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Will the Supreme Court Kill The Death Penalty This Term?

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Will the U.S. Supreme Court add the fate of the death penalty to a term already fraught with hot-button issues like partisan gerrymandering, warrantless surveillance, and a host of contentious First Amendment disputes?
That’s the hope of an ambitious Supreme Court petition seeking to abolish the ultimate punishment. But it runs headlong into the fact that only two justices have squarely called for a reexamination of the death penalty’s constitutionality.
Abel Hidalgo challenges Arizona’s capital punishment system—which sweeps too broadly, he says, because the state’s “aggravating factors” make 99 percent of first-degree murderers death-eligible—as well as the death penalty itself, arguing it’s cruel and unusual punishment.
He’s represented by former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal—among the most successful Supreme Court practitioners last term. Hidalgo also has the support of several outside groups who filed amicus briefs on his behalf, notably one from a group including Ari…

Florida: Scott decisions to reassign cases are 'executive overreach'

Florida Governor Rick Scott
Florida Governor Rick Scott
Gov. Rick Scott has decided to step up his assault on Aramis Ayala, the state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties who had the audacity to refuse to seek the death penalty for an accused cop killer - or other defendants accused of capital crimes.

After removing her last month from the prosecution of the accused, Markeith Loyd, Scott on Monday - acting "in the interest of justice" - reassigned 21 additional 1st-degree murder cases to an outspoken death-penalty proponent, Brad King, the Ocala-based state attorney for the 5th Judicial Circuit.

These executive orders disrespect the sanctity of both the electoral and judicial processes. And Scott should reverse them immediately.

It's hard to see this as anything but a politically motivated power grab by a governor whose disdain for the traditional checks and balances of government can be palpable - especially when it comes to the judiciary.

Ayala, Florida's 1st black elected state attorney, announced last month that she would not seek death for Loyd - accused in the murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and the execution-style killing of Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton.

Scott's decision to remove her from the case was swift, coming within hours of her announcement. Nearly as swift was reaction from Republican lawmakers, calling for the governor to remove Ayala from office and reducing her office's funding. Just Tuesday morning, a group of Central Florida Republicans held a news conference again calling for her removal.

To be sure, Florida lawmakers are still a bit sore about being forced - twice - to pass a bill requiring a unanimous jury vote for the death penalty. Both the Florida and U.S. Supreme Courts had struck down the state's capital punishment system as unconstitutional, making more than 1/2 the state's 400 death row inmates eligible for new sentencing. Likely, many GOP lawmakers saw Ayala's decision as another slap in the face.

But that's their problem. They should understand that prosecutors have broad discretionary power. That's why every 1st-degree murder case is not a death penalty case. Aggravating circumstance also must be present.

We don't necessarily agree with Ayala's position rejecting the death penalty in all cases. But we respect her authority, vested by the voters of the 9th Circuit, to do so. Those same voters - who elected her by a double-digit margin - can remove her from office if she does not represent their views about criminal justice.

That's the point. The governor would have us believe this is about the death penalty. It's not. This is about a chief executive's unprecedented overreach based on a political philosophy.

The law Scott cites, which allows a governor to remove prosecutors from cases if the prosecutors are unfit or if there is a conflict of interest, is also a stretch.

In a statement Monday, Scott said the victims' families "deserve a state attorney who will take the time to review every individual fact and circumstance before making such an impactful decision."

Aramis Ayala, state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties, Florida
Aramis Ayala, state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties, Florida
They also deserve a state attorney of their own choosing. They deserve a state attorney who's not fearful of doing what's best for their constituents by making a politically unpopular decision. And one not subject to knee-jerk reactions.

Ayala cited numerous problems with the death penalty as the basis for her decision, which she said she reached after "extensive and painstaking thought and consideration."

Nearly 150 law professors, former prosecutors and judges wrote a letter of protest to Scott. They kept it simple. "Florida's entire criminal justice system is premised on the independence of prosecutors," they wrote. Ayala "is solely empowered to make prosecutorial decisions for her circuit."

If the governor is truly genuine about his passion for "justice," he needs to step back from this dangerously slippery slope.

The governor would have us believe this is about the death penalty. It's not.

Source: Palm Beach Post, Editorial, April 6, 2017


Death penalty will be sought against Markeith Loyd


State attorney calls Loyd 'especially heinous, atrocious or cruel'

The state attorney prosecuting accused double murderer Markeith Loyd will seek the death penalty, according to a notice filed Monday evening.

Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King cited several aggravated circumstances that he believes qualify the case for the death penalty. He called the crimes of which Loyd is accused of committing "especially heinous, atrocious or cruel."

"The capital felony was a homicide and was committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner, without any pretense of moral or legal justification," the notice read.

Loyd is accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon on Dec. 13 and then shooting Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton "execution style" on Jan. 9 when she tried to apprehend him at a John Young Parkway Walmart.

Loyd was found in an abandoned home on Jan. 17, bringing a 9-day manhunt to an end.

The death penalty announcement in Loyd's case came 1 day after Gov. Rick Scott removed Orange Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala from 21 1st-degree murder cases and reassigned them to King's office.

Ayala was originally set to prosecute Loyd, but Scott issued an executive order reassigning it to King hours after she announced that she would not seek the death penalty against Loyd or in any other case her office prosecutes.

Law enforcement officials across Central Florida said it was a slap in the face to not seek capital punishment and applauded Scott's executive order.

"I have seen the video of Markeith Loyd executing Lt. Debra Clayton while she lay defenseless on the ground," Orlando police chief John Mina said. "She was given no chance to live. A cop killer -- who also killed his pregnant girlfriend -- should not be given that chance."

Up until the notice was filed Monday evening, King remained relatively mum when asked about the possibility of capital punishment, saying only that he planned to "seek justice" for the victims.

Source: clickorlando.com, April 6, 2017

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