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August 31, 2017

Florida Supreme Court says Gov was within authority to remove prosecutor from capital cases

The Florida Supreme Court issues a ruling today in Ayala v. Scott, No. SC 17-653 (Fla Aug 31, 2017) (available here). Here is the start of the opinion and the some of its analysis section:

Aramis Donell Ayala, State Attorney for Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit, petitions this Court for a writ of quo warranto, challenging Governor Rick Scott’s authority under section 27.14(1), Florida Statutes (2016), to reassign the prosecution of death-penalty eligible cases in the Ninth Circuit to Brad King, State Attorney for Florida’s Fifth Judicial Circuit. We have jurisdiction.  See article V, § 3(b)(8), Fla. Const.  For the reasons below, we deny Ayala’s petition....

Ayala argues that the Governor exceeded his authority under section 27.14 by reassigning death-penalty eligible cases in the Ninth Circuit to King over her objection because article V, section 17, of the Florida Constitution makes Ayala “the prosecuting officer of all trial courts in [the Ninth] [C]ircuit.”  While quo warranto is the proper vehicle to challenge the Governor’s authority to reassign these cases to King, see Fla. House of Representatives v. Crist, 999 So. 2d 601, 607 (Fla. 2008), Ayala is not entitled to relief because the Governor did not exceed his authority on the facts of this case....

[T]he 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.”  Finch, 254 So. 2d at 204-05.  Far from being unreasoned or arbitrary, as required by section 27.14(1), the reassignments are predicated upon “good and sufficient reason,” namely Ayala’s blanket refusal to pursue the death penalty in any case despite Florida law establishing the death penalty as an appropriate sentence under certain circumstances. See generally § 921.141, Fla. Stat. (2017).

Notwithstanding the Governor’s compliance with all of the requirements of section 27.14(1), however, 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 authorizing prosecutors to pursue the death penalty in appropriate cases. Johnson v. Pataki, 691 N.E.2d 1002, 1007 (N.Y. 1997).

Two Justices dissented, and the dissenting opinion starts this way:

This case is about the independence of duly elected State Attorneys to make lawful decisions within their respective jurisdictions as to sentencing and allocation of their offices’ resources, free from interference by a Governor who disagrees with their decisions.  The issue before this Court is whether a duly elected State Attorney’s choice to forgo seeking one potential penalty in a class of criminal cases, in favor of seeking another penalty authorized by statute, constitutes “good and sufficient reason” for the Governor to exercise his removal power under section 27.14(1), Florida Statutes (2017).  I dissent because the State Attorney’s decision to prosecute first-degree murder cases but not seek the death penalty at this time does not provide a basis for the Governor to remove State Attorney Aramis Ayala.

August 31, 2017 at 03:53 PM | Permalink

Comments

An easier option ...
If suspect is caught "red handed" , committing a capital offense ..
Summary execution on the spot ☠️
If error , then publish an "Oops!" 😳
Saves time $$$$$$ and stress on victims and jurors ‼️

Kindly DJB

Posted by: Docile/Kind Soul® in OR | Aug 31, 2017 4:25:25 PM

And this would be trivial for a future prosecutor to get around, just don't announce a policy but say that after review each case is not worth pursuing.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Aug 31, 2017 5:24:36 PM

Quince should know better than to dissent here. She was an Assistant State Attorney previously and I would think she would understand the decisions to be made to carefully select cases to seek the death penalty.

Posted by: DaveP | Aug 31, 2017 6:33:10 PM

Quince should know better than to dissent here. She was an Assistant State Attorney previously and I would think she would understand the decisions to be made to carefully select cases to seek the death penalty.

Posted by: DaveP | Aug 31, 2017 6:33:10 PM

Stupid court.

First, Soronel is correct. All this will do is in the future is cause DAs to lie and play games. Encouraging that type of behavior by elected officials is bad public policy.

Second, the court writes. "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 authorizing prosecutors to pursue the death penalty in appropriate cases. Johnson v. Pataki, 691 N.E.2d 1002, 1007 (N.Y. 1997)."

