Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Florida - Where There Is No Death Penalty

OK, I overstate.  A lot.
But for today.  
And for this guy.
And maybe a bunch of others.
This guy is Paul H. Evans.  He's on death row in Florida, or he was until Monday when US District Judge Jose Martinez upset the palm trees.
Florida's Capital Sentencing Scheme Violates Ring v. Arizona.
Here's the legal part.
In Ring, the Supreme Court said that a jury must determine every fact that makes a death sentence possible.  
Florida law at the time had the jury deciding (doesn't have to be unanimous) whether the state proved the aggravating circumstance or circumstances that make a death sentence possible and whether mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating circumstance(s), which would preclude a death sentence.  But Florida law also says that the judge can do what she wants - regardless of what the jury decides - even if the jury finds that the state proved no aggravating circumstance.
The jury in Evans's case was presented with two aggravating circumstances.  By a vote of 9-3, they found one or the other or both.  But we don't know which they found or by what vote.  Maybe no more than 5 jurors found either circumstance but a total of 9 found one or the other.  They weren't asked.  They did recommend death.
The judge imposed it.
But did the jury determine every fact that made it possible?  We don't know.  We can't know.  Florida law doesn't require it.
Judge Martinez had many issues to plow through, and Evans lost and lost and lost.  He lost for the first 78 pages of the judge's opinion.
But on page 78, things changed.  That's when the judge took up the question of Ring and how it works in regard to Florida law.  And then, beginning at the bottom of page 92, the sentence to frame:
Because the jury may not have reached a majority finding as to any one aggravating factor, the Florida sentencing statute leaves open the very real possibility that in substance the judge still makes the factual findings necessary for the imposition of the death penalty as opposed to the jury as required by Ring.
And that really is all it takes to get to this in the conclusion.
A Writ of Habeas Corpus shall issue upon the bases stated in Mr. Evans's seventeenth claim for habeas relief, Florida's Capital Sentencing Statute Violates Ring v. Arizona.  It is the Order of the Court that Petitioner, Paul Hawthorne Evans, should receive a new sentencing hearing consistent with the decision of the Court before an untainted jury.
Which is really good for Paul Evans.  And which says that Florida's death penalty is unconstitutional.  
Which is really something.
Evans v. McNeil

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