justice Sotomayor disagrees with this lower court decision as well as the SCOTUS declining to review Mr. Trevino’s petition.

From her dissent, Justice Sotomayor points out that Trevino’s fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is key to understanding his violent behavior, and this was never presented to the jury during the sentencing phase.

She states (Dissent, page 13)(emphasis added):

The Fifth Circuit majority’s error is glaring, because considering all of the evidence, including that relating to Trevino’s FASD, it is obvious that “there is a reasonable probability that at least one juror would have struck a different balance.” Wiggins, 539 U. S., at 537.

The Fifth Circuit majority plainly misapplied our precedents. Absent intervention from this Court to correct that error, Trevino remains subject to a death sentence having received inadequate consideration of his claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, and with no jury having fairly appraised the substantial new mitigating evidence that a competent counsel would have discovered. That result is indefensible, especially where our failure to intervene sanctions the taking of a life by the state. I therefore respectfully dissent from the denial of certiorari.”

___________________

Once again, these tragic results in appellate review demonstrate the incomprehensible importance of experienced and aggressive defense counsel in the initial criminal trial and its penalty phase.

Real People and Real Families: The Reality of Death Row 

 Recently, the Marshall Project published an article written by Death Row inmate Timothy White entitled, "Why We Can’t Have Nice Things on Death Row."  Mr. White resides on the North Carolina Death Row, located in Raleigh, North Carolina’s Central Prison.  

It’s a good read and a well-written piece.  

Documentary Series on Death Row

However, for those interested in more details about how Death Row works, there is also a series of BBC documentary episodes being provided by National Geographic Channel and Fox

Check out the details here.  

These are collected under the name "Life and Death Row," and they delve into different aspects of the realities of Death Row in this country.

For instance, Season One’s Execution is an episode that deals with two of the youngest men living on Death Row in Texas.

Season Two has an episode where Texas Death Row inmate named Daniel Lopez works to stop any attempts to stay or thwart his execution. (Mr. Lopez was executed in 2015).

Season Three devotes one episode to how the impending execution date impacts not only the inmate but their families.  Will the lethal injection work properly, wonders the sister of Jack Jones.  

There are more.  These are well worth your time if you want to understand how Death Row impacts so many people, in so many horrific ways.  

Here’s an excerpt from "The Day Before:" 

http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/u/kcD4jK5JPSw6U_cXREmbHsMBywAEe1LYdj1Zu5l-s2E7QDckDq1fWmjHzHORbZR8HH5LV7iAWKs/

Right now,  17-year-old Dimitrios Pagoutzis sits in the Galveston County Jail after confessing to being the active shooter responsible for last week’s high school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.

In Florida, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz sets in jail in Broward County, Florida, facing 17 counts of murder for the high school shooting on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  See, "Terence Lenamon’s Son At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting."

In the Cruz case, prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.  In the Pagoutzis case, they don’t have that option.  That’s because the 17-year-old is not a legal adult, and juveniles are treated differently under the law.

1.  Roper v. Simmons – SCOTUS 2005

Fifteen years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that it is a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to sentence anyone under 18 years of age to death.  It is cruel and unusual punishment to execute a minor.  Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 125 S. Ct. 1183, 161 L. Ed. 2d 1 (2005).

From Roper (emphasis added):

It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty, resting in large part on the understanding that the instability and emotional imbalance of young people may often be a factor in the crime. See Brief for Human Rights Committee of the Bar of England and Wales et al. as Amici Curiae 10-11. The opinion of the world community, while not controlling our outcome, does provide respected and significant confirmation for our own conclusions.

