Justia Florida Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court granted Petitioner’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, vacated his death sentence, and remanded for a new penalty phase, holding that Petitioner’s death sentence violated Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (2016) because the jury verdict at the penalty phase was not unanimous. Petitioner was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder. The jury recommended a sentence of death by a vote of ten to two. After determining that Petitioner fell within the category of defendants to whom Hurst is applicable, the Supreme Court held that the error that occurred during the penalty phase was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Hertz v. Jones" on Justia Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s order summarily denying Appellant’s successive motion for postconviction DNA testing pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.853. In the instant postconviction motion, Appellant, a prisoner under sentence of death, sought DNA testing of ten items, seven of which were previously requested in his first Rule 3.853 motion. The Supreme Court held (1) Appellant’s claims as to the aforementioned seven items were procedurally barred; and (2) the circuit court did not err in denying DNA testing on the three remaining items because there was no reasonable probability that the results of DNA testing on these three additional items would have resulted in Appellant’s acquittal or reduced his sentence. View "Bates v. State" on Justia Law
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At issue was whether Gadsden County is a “county in which a majority of voters have approved slot machines…in a countywide referendum held pursuant to a statutory or constitutional authorization after the effective date of this section” under Fla. Stat. 551.102(4). Under the section 551.104(1), the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering is authorized to issue licenses to conduct slot machine gaming to “eligible facilities,” as defined in section 551.102(4). However, under section 551.102(2), licenses are limited to facilities in counties where the voters have approved slot machines as provided by article X, section 23 of the Florida Constitution, which does not extend beyond the counties of Miami-Dade and Broward. The Division denied a slot machine permit to Gretna Racing, LLC, a horse track facility in Gadsden County, based on the Division’s conclusion that neither the requirements of section 551.102(2) nor section 551.102(4) had been satisfied. The First District Court of Appeal upheld the Division’s denial of the license. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, based on the law establishing the powers of non-charter counties and the provisions of chapter 551, Florida Statutes, the Division’s denial of the slot machine permit sought by Gretna Racing was correct because submission of the ballot question to the voters was not legally authorized. View "Gretna Racing, LLC v. Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was convicted of lewd and lascivious battery, three counts of lewd and lascivious molestation, and lewd and lascivious conduct. Petitioner was sentenced to life in prison on each count, to run concurrently. Petitioner was sentenced to a mandatory minimum of twenty-five years after the trial court declared him to be a dangerous sexual felony offender (DSFO). Petitioner later filed a motion pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.800(a), contending that the predicate conviction the trial court used to qualify him as a DSFO was insufficient. The Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the sentence. The Supreme Court approved the decision below, holding (1) under the Dangerous Sexual Felony Offender Act, a conviction for an offense under Fla. Stat. 800.04 constitutes a “similar offense under a former destination” to those offenses enumerated in the Act; and (2) therefore, the Fourth District did not err in affirming Petitioner’s designation as a DSFO offender. View "Acevedo v. State" on Justia Law
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The Supreme Court vacated Matthew Lee Caylor’s death sentence and remanded the case for a new penalty phase, holding that Caylor’s death sentence was unconstitutional under Hurst v. Florida, 136 S. Ct. 616 (2016) because the jury verdict at the sentencing phase was not unanimous, and the error in Caylor’s penalty phase was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The court thus granted Caylor’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus but affirmed the trial court’s denial of postconviction relief, holding that the trial court did not err in summarily denying that counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge a purportedly biased juror. View "Caylor v. State" on Justia Law
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On direct appeal, the Supreme Court reversed Appellant’s convictions for two counts of first-degree murder and vacated his two death sentences, holding that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to sustain the convictions. The evidence of guilt presented at trial was wholly circumstantial. The court held that although the facts established at trial supported a “strong suspicion of guilt,” they were not inconsistent with innocence and that the evidence did not establish “a reasonable and moral certainty that the accused and no one else committed the offense[s] charged.” Lindsey v. State, 14 So. 3d 215 (Fla. 2009)(quoting Frank v. State, 163 So. 223 (Fla. 1935)). View "Wright v. State" on Justia Law
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Petitioner pleaded guilty to murder in the first degree and robbery with a weapon. The jury returned a unanimous recommendation that Petitioner be sentenced to death. The trial court found five aggravating factors and nineteen nonstatutory mitigating circumstances and sentenced Petitioner to death. In this petition seeking a writ of habeas corpus, Petitioner argued that he was entitled to relief pursuant to Hurst v. Florida, 136 S. Ct. 616 (2016), and Hurst v. State, 202 So, 3d 40 (Fla. 2016). The Supreme Court denied relief, holding that the Hurst violation was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Guardado v. Jones" on Justia Law
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An individual’s right to have a judicial officer physically present at hearings held to determine whether the individual may be involuntarily committed to a mental health facility or hospital pursuant to “the Baker Act,” Fla. Stat. 394.467, is denied by the remote appearance of judicial officers at Baker Act hearings. In this case, a single judicial officer of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit instituted a process providing for the remote appearance of judicial officers via an e-mail. The Florida Supreme Court quashed the decision of the panel of the Second District Court of Appeal, which concluded there was no legal duty clearly established in the law that requires judicial officers presiding over Baker Act hearings to be physically present. The Supreme Court remanded the proceedings to the Second District for instructions not inconsistent with this opinion. View "Doe v. State" on Justia Law
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The Florida Supreme Court vacated Nelson Serrano’s four death sentences imposed after he was convicted for four counts of first-degree murder and remanded for a new penalty phase pursuant to Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40. Serrano had appealed the denial of his postconviction motion filed under Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851 and petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus. The Supreme Court affirmed the postconviction court’s denial of Serrano’s guilt phase claims and denied his habeas petition. However, the court held that Serrano was entitled to relief under Hurst because the jury recommended death on all four murder counts by a vote of nine to three, and the error in Serrano’s sentencing was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Serrano v. State" on Justia Law
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On direct appeal, the Florida Supreme Court vacated Barry Trynell Davis, Jr.’s two death sentences and remanded for a new penalty phase pursuant to Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40. Davis was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder. After a penalty phase, a nonunanimous jury recommended two sentences of death. The Supreme Court held (1) the Hurst error in this case was not harmless; (2) the trial court did not err in denying Davis’s motion to suppress; (3) the trial court did not err in admitting evidence of Davis’s prior possession of a revolver; (4) the trial court did not err in allowing the State to display, during closing argument, a photo of a witness crying on the witness stand; and (5) the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions. View "Davis v. State" on Justia Law
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