Florida Criminal Appeals Attorney Law

Appellate Law, Criminal Defense and Appeals and Post Conviction Relief in Florida Courts, Federal District Courts and the 11th Circuit

Tag: Evans

Evans v. Sec’y, Dept. of Corrections, No. 11-14498: Eleventh Circuit Holds Florida’s Death Penalty Statute Constitutional

Florida’s criminal defense and criminal appeals attorneys who follow death penalty jurisprudence may be interested to know that the Eleventh Circuit has finally issued an opinion in Evans v. Sec’y, Dept. of Corrections, No. 11-14498, a case where the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida found that Florida’s death penalty statute violated Ring v. Arizona,  536 U.S. 584 (2002).  Not surprisingly, the Eleventh Circuit disagreed with the District Court, and reversed the grant of habeas relief on such basis.

In support of its holding that Florida’s death penalty statute does not violate Ring, the Court first noted that the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly held that Florida’s judge-based sentencing system does not violate either the 6th or 8th Amendments.  See Evans, slip op. at pgs. 11-16 (citing Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242 (1976); Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447 (1984); Hildwin v. Florida, 490 U.S. 638 (1989); and, Porter v. McCollum, 558 U.S. 30, —, 130 S.Ct. 447, 453 (2009).

Second, the Court reasoned that the Florida death penalty statute differs from the Arizona death penalty statute at issue in Ring because a Florida jury renders an advisory verdict addressing the existence of aggravating circumstances, and because, inter alia, the sentencing judge must give the jury’s sentencing verdict “great weight” pursuant to Tedder v. State, 322 So. 2d 908, 910 (Fla. 1975).  In discussing the differences between the Florida and Arizona death penalty statutes, the Eleventh Circuit also noted that in Ring and several other opinions, the United States Supreme Court has hinted that Florida’s death penalty scheme might pass constitutional muster.  Evans, slip op. at pgs. 17-25 (citing Walton v. Arizona, 497 U.S. 639 (1990); Jones v. United States, 526 U.S. 227, 250–51 (1999); and Hildwin, 490 U.S. 638).

Finally, the Eleventh Circuit noted that although some United States Supreme Court jurisprudence may cast doubt on the constitutionality of Florida’s death penalty scheme, only the United States Supreme Court has the authority overrule its own decisions.  See Evans, slip op., at pgs. 26-27 (collecting cases).  In short, because Hildwin, 490 U.S. 638, is directly on point, and has never been overruled, the Eleventh Circuit stated that it is obligated to follow Hildwin.  See Evans, slip op., pg. 30 (citing Hildwin, 490 U.S. at 640–41) (considering the procedures prescribed by Fla. Stat. § 921.141 (Supp. 1988) and holding that “the Sixth Amendment does not require that the specific findings authorizing the imposition of the sentence of death be made by the jury.”)

Still Waiting for Order in Evans v. McNeil, 08-14402-CIV-JEM

For any criminal attorneys who have some time on their hands while we wait to see how the Court will rule on the State of Florida’s motion to reconsider, I thought you might like to read the Court’s Order on the petition for writ of habeas corpus.  You can find it here.  A word of warning: the Order is long.  The discussion of the constitutionality of the death penalty scheme runs from pages 78-93.

Meanwhile, according to an article posted in the Miami Herald on June 22, 2011, this is the first time a Court has declared the Florida death penalty scheme unconstitutional.  If the Court maintains its ruling, and the State of Florida appeals to the Eleventh Circuit, as Attorney General Pam Bondi has stated will likely be done, such an appeal could set the stage for the case to make its way to the United States Supreme Court.

State of Florida asks Court to Reconsider Death Penalty Ruling in Evans v. McNeil, 08-14402-CIV-JEM

The Miami Herald reports in an article today that the State of Florida has asked the Court to reconsider its previous Order wherein the Court found Florida’s death penalty scheme unconstitutional.  The Court has not yet ruled on the motion.  It is unlikely that the Court would rule until the time for Evans to file a response has elapsed.  Under the Local Rules for the Southern District, parties generally have 14 days to respond to motions.  According to the article, Attorney General Pam Bondi stated that the State of Florida will take an appeal to the Eleventh Circuit if Judge Martinez does not alter his ruling.

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