Over time, from one generation to the next, the Constitution has come to earn the high respect and even, as Madison dared to hope, the veneration of the American people. See The Federalist No. 49, p. 314 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961). The document sets forth, and rests upon, innovative principles original to the American experience, such as federalism; a proven balance in political mechanisms through separation of powers; specific guarantees for the accused in criminal cases; and broad provisions to secure individual freedom and preserve human dignity. These doctrines and guarantees are central to the American experience and remain essential to our present-day self-definition and national identity. Not the least of the reasons we honor the Constitution, then, is because we know it to be our own. It does not lessen our fidelity to the Constitution or our pride in its origins to acknowledge that the express affirmation of certain fundamental rights by other nations and peoples simply underscores the centrality of those same rights within our own heritage of freedom.

* * *

The Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments forbid imposition of the death penalty on offenders who were under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed

 

2.  Miller v. Alabama – SCOTUS 2012

Six years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that defendants under the age of 18 years cannot be sentenced to life in prison without the possiblity for parole, either.  Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 567 U.S. 460, 183 L. Ed. 2d 407 (2012).

From Miller (emphasis added)

Graham, Roper, and our individualized sentencing decisions make clear that a judge or jury must have the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances before imposing the harshest possible penalty for juveniles. By requiring that all children convicted of homicide receive lifetime incarceration without possibility of parole, regardless of their age and age-related characteristics and the nature of their crimes, the mandatory sentencing schemes before us violate this principle of proportionality, and so the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. 

Maximum Sentences for HIgh School Active Shooters

The rulings of the Supreme Court of the United States are those of the highest criminal court in the country.  They cannot be disregarded or overturned by any state court (or any lower federal court for that matter).

These two opinions are the law of the land.  Which means that while the Parkland, Florida shooter defendant faces the death penalty, the Santa Fe, Texas shooter defendant  cannot be sentenced to life without parole, much less capital punishment.

That’s the law — and all these outcries for the death penalty in the Texas case fly in the face of these constitutional precedents. 

For more information, see the Death Penalty Information Center’s Roper v. Simmons Resource Page

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States delved into the role that the criminal defense lawyer plays in a death penalty trial, where he fights for the life of his client as the state prosecutors demand capital punishment.

Defense is Complex When Death Penalty Is on the Table

It must be understood at the start that the death case is different. There are complex efforts here, where a defense team must strategize in the presentation of evidence and the assertion of argument with not only the (a) guilt phase, but the real possibility of an additional (b) sentencing phase where death is considered.

Often this complexity has the additional burden of budgeting, because more often than not, it’s an indigent defense case. Not so in today’s SCOTUS ruling, where the defendant’s parents had the financial wherewithal to hire a private criminal defense attorney, Larry English.

Of note, Mr. English had no prior experience as a capital lawyer and was not certified to defend death penalty cases.  Not too long after taking the case, Mr. English was seeking indigent status in order to hire needed capital case support, like investigators and mitigation specialists.

The whirlwind of this case only escalated afterwards, and demonstrates the importance of defense counsel in death cases who have experience in dealing with mental illness issues and the unique challenges of death penalty defense.

Now, the case returns to Louisiana for a new trial, where it is assumed experienced death penalty defense counsel will advocate for Robert McCoy.

Read the complete opinion at the SCOTUS website.

McCoy Background

In McCoy v. Louisiana Robert LeRoy McCoy was arrested for killing his estranged wife’s teenaged son alongside his grandparents, at their home in Bossier City, Louisiana. His wife, Yolanda, was in protective custody out of state after separating from Robert McCoy earlier that year. Mr. McCoy was facing an arrest warrant for aggravated battery of Yolanda at the time of the shootings.

In the 911 call made by his mother-in-law, she was recorded saying, “She ain’t here, Robert … I don’t know where she is. The detectives have her. Talk to the detectives. She ain’t in there, Robert.”  State v. McCoy, 218 So.3d 535, 542 (La. 2016).

Police responding to the call knew to look for a white KIA known to be driven by Mr. McCoy, and immediately began a search for him in the area. McCoy was eventually arrested in Idaho. For details on his capture, read the lower state court opinion.

The prosecution sought the death penalty. McCoy pled not guilty to first degree murder.

All along, Robert McCoy denied he shot these people. McCoy argued that he was being framed by law enforcement after he had squealed on local police being corrupt and selling drugs.

