Florida Supreme Court Archives - Page 2 of 47 - Florida Politics

High court backs Rick Scott, Aramis Ayala vows new policy

Gov. Rick Scott has the authority to transfer murder cases away from the office of Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala because she refuses to pursue capital punishments, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Ayala greeted the ruling by declaring she was changing her policy, and would set up a special panel to review the death penalty  appropriateness of each potential capital case. She would not be directly involved.

“I respect the decision and appreciate that the Supreme Court of Florida has responded and provided clarification,” Ayala said in a written statement. “The Supreme Court of Florida ruled today that a case-specific determination must be made on first degree murder cases. To ensure today’s Court’s decision is heeded, I have organized a Death Penalty Review Panel comprised of seven well-versed and experienced assistant state attorneys. This panel will evaluate each first-degree murder case in the 9th Judicial Circuit.”

“With implementation of this Panel, it is my expectation that going forward all first-degree murder cases that occur in my jurisdiction will remain in my office and be evaluated and prosecuted accordingly,” she added.

The case decided Thursday by the Florida Supreme Court had far-reaching ramifications – not just whether Ayala can decide to not pursue death penalties, or what happens to murder cases in her 9th Judicial Circuit. The court decided the governor has the power to strip cases if he has reason to believe the state attorney is not going to follow the law.

“Today’s ruling is a great victory for the many victims and families whose lives have been forever changed by ruthless, evil acts of crime,” Scott declared in a statement issued by his office. “I absolutely disagreed with State Attorney Ayala’s shortsighted decision to not fight for justice. That’s why I’ve used my executive authority to reassign nearly 30 cases to State Attorney Brad King. These horrific cases include Markeith Loyd, an accused cop killer who murdered his pregnant ex-girlfriend and Orlando Police Department Lt. Debra Clayton; Everett Glenn Miller, another alleged cop killer who is accused of ambushing and murdering two Kissimmee Police Officers, Officer Matthew Baxter and Sgt. Sam Howard; and Callene Marcia Barton and Lakesha Chantell Lewis, who are accused of killing a helpless toddler.

“Crimes like these are pure evil and deserve the absolute full consideration of punishment – something that State Attorney Ayala completely ruled out,” he added. “She unilaterally decided to not stand on the side of victims and their families, which is completely sickening. In Florida, we hold criminals fully accountable for the crimes they commit – especially those that attack our law enforcement community and innocent children.”

Ayala’s attorney, Roy L. Austin Jr., said he respected the ruling and suggested that Ayala’s new policy should return cases to the 9th Judicial Circuit.

“State Attorney Ayala has always intended to follow the guidance she was given by the Florida Supreme Court. To ensure that she is doing so, she has set up a panel of experienced attorneys in her Office to review all death-penalty eligible cases. By setting this up, State Attorney Ayala’s action is well within the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling and all cases should be returned to her and no further cases should be removed from her,” Austin said in a written statement. “This gives the governor the opportunity to return the cases to the people of Orange and Osceola Counties.”

The issue might not be totally resolved. Ayala and Austin also filed suit in U.S. District Court, and that case was put on hold while the Florida case was considered and decided.

Numerous outside groups entered the case including the Florida House of Representatives, led by Speaker Richard Corcoran, arguing it had legal and civil rights ramifications.

“Today is a victory for victims and their families, and I congratulate the Florida Supreme Court for such an unequivocal stand for the rule of law,” Corcoran said in a written statement. “I also commend Governor Scott for his courageous action in this case. The people of the state of Florida support the death penalty as a punishment for the most evil among us and those sworn to uphold the law and enforce the law need to remember that the people have spoken. I hope this message resonates loud and clear with all government officials who think they have the power to ignore or override the will of the people. When it comes to the most evil among us the people demand justice and today they got it. ”

“This is a deeply disappointing decision,” declared Melba Pearson, deputy director of the ACLU of Florida. “Florida law gives independently elected State Attorneys broad discretion to determine how best to seek justice in the cases they are responsible for prosecuting. Florida State Attorneys answer to the voters they represent, not to the governor. Governor Scott’s intervention in State Attorney Ayala’s cases dangerously undermines the independence of our state’s prosecutors, and the Supreme Court’s regrettable decision today opens the door to further politicizing of our justice system.”

Said the Florida Sheriff’s Association: “Today, the Supreme Court affirmed that Governor Scott acted in the best interests of Floridians in reassigning more than 30 death penalty cases from State Attorney Ayala in the Ninth Judicial Circuit to Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King. As a representative of the law, Ayala was not serving to the best of her ability when she announced she would not consider the death penalty in any of those cases.”

