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: United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida

A Kinder, Gentler Court for Federal Habeas Petitioners? Holland v. Florida, 130 S.Ct. 2549 (2010)

Since my previous post on the United States Supreme Court case of Maples v. Thomas, No. 10-63, I’ve been wondering if we are seeing a kinder, gentler Court, at least in the area of federal petitions for writ of habeas corpus.  I think the answer is yes.

If you took a few moments to read Maples, you’re familiar with the Court’s exercise of leniency toward Maples, which is somewhat rare in habeas cases.  (As I mentioned in my previous post, habeas petitioners are often penalized for mistakes made by their postconviction attorney).  You’d also recall that in Maples, the Court relied heavily on Holland v. Florida, 130 S.Ct. 2549 (2010).

Holland is another case where the Supreme Court also showed leniency toward a federal habeas petitioner.  In Holland, the Court held, for the first time, that (1) the one year statute of limitations contained in section 2244(d) (governing the filing of section 2254 federal habeas petitions challenging state court convictions) can be tolled for equitable reasons; and, (2) an attorney’s professional misconduct may, at times, constitute “extraordinary circumstances” to warrant equitable tolling.  See Maples, No. 10-63, slip op. at *13 (recalling holding of Holland).  Significantly, in Holland, the Court explicitly stated that the analysis employed by the Eleventh Circuit to determine whether an attorney’s misconduct might warrant equitable tolling was “too rigid.”  See Holland, 130 S.Ct. at 2549.  While the Court didn’t reach the conclusion that the professional misconduct of Holland’s attorney rose to the level of “extraordinary circumstances” sufficient to warrant equitable tolling, the Court did remand the case back to the Eleventh Circuit for such a determination.  See Holland, 130 S.Ct. at 2565.  The Eleventh Circuit, in turn, remanded the matter back to the District Court for a possible evidentiary hearing on the issue.  See Holland v. Florida, 613 F.3d 1053 (11th Cir. 2010).  As of the date of this post, the status and disposition of Holland’s case in the District Court is unclear.  Westlaw does not show any further published opinions subsequent to the Eleventh Circuit remand at 613 F.3d 1053.  However, I suppose if you have time to kill, you could always check PACER for the status of Holland’s case.  His case originated locally, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and appears to be assigned case number No. 06-20182-CV-PAS (Judge Seitz).

While I have not yet had the time to review the 2,358 opinions which cite to Holland, I think it’s fair to say that Holland may have begun a new era in postconviction litigation.  While it’s true that habeas petitioners have long argued that they should not be held accountable for the mistakes of their lawyers, habeas petitioners now have a strong case to point to in support of such argument.

Federal Courthouse in West Palm Beach Gets Two New United States Magistrate Judges

Since the cat is out of the bag for several hours now, I can now comfortably say congratulations to both of the newly-appointed United States Magistrate Judges.  Mr. Dave Lee Brannon has served as a longtime Assistant Federal Public Defender, and Ms. Kimberly Abel has served as a longtime Assistant United States Attorney.  Congratulations to both!

Is Florida’s Death Penalty Unconstitutional? The Court says YES in Evans v. McNeil, 08-14402-CIV-JEM

A United States District Court Judge for the Southern District of Florida, Judge Jose Martinez, recently granted a 2254 petition for writ of habeas corpus in Evans v. McNeil, 08-14402-CIV-JEM, concluding that Florida’s death penalty procedure violates the United States Supreme Court case of Ring v. Arizona.  In Ring, the Court struck down Arizona’s death penalty scheme because jurors were not required to agree on aggravating factors, which violated the Sixth Amendment.  In Florida, the death penalty is handed down in a 2 step process.  First, the jury may recommend the death penalty if 6 of the 12 jurors agree.  (I am not the only attorney to recognize how ironic it is that to be convicted of even a misdemeanor crime, the jury verdict must be unanimous, but to be sentenced to death, only 6 of the 12 must agree).  In the second step, after the jury makes its recommendation, the Judge conducts a sentencing hearing where he or she uses the jury recommendation in reaching the actual sentencing decision.  According to Judge Martinez’s opinion, the Florida scheme violates Ring because (1) the jury is not required to unanimously agree on the factors in support of the death penalty; (2) the jury never makes any specific findings of fact in support of their recommendation; and, (3) in the sentencing phase, the Judge takes evidence alone, without a jury, and neither the defendant, nor any reviewing court, has any way of knowing whether the Judge imposed the death penalty based on the same, or different factors, than were relied on by the jury.  According to Judge Martinez, such a process cannot be reconciled with Ring.

No doubt, Judge Martinez’s Order will be appealed, and criminal lawyers across the State will be watching.  A flurry of appeals will likely be filed by death row inmates themselves.  Perhaps the Florida Legislature could just save everyone some time and effort, and create a new scheme to cure the constitutional deficiencies.  Somehow, I suspect that won’t happen.  The Florida Supreme Court already asked the Legislature to fix the sentencing scheme, and the Legislature failed to act.  Even if the Legislature did act, I doubt they could pass anything.  If Florida’s legislators cannot even agree on simple legislation, how could anyone expect them to agree on something as important as the death penalty?

To read more about this topic, see the articles in the Palm Beach Post, the Sun Sentinel, and the Southern District of Florida Blog.

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