Shortly after the Louisiana prosecutors filed notice of intent to seek the death penalty, his defense team moved for an evaluation of his mental capacity. He was found competent to stand trial. State, 218 So.3d at 544.

Within ninety days of his trial setting, McCoy was operating without counsel as his indigent defense counsel had withdrawn based upon a conflict of interest. McCoy had been representing himself when attorney Larry English appeared, asking the court’s permission to enter the case as counsel for the defendant.

At that time, Mr. English admitted he was not certified to try death penalty cases. He told the judge he had contacted board certified lawyers for their assistance. After the judge confirmed that Mr. McCoy understood that Larry English was not certified in death penalty cases, the new lawyer was approved by the court.

His motion for a continuance of the rapidly approaching trial date was not. State 218 So.3d at 545. English appealed that ruling, based upon his need to build a legal team to support him in defending a capital case, and successfully having the trial reset back nine months.

Things moved forward, and there was another appellate skirmish involving a defense motion to have McCoy declared indigent so English could hire a mitigation expert, an investigator, a social worker, and a mental health expert. English argued these experts were needed at this juncture because the defense must prepare both for trial and for a sentencing phase if guilt was found.

English admitted to the court that McCoy was not in agreement with this request, but that this would not be in the defendant’s best interest. English told the court that in his opinion, his client suffered from “severe mental and emotional issues that have an impact upon this case.” Mr. English asked the trial court to “order that Mr. McCoy submit to the experts that are required in a capital murder case.” State 218 So.3d at 546.

McCoy filed his own motions with the court, voicing his disagreement with English’s requests, and then withdrew them.

There were hearings held on McCoy’s defense before the trial. English advised the court that while he had attorney-advisors, he would be trying the case alone. McCoy confirmed to the court that this was okay with him. Another motion for continuance for the defense was denied.

The appeals court voiced its concern that McCoy was going to trial with only one defense lawyer, who was not certified for capital defense. The continuance was granted, with the appeals court instructing the trial court to “ensure that Mr. McCoy is, or has been, fully apprised on the record of the benefits of having two capital-defense qualified attorneys and that McCoy has knowingly and intelligently waived same.”  State, 218 So.3d at 547-8.

Key Considerations: English and McCoy

Ultimately, McCoy was found guilty of the killings and sentenced to death. His appeals based upon ineffective assistance of counsel made their way to the Supreme Court of the United States, where McCoy won his fight to have the death sentence overturned.

He gets a new trial.

From the SCOTUS opinion, the key factors here in the dealings between attorney English and his client McCoy were:

  1. Not that the defense lawyer encouraged McCoy take a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence, inasmuch as
  2. The defense lawyer telling his client that his trial strategy was to admit McCoy’s guilt to the jury at trial in hopes that he could win against the death penalty during the sentencing phase and ignoring his client’s disagreement with it; and
  3. The defense lawyer going forward with that strategy, urging the jury to consider his client as “crazy” and “living in a fantasy world,” as this would go against the needed intent required to be shown for a first-degree murder conviction.

From SCOTUS, it was recognized that Larry English implemented this trial tactic with the honorable motive of trying to save his client’s life.

Nevertheless, SCOTUS rules that McCoy has a constitutional right to make key decisions about his defense. No matter how well-meaning the lawyer’s motivations, he must not go against his client’s instructions to him on core matters like pleading guilty to the crime.

English could not override McCoy’s right to maintain his innocence, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary that would be presented to the jury. From SCOTUS:

“The Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to choose the objective of his defense and to insist that his counsel refrain from admitting guilt, even when counsel’s experienced-based view is that confessing guilt offers the defendant the best chance to avoid the death penalty.”

For more on death penalty defense, see:

Do We Remember There is a Federal Death Penalty Statute? 

There is such a focus these days on the various states in discussions on capital punishment, that many may not realize that there is an active federal death penalty process, and that the Department of Justice’s Office of the Attorney General can seek death in federal prosecutions all over the country. 