That is nonsense. The decision to not exercise discretion is an act of discretion no different than a person who refuses to speak at all is exercising their 1A rights. In effect the Supreme Court is now compelling the DA to speak. They can't compel the DA on the content of her speech but they can compel her to speak. When people are compelled to speak against their desire to speak then...shockingly...they lie.

So what has the court actually accomplished to improve civic life? Nothing. Justice Holmes once said that when the law has done all it can it has done all it should. The corollary is that when the law can do nothing at all it should stay silent.

Posted by: Daniel | Aug 31, 2017 6:58:15 PM

The ruling as noted in comments should be easy to get around though for crimes with more numerous prosecutions (let's say a local law against prostitution where only fines, never jail time is provided) simply saying "no" over and over and over again will likely practicably be considered as a blanket "no."

This suggests the prosecutor made a somewhat foolish move especially since she could have qualified it a bit and had a stronger case. A specific policy not to choose a punishment in effect is different from the usual discretion though it is an act of discretion too (that can be changed as one feels fit). So, overall, it's a rather fine line though perhaps past precedent made the majority's position stronger somehow.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 31, 2017 8:09:50 PM

Because we commit 3 felonies a day, I am just grateful for the discretion of multiple prosecutors to not indict me. Every day I am not indicted is a precious gift from the lawyer profession. I really appreciate it.

I have suggested an algorithm replace judges. One should also replace prosecutors, for Equal protection, for equal enforcement, for the elimination of the imposition of sick personal feelings of lawyers on crime victims.

Posted by: David Behar | Sep 1, 2017 12:44:25 PM

"I have suggested an algorithm replace judges. One should also replace prosecutors, for Equal protection, for equal enforcement, for the elimination of the imposition of sick personal feelings of lawyers on crime victims"

It won't have that effect. All it will do is entrench the imposition of sick personal feelings under the guise of "math" making them that much more difficult to identify and remove.

Posted by: Daniel | Sep 1, 2017 1:39:04 PM

Daniel. If the crime rate goes up, the algorithm writers must be fired. The measurement of crime may only be by household survey, and not by police reports. Judges, police, and legislators should be fired by algorithms tied to the real crime victimization rate.

Human beings are just terrible, and must be replaced by algorithms,as sson as possible. It is possible now.

Posted by: David Behar | Sep 1, 2017 8:26:45 PM

@David

"Human beings are just terrible, and must be replaced by algorithms"

Algorithms are written by people and are infected with the same biases people have. There is no way to get people out of the system except by something truly random.

Posted by: Daniel | Sep 2, 2017 3:05:52 PM

Daniel. Cars are made by people. They are 100 times better than horses. Computers made by people beat the best Chess and Go human players. These have concrete, measurable outcomes. Arrival in safety and comfort. Loss of a game. Engineers can do the same for the justice system, with the crime rate in household surveys as a concrete and measurable outcome.

People like you and me would have to step up, help the engineers get there. The lawyers are rent seeking, evil, morons, the stupidest, most failed people in our nation. Life skills students, learning to eat with a spoon, would do better, if knowledgeable people refuse to help the computer engineers.

Posted by: David Behar | Sep 2, 2017 10:41:57 PM

Docile. Come live in my lawyer neighborhood. Not capital offenses, but the very slightest crime gets blasted by the agents of the prosecutor, the police. Only a few miles from Fallujah like, lawless neighborhoods, crime is close to nil. Not only is that true, but the County Commissioners have switched to Democratic. I have not been able to get the wife to move from this now horrible neighborhood. Nevertheless, with the crime rate soaring in Philadelphia, crime has not arrived here. All the criminals mistaken thinking they can do well here, are deceased.

Posted by: David Behar | Sep 2, 2017 10:47:26 PM

This seems to flow from the Florida statute giving the governor the authority to reassign prosecutors to handle cases from another circuit in the interest of justice. I know that my state does not have such a statute (local prosecutors can ask for assistance from our state AG or voluntarily recuse from a case -- in which circumstance the court appoints the replacement). I wonder how many states have such a statute giving the governor such authority?

Posted by: tmm | Sep 4, 2017 11:03:08 AM

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