State Rep. Bob Cortes has renewed his call for her dismissal Thursday.

Cortes, a Republican from Altamonte Springs, sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott declaring “Now that the Supreme Court has affirmed that you are well within your legal rights as governor to reassign her cases, I respectfully request again that you suspend State Attorney Ayala from her position.”

Miriam Aroni Krinsky, founder and executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, a group that submitted a brief signed by “dozens of former prosecutors and judges, including four former Florida Supreme Court justices and two former U.S. solicitors general,” held firm to the notion that local prosecutors must be left to decide what is right in their circuits.

“Legislatures establish the crimes that can be prosecuted and the range of punishments sought,” she wrote. “But it is the locally elected prosecutors who must decide which prosecutions and punishments to pursue. These decisions are an inherent part of the independent exercise of prosecutorial autonomy.”

The issue might not be totally resolved. Ayala and Austin also filed suit in U.S. District Court, and that case was put on hold while the Florida case was considered and decided.

The main question before the Florida Supreme Court was whether Scott could reassign murder cases to the 5th Judicial Circuit, where King has no issues with pursuing death penalty prosecutions. Scott has done so with more than two dozen murder cases in Ayala’s circuit, including two he reassigned on Wednesday.

The main question before the court was whether Scott could reassign murder cases to the 5th Judicial Circuit, where King has no issues with pursuing death penalty prosecutions. Scott has done so with more than two dozen murder cases in Ayala’s circuit, including two he reassigned on Wednesday.

Yes, the court concluded, by a 5-2 decision written by Justice C. Alan Lawson, with Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices  Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and R. Fred Lewis concurring, and with Justices Barbara J. Pariente and Peggy A. Quince dissenting.

“Applying this well-established standard of review to the facts of this case, the executive orders reassigning the death-penalty eligible cases in the Ninth Circuit to King fall well “within the bounds” of the Governor’s “broad authority,” the decision analysis stated.

“The executive orders reassigning death-penalty eligible cases in the Ninth Circuit to King do not exceed the Governor’s authority on the facts of this case. Therefore, we deny Ayala’s petition,” the court’s decision, led by Labarga, read.

Ayala and her allies in court had argued that the very independence of elected state attorneys – prosecutors for their circuits – was at stake from what Scott had done. The ramifications raised questions about whether state attorneys could be politically pressured by an all-powerful governor to make decisions on how to prosecute.

The court granted that Scott has the power to reassign cases when he concludes the state’s laws are not being followed, but it stopped short of suggesting that he or any governor could tell a state attorney what to do.

The issue, the court concluded, was that Ayala’s blanket decision, announced March 16, to not pursue death penalties was not an exercise of prosecutorial discretion, but a decision to not exercise discretion, and therefore a refusal to follow Florida law.

“Ayala and her amici urge this Court to invalidate the reassignment orders by viewing this case as a power struggle over prosecutorial discretion. We decline the invitation because by effectively banning the death penalty in the Ninth Circuit—as opposed to making case-specific determinations as to whether the facts of each death-penalty eligible case justify seeking the death penalty—Ayala has exercised no discretion at all. As New York’s high court cogently explained, ‘adopting a ‘blanket policy’ ‘ against the imposition of the death penalty is ‘in effect refusing to exercise discretion’ and tantamount to a ‘functional veto’ of state law,” and therefore something Scott could step in to remedy, the court wrote.

“Ayala’s blanket prohibition against the death penalty provided the Governor with ‘good and sufficient reason’ to reassign the cases at issue to King, also important to our holding is that the Governor did not attempt to decide which cases are deserving of the death penalty,” the court wrote.

Pariente offered a dissenting opinion, with Quince concurring, that Ayala acted within bounds of Florida law.

“When State Attorney Ayala announced that her office would not seek the death penalty in capital prosecutions, she acted well within the bounds of Florida law regarding the death penalty,” the decision’s analysis stated. “She did not announce a refusal to prosecute the guilt of defendants charged with first-degree murder. Rather, State Attorney Ayala announced that she would not seek a sentence that produces years of appeals and endless constitutional challenges and implicates decades of significant jurisprudential developments, many of which have emanated over the years from the United States Supreme Court. Despite assertions to the contrary, State Attorney Ayala did not make her decision based on personal opposition to the death penalty or ’emotion.’