Federal Death Penalty Law

It will not matter if the state in which the federal court resides does not support capital punishment. Under federal law, if the defendant is being tried at the federal courthouse, then he or she may be sentenced to die.

The federal death penalty statute is found in Chapter 228 of Title 18 of the United States Crimes and Criminal Procedures Code.

Specifically, under 18 USC 3591:

(a)A defendant who has been found guilty of—

(1) an offense described in section 794 or section 2381; or

(2)any other offense for which a sentence of death is provided, if the defendant, as determined beyond a reasonable doubt at the hearing under section 3593

(A) intentionally killed the victim;

(B) intentionally inflicted serious bodily injury that resulted in the death of the victim;

(C) intentionally participated in an act, contemplating that the life of a person would be taken or intending that lethal force would be used in connection with a person, other than one of the participants in the offense, and the victim died as a direct result of the act; or

(D) intentionally and specifically engaged in an act of violence, knowing that the act created a grave risk of death to a person, other than one of the participants in the offense, such that participation in the act constituted a reckless disregard for human life and the victim died as a direct result of the act,

shall be sentenced to death if, after consideration of the factors set forth in section 3592 in the course of a hearing held pursuant to section 3593, it is determined that imposition of a sentence of death is justified, except that no person may be sentenced to death who was less than 18 years of age at the time of the offense.

(b)A defendant who has been found guilty of—

(1) an offense referred to in section 408(c)(1) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 848(c)(1)), committed as part of a continuing criminal enterprise offense under the conditions described in subsection (b) of that section which involved not less than twice the quantity of controlled substance described in subsection (b)(2)(A) or twice the gross receipts described in subsection (b)(2)(B); or

(2) an offense referred to in section 408(c)(1) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 848(c)(1)), committed as part of a continuing criminal enterprise offense under that section, where the defendant is a principal administrator, organizer, or leader of such an enterprise, and the defendant, in order to obstruct the investigation or prosecution of the enterprise or an offense involved in the enterprise, attempts to kill or knowingly directs, advises, authorizes, or assists another to attempt to kill any public officer, juror, witness, or members of the family or household of such a person,

shall be sentenced to death if, after consideration of the factors set forth in section 3592 in the course of a hearing held pursuant to section 3593, it is determined that imposition of a sentence of death is justified, except that no person may be sentenced to death who was less than 18 years of age at the time of the offense.

A variety of statutes provide for capital punishment in federal cases, from crimes like espionage or the assassination of a federal judge. The Death Penalty Information Center has created a table that lists death penalty references found in various federal statutory codes

Deciding on Death

This does not mean that every federal prosecution eligible for capital punishment will have the defendant facing the possibility of the death penalty. As in Florida state prosecutions, the decision on whether or not to seek death resides with the prosecutor.

For instance, this week it was announced by the Department of Justice that the Office of the Attorney General will not be asking for the death penalty in the case of Esteban Santiago, who pled guilty in a Miami federal courtroom to killing 5 people in the January 2017 shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

For details, read “Fort Lauderdale airport shooter will plead guilty in deal to avoid death penalty,” written by Jay Weaver and published in the Miami Herald on May 1, 2018.

Read the Federal Indictment of Esteban Santiago here.

Of course,Monster is the movie depicting the life of Aileen Carol Wuornos, who was executed by the State of Florida in 2002 for killing six men.  Maybe you’ve seen it. 

Monster Was the Fictional Account of Florida Serial Killer Executed in 2002

Aileen Wuornos, one of the most notorious serial killers in our nation’s history, was portrayed by Charlize Theron.  The actress won an Academy Award for her work in the film, and Monster was named "Best Film of the Year" by the AFI.  

From a death penalty perspective, no matter how good this movie may be, it’s probably better to spend your time watching the excellent 2-part documentary created by director Nick Broomfield.  

