Is it just me, or has anybody else out there noticed that the Florida Supreme Court’s opinions are reading more like those issued by the Eleventh Circuit? Not only have the Florida Supreme Court opinions been getting longer and longer, but many are being issued without any dissents by the Justices who are known to most often dissent. For example, out of the 9 opinions released in criminal appeals since September 13, 2012: (1) two opinions are more than 80 pages long; (2) two opinions are approximately 40 pages long; (3) four of the opinions are signed by all 7 Justices; and, (4) only 1 opinion had even a partial dissent, and that dissent was written by Chief Justice Polston, rather than the Court’s usual dissenters in criminal cases. Makes you wonder . . .
Two of the Court’s recent opinions caught my attention. First, in Reynolds v. State, SC10-1602, the Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of a Rule 3.851 motion for postconviction relief and petition for writ of habeas corpus in a death penalty case notwithstanding the fact that one of the jurors fell asleep during the trial on several occasions. In the court’s 82 page opinion, the Court held that the sleeping juror did not entitle Reynolds to postconviction relief because the trial court brought the matter to the parties’ attention, and defense counsel made the strategic decision to leave the sleeping juror on the panel. I guess the lesson here is an obvious one: if a juror falls asleep during trial, defense counsel should probably ask to have the juror removed! The sleeping juror is discussed at pages 34-38 of the opinion.
Next, in Douglas v. Tucker, SC10-1725, the Court again affirmed the trial court’s denial of a Rule 3.851 motion for postconviction relief and petition for writ of habeas corpus in another death penalty case notwithstanding defense counsel’s failure to present mental health evidence during the penalty phase of the trial. Although the Court found that counsel performed deficiently under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), the Court nevertheless determined that Douglas suffered no prejudice because had counsel presented evidence of his mental health, the jury would have heard about Douglas’ antisocial tendencies. At least Justice Lewis had the courage to express his concerns, albeit in a concurring opinion. Justice Lewis’ concurrence can be found at pages 42-47.