“State Attorney Ayala’s decision was well within the scheme created by the Legislature and within the scope of decisions State Attorneys make every day on how to allocate their offices’ limited resources. Because State Attorney Ayala’s decision was within the bounds of the law and her discretion, Governor Scott did not have ‘good and sufficient reason’ to remove her from these cases,” the dissenting opinion continued.

“The Governor’s decision in this case fundamentally undermines the constitutional role of duly elected State Attorneys,” Pariente concluded.

Rick Scott reassigns two more murder cases from Aramis Ayala

Two more Orange County murder cases, including one dating to the early 1990s and one from this spring, are being stripped from Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala, with Gov. Rick Scott reassigning the prosecutions to State Attorney Brad King of Ocala.

Scott signed two executive orders late Wednesday, reassigning the murder cases of Jermaine A. Foster, convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in 1994, and of  Robert Joseph Cardin, indicted in two first-degree murder charges in the deaths of his mother and brother in May.

Scott has now reassigned more than two dozen murder cases away from Ayala because the 9th Judicial Circuit state attorney declared in March that she would not pursue death penalty prosecutions.

Everyone is awaiting a decision on whether Scott’s executive orders are legal. Ayala challenged his authority to reassign cases without her consent, and the Florida Supreme Court is set to make a decision on that anytime.

Foster’s case returns because he filed a motion seeking post-conviction relief based on the fact that the laws under which he had been sentenced have been overturned.

He was convicted of murders, and attempted murder on a third victim, after essentially executing two men and attempting to kill a woman during a robbery in 1993.

Cardin’s case involves the slayings of his mother and brother in May. He was arrested in New York.

Supreme Court admonishes judge over ‘misleading’ campaign conduct

The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday publicly reprimanded an Orlando-area circuit judge for an advertisement during her 2014 election campaign that Chief Justice Jorge Labarga said included false statements that “misled” the public.

Labarga, during a more than seven-minute reprimand, pointedly refuted arguments of Circuit Judge Kim Shepard, who has denied wrongdoing.

“At the most fundamental level, you have damaged the public’s trust and confidence in our state courts,” Labarga said to Shepard, who stood quietly before the court. “This is a very serious matter, very serious.”

Justices in May ruled that Shepard, a judge in the circuit made up of Orange and Osceola counties, should receive a 90-day suspension and a public reprimand. The decision came after an investigation that focused on an Orlando Sentinel endorsement that Shepard received in 1994 for a state House campaign.

In the 2014 judicial race, the newspaper endorsed Shepard’s opponent, Norberto Katz, whom Shepard defeated. By deleting the date of the endorsement and references to the House race, Shepard deceptively made it appear in an advertisement that she had been endorsed by the Sentinel in the judicial race, a hearing panel of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission found.

“The First Amendment does not create a free pass for judicial candidates to distort facts or misrepresent themselves or their opponents in their campaigns,” Labarga said Wednesday. He also appeared to warn Shepard about misconduct in the future.

“By this action today, we admonish you to correct whatever caused you to commit this very serious ethical breach,” Labarga said. “But we also advise you to remember what our prior cases consistently hold: The second ethical breach by a judge will be viewed far, far more harshly.”

Shepard filed a document at the U.S. Supreme Court last month indicating she planned to challenge the disciplinary action. In that document. Shepard said she used a description of her character and integrity that had been made earlier by the Sentinel but did not present it as an endorsement.

“At no time, even during the course of the judicial campaign or their (the Sentinel’s) ultimate endorsement of her opponent because of their preference for his `experience,’ did the Orlando Sentinel ever retract or modify any of these observations about the candidate’s character or integrity,” the document filed at the U.S. Supreme Court said.

“All of the record evidence below established that each of these observations were as true when used as when made.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

High-profile DUI case spurs battle over blood tests

Attorneys for a Palm Beach County millionaire convicted of DUI manslaughter will go before the Florida Supreme Court this week to challenge state rules for testing blood-alcohol levels in drunken-driving cases.

The hearing Wednesday is part of years of legal wrangling in the high-profile case of John Goodman, who was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison in the 2010 traffic death of Scott Patrick Wilson.

Justices will hear arguments about whether the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has adequate rules to ensure that blood-alcohol tests conducted in DUI cases provide accurate results. The arguments will focus, at least in part, on allegations that the state doesn’t have adequate safeguards to prevent drawn blood from clotting – potentially resulting in artificially high measurements of blood-alcohol levels – and doesn’t require proper screening of samples.