Broomfield Documentary on Aileen Wuornos Combines 1992 and 2003 Work

Entitled "Aileen" Life and Death of a Serial Killer," the documentary combines his earlier film, "Selling of a Serial Killer," with his later work.  It’s essentially two films combined into a single 1.5 hour biography.

This is an important film to see if you have any interest in capital punishment in this country.  

  • It sheds light on the process, i.e., what happens during the Penalty Phase of a capital case, the arena that Terry Lenamon defends his clients in so often. 
  • It helps to explain that these are real and very damaged people who are being sentenced to death, and helps in the understanding of why they have ended up in a courtroom with a prosecutor wanting their execution. 

Marion County Hearing 

The documentary deals with a February 2003 hearing in Marion County, Florida, presided over by Judge Victor Musieh, where defense counsel from the Office of Capital Collateral Regional Counsel works to vacate Wuornos’ death sentences.

Life and Death does not debate guilt or innocence.  It focuses on the person, much like the efforts made to build a case for mitigating circumstances in a capital case.

Broomfield educates us on her abusive childhood, complete with interviews of neighbors and her bio-mom.  

We learn the importance of a zealous advocate and wonder about her trial counsel.  The cross-examination of Steven Glazer ("Dr. Legal") is very illuminating on the role of a defense lawyer in a death penalty case.  How often does the public see this sort of cross?  

Finally, watch how Wuornos herself changes from the first film to the second, where she is residing on Florida’s Death Row.  

The documentary ends with an interview with Aileen Wuornos on the day before she was executed.

Consider for yourself whether or not Aileen Wuornos was sane and "of sound mind" at the time — and what the impact of residing on Death Row, awaiting her execution, had upon her mental state.

Watch for Free on Netflix or Amazon Prime

Right now, the Bloomberg Documentary dealing with the Death Sentence and Execution of Aileen Wuornos is available for free on either Netflix or Amazon Prime.  

It’s worth your time to watch.  

Netflix

Amazon Prime

 

 

Amnesty International has released its annual report on the status of capital punishment around the world.  Entitled "Amnesty International Global Report: Death Sentences and Executions 2017," you can read it online in its pdf format.  

2017 Report: Numbers Have to Be Higher than Reported

The 48-page report covers "the judicial use of the death penalty" as best it can.  As we’ve discussed earlier, some countries — like China — consider state executions to be "state secrets" and there is no way to confirm the number of death penalty sentences carried out by these governments.

For more on how scary this can be, read about the China Death Vans in a series of posts published here several years ago, written by Lenamon Law legal intern Sin-Ting Mary Liu

Other countries may not keep track.  Some may have a tally but may not want to share their numbers with outside organizations (e.g., North Korea).

 Amnesty International acknowledges these limitations as part of its report.  With the information and data it was able to obtain and verify, there is much to learn and consider.

Death Penalty in the United States: 2017

Among those statistics are the following that pertain to executions and death sentences in the United States during the past year:

1.  The United States is the only country in North, Central, or South America that carried out executions in 2017. This has been true for the past nine years. 

2.  There were 23 executions in the United States in 2017,  

3.  Forty-one (41) defendants were sentenced to death in the United States last year.

4. More states are carrying out executions.  In 2017, eight (8) states executed people:  

5.  Fifteen states had defendants sentenced to death during the past year. 

.For more, watch:

 

 

Two more petitions for a writ of certiorari were denied on Monday by the Supreme Court of the United States in capital cases coming out of Florida. 

They are dealing with review of current Florida Death Row inmates’ sentences where they were sentenced to die under a statutory scheme deemed unconstitutional by the High Court. 

Florida Death Row Sentences Under Unconstitutional System Denied SCOTUS Review

Without more, let us all consider the words of Justice Sotomayor in her dissent published in the cases of Guardado v. Jones and Cozzie v. Florida: 

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR, dissenting from the denial of certiorari.

