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Florida Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentences Finalized Prior to Summer of 2002

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A term filled with death-penalty rulings sees another such decision, as the Florida Supreme Court handed down a decision retaining the death sentences of almost two hundred prisoners whose sentencing occurred prior to the summer of 2002.

Two rulings handed down today clarify the position of the Court on death sentences handed down by the state prior to the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Ring vs. Arizona, the case in which the court in Washington, D.C. found that juries must find aggravating factors before sentencing a defendant to be executed. The two opinions, taken together, hold that individuals sentenced prior to June 24, 2002 are not eligible for lesser sentences or a rehearing under Florida’s new capital punishment legal regime.

Though on paper the court’s ruling was 6-1 in favor of the proposition, several of the half-dozen justices in the majority dissented in part to the majority’s opinion. Justice Pariente believed that the death-row inmates in question should only be entitled to a re-hearing but not necessarily a lesser sentence. Justice Lewis argued that inmates whose sentence was handed down prior to Ring but challenged the jury’s lack of unanimity and jury fact finding under the previous rules in Florida should be eligible for possible re-sentencing.

Justice Perry, the lone dissenting justice, rejected entirely the proposition that the state can constitutionally execute individuals. The slender minority against the death penalty on the Florida court disappears entirely at the end of the month when Perry steps off the panel and into retirement.

The last person executed by the state prior to the United States Supreme Court invalidated Florida’s sentencing requirements was Oscar Ray Bolin. His sentence was carried out one week into the new year and a mere five days prior to the Supreme Court’s decision finding the state’s death-penalty laws unconstitutional was handed down.

One other death-penalty ruling was handed down today – the Court lifted the stay of execution on Mark James Asay, who was originally scheduled to die on St. Patrick’s Day this year. If executed, Asay, who was convicted in 1988 for two killings in Jacksonville, will be the first Caucasian in Florida’s 171-year history to be executed for the slaying of an African-American.

The Law Offices of Bjorn Brunvand have been representing people charged with capital murder, felony drug charges, drunk driving, government fraud, and white-collar crimes for over a quarter century. Contact our office today to discuss your Tampa Bay-area state or federal charges.

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