“Because neither the rules nor the FDLE-approved standard operating procedures require screening and documenting, criminal defendants have no guarantee that the blood samples tested for use in their criminal trials are scientifically reliable,” Goodman’s attorneys wrote in a December 2016 brief. “More specifically, a criminal defendant has no guarantee that he or she will know when his or her sample is clotted or irregular because the rules do not require screening or documentation, or rejection of unfit samples. Without adequate procedures in place, there is no way to ensure the scientific reliability of the blood test result.”

But Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office is asking the Supreme Court to uphold a ruling last year by the 4th District Court of Appeal that rejected Goodman’s arguments. Earlier, an administrative law judge also sided with the state.

Blood-alcohol tests in suspected DUI cases are rooted in what is known as a state “implied consent” law. Under that law, people effectively agree to be subject to blood- or breath-alcohol tests when they receive driver’s licenses.

“The department’s rules sufficiently regulate blood draws and blood alcohol testing in a manner that ensures the reliability and accuracy of blood alcohol test results for purposes of Florida’s implied consent law,” attorneys in Bondi’s office argued in a March brief. “Based on all the evidence presented, Goodman’s challenge – grounded in alleged problems stemming from blood clots and hemoconcentration – fails.”

Goodman, whose DUI manslaughter case drew heavy media attention, sought during his trial in Palm Beach County circuit court to exclude blood-alcohol test results because of alleged problems with the testing rules. But the issue was sent to an administrative law judge because it involved questions about the validity of administrative rules approved by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

As an example of the details raised in the case, Goodman’s attorneys contend that a state rule does not properly spell out the type of needle to be used in drawing blood in DUI cases. They argue that a type of needle used on Goodman has a higher chance of blood clotting – and resulting in artificially elevated blood-alcohol levels.

In a separate proceeding from the issues going before the Supreme Court this week, the 4th District Court of Appeal in July upheld Goodman’s conviction. The appeals court rejected a series of arguments, including a contention that investigators violated Goodman’s rights by not getting a warrant before drawing blood.

Republish with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Justices to hear case over Supreme Court appointments

The Florida Supreme Court said Friday it will hear arguments this fall in a case that could help shape the future of the court.

The Supreme Court scheduled arguments for Nov. 1 in a battle about whether Gov. Rick Scott will have the authority to appoint as many as three new justices as he leaves office in January 2019.

The League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause filed the lawsuit in June, seeking a ruling that would allow Scott’s successor to appoint the new justices. The outcome of the case could play a big role in the future makeup of the Supreme Court, particularly if a Democrat is elected in November 2018 to replace Scott, a Republican.

Three justices widely viewed as part of a liberal bloc – justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince – will have to leave the court in January 2019 because of a mandatory retirement age.

Scott’s attorneys argue that he has the constitutional authority to pick replacements for the justices. They also argued in a document filed last month that the lawsuit should be dismissed because it presumes that a future dispute will occur about the appointments. The document, for example, said the three justices could step down from the Supreme Court before January 2019.

“Petitioners do not challenge any specific executive action that has been taken by the governor, but rather seek the court’s opinion regarding the scope of the governor’s executive authority to act in the future under a hypothetical set of facts,” the document said.

But attorneys for the League of Women Voters and Common Cause fired back this week in a court document that said Scott has already made clear he plans to appoint replacements. As a result, attorneys for the voting-rights groups said the Supreme Court should resolve the issue in advance instead of waiting for a legal battle after Scott makes appointments in January 2019.

“The governor’s intended action, if not stopped now, will create a constitutional crisis and severely impact the work of this court,” the document filed Monday said.

A key issue in the case deals with when the terms of Scott and the three justices end. The voting-rights groups contend that Scott’s term ends at the start of Jan. 8, 2019, while the justices’ terms run through that day.

Scott’s attorneys reject the groups’ interpretation, saying that the justices’ terms end at the beginning of Jan. 8, while the governor remains in office until his successor takes the oath. The oath has often been administered around noon, which would give Scott time to make the appointments.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Supreme Court orders argument in judicial appointments case

The Florida Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case against Gov. Rick Scott over whether he has the authority to appoint three new justices on the last day of his term.

The court on Friday set argument for 9 a.m. Nov. 1.

For now, the matter will be heard by the court’s seven justices, including the three—R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy A. Quince—whose age-required retirements occasioned the suit.