Twice now this Court has declined to vacate and remand to the Florida Supreme Court in cases where that court failed to address a substantial Eighth Amendment challenge to capital defendants’ sentences, and twice I have dissented from that inaction. See Truehill v. Florida, 583 U. S. ___, ___ (2017); Middleton v. Florida, 583 U. S. ___, ___ (2018). Four petitioners were involved in those cases.

Today we add two more to the list, for a total of at least six capital defendants who now face execution by the State without having received full consideration of their claims.

It should not be necessary for me to explain again why petitioners’ challenges are substantial, why the Florida Supreme Court should have addressed those challenges, or why this Court has an obligation to intervene. Nevertheless, recent developments at the Florida Supreme Court compel me to dissent in full once again.

As a reminder, like the petitioners in Truehill and Middleton, Jesse Guardado and Steven Cozzie challenge their death sentences pursuant to Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U.S. 320 (1985). I summarized those challenges in Middleton as follows:

[Petitioners] were sentenced to death under a Florida capital sentencing scheme that this Court has since declared unconstitutional. See Hurst v. Florida, 577 U. S. ___ (2016). Relying on the unanimity of the juries’ recommendations of death, the Florida Supreme Court post-Hurst declined to disturb the petitioners’ death sentences, reasoning that the unanimity ensured that jurors had made the necessary findings of fact under Hurst. By doing so, the Florida Supreme Court effectively transformed the pre-Hurst jury recommendations into binding findings of fact with respect to petitioners’ death sentences. 583 U. S., at ___-___ (slip op., at 1-2) (dissenting from denial of certiorari).
Reliance on those pre-Hurst recommendations, rendered after the juries repeatedly were instructed that their role was merely advisory, implicates Caldwell, where this Court recognized that "the uncorrected suggestion that the responsibility for any ultimate determination of death will rest with others presents an intolerable danger that the jury will in fact choose to minimize the importance of its role," in contravention of the Eighth Amendment. 472 U. S., at 333.

Following the dissent from the denial of certiorari in Truehill, the Florida Supreme Court has on at least two occasions taken the position that it has, in fact, considered and rejected petitioners’ Caldwell-based challenges.1 In Franklin v. State, ___ So. 3d ___, 2018 WL 897427 (Feb. 15, 2018) (per curiam), the Florida Supreme Court stated that, "prior to Hurst, [it] repeatedly rejected Caldwell challenges to the standard jury instructions." Id., at *3. The decisions it cited in support of that pre-Hurst precedent rely on one fact: "Informing the jury that its recommended sentence is `advisory’ is a correct statement of Florida law and does not violate Caldwell." Rigterink v. State, 66 So.3d 866, 897 (Fla. 2011) (per curiam); Globe v. State, 877 So.2d 663, 673-674 (Fla. 2004) (per curiam) (stating that it has rejected Caldwell challenges to the standard jury instructions, citing cases that similarly rely on the fact that the instructions accurately reflect the advisory nature of the jurors’ role). But of course, "the rationale underlying [this] previous rejection of the Caldwell challenge [has] now [been] undermined by this Court in Hurst," Truehill, 583 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 2), and the Florida Supreme Court must therefore "grapple with the Eighth Amendment implications of [its subsequent post-Hurst] holding" that "then-advisory jury findings are now binding and sufficient to satisfy Hurst," Middleton, 583 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 2). Its pre-Hurst precedent thus does not absolve the Florida Supreme Court from addressing petitioners’ new post-Hurst Caldwell-based challenges.

