More Changes To Florida’s Capital Punishment
BY DEVIN HEFLIN, TIMES STAFF WRITER
For three months, State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s decision to not pursue the death penalty in any of her capital cases, State Governor Scott’s decision to remove her from her capital case loads because of her decision and those that have rallied for and against both decisions, have been a point of discussion.
The discussion reached its apex as Ayala’s rights, and the practical of capital punishment reached the state’s capital two months ago.
Three questions arise in the three months since the 2016 elected state prosecutor was forcibly recused from twenty-two cases: what have been the three major changes to Florida’s Death Penalty?
Florida Death Row Statistics, by the Numbers
Total White Males 214
Total Black Males 143
Total Other Males 10
Total White Females 1
Total Black Females 2
Total Other Females 1
4/4/2017 Total 371
“Throughout its history, the death penalty has been applied in racially biased ways. Sadly, that’s still the case today. In the U.S., the murder of a white victim is more likely to lead to an execution than the murder of a person of color.” Said Rev. Dr. James Morris, Pastor of Carter Tabernacle CME Church.
Morris has been a vocal proponent of the abolishment of the death penalty. He also identified delineations of justice between how malefactors are penalized based upon the race of the victim.
“Specifically here in Florida, homicides with white female victims are 6.5 times more likely to end in an execution than those with Black male victims. These disparities send the troubling message that some lives matter more in the criminal justice system. We are all God’s children who deserve equal justice, regardless of skin color.”
“When mistakes are made with the death penalty, it is communities of color who disproportionally suffer. African Americans are more likely to be wrongfully convicted than whites. That sad fact is apparent when looking at the 26 people exonerated from death row in Florida since 1973 – more than any other state. Nearly 75% of Florida death row exonerees (19) are people of color.”
What’s New with the Death Penalty in Florida
- Senate Bill 280 revises sentencing requirements in capital felony cases to require a unanimous jury verdict, rather than a certain number of jurors, for a sentencing recommendation of death. The Florida Supreme Court’s ruling only applies to cases dating after 2002, the date of an important U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring juries, not judges, to issue death sentences.
- On May 22, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Florida's petition for a writ of certiorari in Florida v. Hurst, refusing to disturb a decision of the Florida Supreme Court that had declared it unconstitutional for judges to impose death sentences after one or more jurors in the case had voted for life. The ruling effectively ends Florida prosecutors' efforts to reverse the state court ruling—which could overturn approximately 200 death sentences in the state—requiring that capital sentencing juries unanimously recommend death before the trial judge may impose a death sentence.
-The three states that did not require a unanimous verdict were Florida, Delaware and Alabama. These states each produced one-quarter of all death sentences in the country.
Perhaps, the most notable near potential death penalty case in the state at moment is that of accused murderer Markeith Lloyd, whom was the first case State Attorney Ayala said she wouldn’t pursue capital punishment.
Ayala filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday against Gov. Scott, who removed her from twenty-three capital cases. The primary case which drew Ayala criticism is that of accused killer Markeith Loyd. Lake county based State Attorney Brad King has replaced Ayala and has assumed her caseload.
In the complaint against Scott and King, Ayala states Scott violated the U.S. Constitution and “deprived voters in the Ninth Judicial Circuit of their chosen State Attorney,” by removing her from the cases.
“The governor did not take this step because of any misconduct on Ayala’s part, but simply because he disagreed with her reasoned prosecutorial determination not to seek the death penalty under current circumstances,” reads the complaint.
King was not elected by voters of Orange and Osceola Counties and is a “well-known supporter of the death penalty,” according to Ayala’s documents.
Florida law grants state attorneys the authority to seek capital punishment, but the Florida Constitution does not require them to do so.
Article 5, Section 17 of the Florida State Constitution, have been antagonists documented basis of opposition which they say proves the Governor has the right to remove any elected official which isn’t fulfilling their duty.
However, in the March 20 motion filed by Ayala’s office, the State Attorney countered using the same Article 5, Section 17, which, as one reads further, states that a state attorney retains all power over charging and prosecutorial decisions.
The section goes on to say that the State Attorney shall be the prosecuting officer over all trials in that circuit and shall perform other duties as described by general law.
In part thirteen of her motion, Ayala cited Florida Statute 27.14, which says that a Governor can only remove a State Attorney if said Governor deems that justice will not be exercised. Ayala maintains life imprisonment, through her discretion as justice against Loyd, not the death penalty.
Ayala’s office received a noose in the mail at her Orange County office, accompanied by death threats.