Court spokesman Craig Waters said any process for justices to recuse themselves would begin with motions to the court. “Then the justices would consider the reasons given,” he added.

“A maximum of twenty minutes to the side is allowed for the argument, but counsel is expected to use only so much of that time as is necessary,” the court’s docket said. “No continuances will be granted except upon a showing of extreme hardship.”

Progressive groups are battling Scott over whether he can replace the three liberal-leaning justices, who will be retiring in early 2019.

Scott has said he plans to name their replacements the morning of his last day in office, Jan. 8. His attorneys have argued that their age-mandated retirements also will become effective Jan. 8.

The League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) and Common Cause counter that Scott can’t replace those justices because he’ll be out of office earlier on the same day they retire, and their final judicial terms last till midnight.

They seek a “writ of quo warranto,” a court action against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action.

For the first time in Florida, a white person is set to be executed for killing a black person.

For the first time in state history, Florida is expecting to execute a white man Thursday for killing a black person — and it plans to do so with the help of a drug that has never been used before in any U.S. execution.

Barring a stay, Mark Asay, 53, is scheduled to die by lethal injection after 6 p.m. Asay was convicted by a jury of two racially motivated, premeditated murders in Jacksonville in 1987.

The planned execution — Florida’s first since the U.S. Supreme Court halted the practice in the state more than 18 months ago — is expected to be carried out using etomidate, an anesthetic that has been approved by the Florida Supreme Court. Two other drugs also will be used.

Asay, who is white, fatally shot Robert Lee Booker, 34, a black man, after making multiple racist comments, prosecutors said. Asay’s second victim was Robert McDowell, 26, who was mixed race, white and Hispanic. Prosecutors say Asay had hired McDowell, who was dressed as a woman, for sex and shot him six times after discovering his gender.

While Asay would be the state’s first white man to be executed in Florida for killing a black man, at least 20 black men have been executed for killing white victims since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center. A total of 92 Florida inmates have been executed in that time period.

Opponents of capital punishment said much more needs to be done to make Florida’s criminal justice system more equitable.

“This does nothing to change the 170-year-long history of Florida not executing whites for killing blacks,” said Mark Elliott, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Etomidate is the first of three drugs administered in Florida’s new execution cocktail. It is replacing midazolam, which has been harder to acquire after many drug companies began refusing to provide it for executions. The etomidate is followed by rocuronium bromide, a paralytic, and finally, potassium acetate, which stops the heart. It is Florida’s first time using potassium acetate too, which was used in a 2015 execution in Oklahoma by mistake, but has not been used elsewhere, a death penalty expert said.

While the state’s high court has approved the use of etomidate, some experts have criticized the drug as being unproven.

“It’s never been used in an execution before,” said Jen Moreno, a lethal injection expert who works as a staff attorney at the University of California, Berkeley Law School’s death penalty clinic. “There are outstanding questions about whether it’s going to do what it needs to do during an execution. The state hasn’t provided any information about why it has selected this drug.”

State corrections officials defended the choice, saying it has been reviewed. The corrections department refused to answer questions from The Associated Press about how it chose etomidate.

“The Florida Department of Corrections follows the law and carries out the sentence of the court,” Michelle Glady, the Florida Department of Corrections’ spokeswoman, said in a statement. “This is the Department’s most solemn duty and the foremost objective with the lethal injection procedure is a humane and dignified process.”

Doctors hired by Asay’s attorneys raised questions about etomidate in court declarations, saying there are cases where it had caused pain along with involuntary writhing in patients.

But in its opinion allowing the drug to be used, the state’s high court said earlier this month that four expert witnesses demonstrated that Asay “is at small risk of mild to moderate pain.”

Asay would be the first Florida inmate executed since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling found the state’s method of sentencing people to death to be unconstitutional. The court ruled that the old system was illegal because it gave judges, not juries, the power to decide.

Since then, Florida’s Legislature passed a law requiring a unanimous jury for death penalty recommendations.

In Asay’s case, jurors recommended death for both murder counts by 9-3 votes. Even though the new law requires unanimity, Florida’s high court ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling did not apply to older cases.

Asay will be the 24th inmate executed since Gov. Rick Scott has taken office, the most under any governor in Florida history.

Booker’s son, Vittorio Robinson, who was 15 when his father was killed, told the Florida Times-Union newspaper in Jacksonville that his father’s death helped him realize that racism was still alive.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” he said, describing when he learned of his father’s death. “And then it dawned on me, there are actually still people out there that thought that way.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Justices reject resentencing in 1976 murder

In a case stemming from the 1976 strangulation of a 13-year-old girl, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday rejected arguments that a Death Row inmate should receive a new sentencing hearing.