The Florida Supreme Court in Franklin did not stop there, however. It went on to state that it had "also rejected Caldwell-related Hurst claims" more recently, citing Truehill v. State, 211 So.3d 930 (Fla. 2017) (per curiam), and Oliver v. State, 214 So.3d 606 (Fla. 2017) (per curiam), noting that "the defendants in Oliver and Truehill petitioned the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to review their Caldwell claims, which the Court denied." Franklin, 2018 WL 897427, *3. This is a surprising statement, because Quentin Truehill and Terence Oliver were the two petitioners whose claims were at issue in my dissent in Truehill. Franklin did not discuss that dissent, joined by two other Justices, which specifically noted that "the Florida Supreme Court has failed to address" the important Caldwell-based challenge. Truehill, 583 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 1). Earlier this month, in rejecting a motion to vacate a sentence brought by petitioner Jesse Guardado, the Florida Supreme Court again held that it had "considered and rejected" post-Hurst Caldwell-based challenges, citing Franklin, 2018 WL 897427, and Truehill, 211 So.3d 930. Guardado v. State, ___ So. 3d ___, 2018 WL 1193196, *2 (Mar. 8, 2018).2

It is hard to understand how the Florida Supreme Court "considered and rejected" these Caldwell-based challenges based on its decisions in Truehill and Oliver. Those cases did not mention or discuss Caldwell. Nor did they mention or discuss the fundamental Eighth Amendment principle it announced: "It is constitutionally impermissible to rest a death sentence on a determination made by a sentencer who has been led to believe that the responsibility for determining the appropriateness of the defendant’s death rests elsewhere." Caldwell, 472 U. S., at 328-329. In neither Truehill nor Oliver did the Florida Supreme Court discuss the grave Eighth Amendment concerns implicated by its finding that the Hurst violations in those cases are harmless, a conclusion that transforms those advisory jury recommendations into binding findings of fact. Although the Florida Supreme Court noted in Truehill that the defendant in that case "contends that he is entitled to relief pursuant to Hurst v. Florida because the jury in his case was repeatedly instructed regarding the non-binding nature of its verdict," 211 So. 3d, at 955, that was the first and last reference to that argument. There was absolutely no reference to the argument in Oliver. 214 So.3d 606.3

Therefore, the Florida Supreme Court has (again)4 failed to address an important and substantial Eighth Amendment challenge to capital defendants’ sentences post-Hurst. Nothing in its pre-Hurst precedent, nor in its opinions in Truehill and Oliver, addresses or resolves these substantial Caldwell-based challenges. This Court can and should intervene in the face of this troubling situation.

I dissent.

Foot Notes

1. The cases in which the Florida Supreme Court has taken this position, i.e., that it has considered and rejected the Caldwell-based claims discussed herein, are not the ones currently under review before our Court in these petitions.


2. As petitioner Guardado explained in his supplemental brief, in addition to the postconviction motion that forms the basis of the petition currently before our Court, he also filed a motion to vacate his sentence. See Supp. Brief for Petitioner 1. It was with respect to that motion that the Florida Supreme Court issued the opinion stating that it had "considered and rejected" the Caldwell-based challenge. No mention of the Caldwell-based claim was made in the Florida Supreme Court opinion directly under review in this petition. 226 So.3d 213 (2017). In fact, petitioner Guardado filed a motion with the Florida Supreme Court for rehearing and clarification of the denial of his postconviction motion, noting, inter alia, that the opinion "unreasonably omitted any consideration or discussion of [his] arguments regarding the interplay between Caldwell and Hurst." App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 17-7171, p. 68a. The Florida Supreme Court denied the motion in an unreasoned one-line order. See id., at 7a. Petitioner Steven Cozzie also moved for rehearing below, similarly arguing in part that the Florida Supreme Court "overlooked the effect of instructing [his] jury many times that its recommendation was advisory only," citing Caldwell. App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 17-7545, p. 66a. The Florida Supreme Court also denied the motion in an unreasoned one-line order. See id., at 43a.


3. Tellingly, in neither Franklin nor Guardado did the Florida Supreme Court supply a pincite for its "consider[ation] and reject[ion]" in Truehill and Oliver of these Caldwell-based claims.


4. "Toutes choses sont dites déjà; mais comme personne n’écoute, il faut toujours recommencer." Gide, Le Traité du Narcisse 8 (1892), in Le Traité du Narcisse 104 (R. Robidoux ed. 1978) ("Everything has been said already; but as no one listens, we must always begin again").