The arguments by attorneys for inmate James Ernest Hitchcock were rooted in a major 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling and subsequent Florida decisions that have led to requiring unanimous jury recommendations before defendants can be sentenced to death.

With Hitchcock sent to Death Row after a 10-2 jury recommendation, his attorneys argued that the new unanimity standard should retroactively apply to his case and lead to a new sentencing hearing.

But justices, as they have done recently in other cases, rejected the idea that the unanimity requirement should be applied to such old cases. The opinion was fully shared by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices Peggy Quince, Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson, while justices R. Fred Lewis and Charles Canady concurred without signing on to the majority opinion.

Justice Barbara Pariente dissented and pointed, in part, to the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment.

“Reliability is the linchpin of Eighth Amendment jurisprudence, and a death sentence imposed without a unanimous jury verdict for death is inherently unreliable,” Pariente wrote.

Hitchcock, now 61, was convicted in the murder of his brother’s 13-year-old stepdaughter in Orange County, according to court documents. He was accused of going into the girl’s bedroom in the middle of the night, having sexual intercourse with her and then killing her when she said she was going to tell her mother.

Hitchcock had to be resentenced three times because of a series of U.S. Supreme Court and Florida Supreme Court rulings in his case. In his final sentencing proceeding, the jury voted 10-2 to recommend the death penalty, and the Florida Supreme Court upheld that sentence in 2000.

Thursday’s ruling stemmed, in part, from a January 2016 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that found Florida’s death-penalty sentencing system unconstitutional because it gave too much authority to judges, instead of juries. That ruling, in a case known as Hurst v. Florida, has spawned extensive litigation about death-penalty cases and legislation to change the sentencing system.

As part of that litigation, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that juries are required to make unanimous recommendations before judges can sentence defendants to death. Florida long allowed majorities of juries to recommend death sentences.

Also, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled that the unanimity standard should apply to cases dating back to 2002. That is when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case known as Ring v. Arizona, which was a key underpinning of the Hurst v. Florida decision.

Hitchcock and other longtime Death Row inmates have argued that the unanimity standard also should apply to cases decided before 2002. But the decision Thursday appeared to make clear that the Supreme Court will not go along with such arguments.

“Hitchcock is among those defendants whose death sentences were final before Ring, and his arguments do not compel departing from our precedent,” the majority opinion said.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Rick Scott asks Supreme Court to toss out lawsuit over justices

Gov. Rick Scott is asking the state’s top court to throw out a lawsuit that aims to stop the Republican governor from appointing three Supreme Court justices on his last day in office.

Attorneys for Scott on Wednesday filed a response to a lawsuit filed last month by the League of Women Voters of Florida and government watchdog Common Cause.

The filing with the Supreme Court of Florida asserts the lawsuit should be rejected because it deals with something that may or may not happen in 2019.

Age limits could force three justices to retire on the day Scott leaves office in January 2019. Scott has said he plans to name their replacements that same morning.

The decision could change the ideological balance of the court for decades.

The governor’s filing is here. Previous coverage is here.

(Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press.)

Judge gives state 2 months to defend abortion waiting period

If the state thinks a law requiring women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion is constitutional, it needs to prove it, a Tallahassee judge said during a Wednesday hearing.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis—a 28-year veteran of the bench—gave the Attorney General’s Office 60 days to develop evidence to counter a Supreme Court decision this February temporarily halting enforcement of the waiting period, passed in 2015.

Opponents say delays could lead to victims of domestic abuse being forced to forgo an abortion, or cause additional emotional distress for women who have a doomed pregnancy. Proponents counter the waiting period is necessary because the decision can’t be undone.

Julia Kaye, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer representing a Gainesville women’s clinic, later told reporters the “mandatory timeout” was an “insulting law,” and that Lewis’ move meant “Florida women will just have to wait a little longer for justice.”

Deputy Solicitor General Denise Harle had argued that the law doesn’t create significant burdens for women and was the “least intrusive” way to achieve a “compelling state interest.”

Harle suggested that evidence offered might include details of similar laws in other states, for example.

But the Supreme Court said there’s a strong likelihood that a lower court will determine the law is unconstitutional because the state had offered no evidence that the law in fact does address a compelling state interest.

(Background from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.)

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