Justia Florida Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court reviewed the findings, conclusions, and recommendations of the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) concerning five judges (Respondents) and approved the stipulated discipline entered into between Respondents and the JQC, holding that the JQC's findings were supported by clear and convincing evidence. The JQC Investigative Panel served a notice of formal charges on Respondents for violating Canons 1, 2, and 4 of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct. Thereafter, the JQC and Respondents entered into a stipulation wherein Respondents admitted their wrongdoing and agreed that the alleged violations were demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence. The parties further stipulated to the recommended discipline in the form of a written public reprimand. The Supreme Court agreed with the JQC's findings of fact approved the stipulated discipline of a written reprimand. View "Inquiry Concerning a Judge No. 18-572" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics
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The Supreme Court approved for placement on the ballot an initiative petition to amend the Florida Constitution titled "All Voters Vote in Primary Elections for State Legislature, Governor, and Cabinet," holding that the Initiative complies with the single-subject requirement of Fla. Const. art. XI, 3 and that the ballot title and summary comply with the requirements of Fla. Stat. 101.161(1). Specifically, the Court held (1) the Initiative does not substantially alter or perform the functions of multiple branches of government and therefore complies with the single-subject requirement of article XI, section 3; and (2) the ballot title and summary comply with the requirements of section 101.161(1). View "Advisory Opinion to Attorney General Re All Voters Vote in Primary Elections for State Legislature, Governor & Cabinet" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the trial court denying Appellant's successive postconviction motion filed pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851 seeking relief from his sentence of death pursuant to Hurst v. Florida, 136 S. Ct. 616 (2016), and Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016), holding that State v. Poole, 45 Fla. L. Weekly S41 (Fla. Jan. 23, 2020), was dispositive in this case. Appellant's death sentence became final in 1990, before the Supreme Court decided Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002). The Supreme Court subsequently decided Poole, pursuant to which there was no Hurst error in Appellant's case because a unanimous jury finding establishes the existence of at least one statutory aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt. In the instant case, the Supreme Court held that two of the four statutory aggravating circumstances found by the trial court - that the capital felony was committed during the commission of a sexual battery and for pecuniary gain - were established because Appellant's jury found him guilty of the contemporaneous crimes of sexual battery and robbery. View "Reed v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the trial court summarily denying Appellant's successive motion for post conviction relief pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851 and, alternatively, to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.800(a), holding that there was no error in the trial court's summary denial of relief. In his postconviction relief motion, Appellant sought relief from his sentence of death, raising claims predicated on Hurst v. Florida, 136 S. Ct. 616 (2016), and Hurst v. State, 202 S. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016). The trial court summarily denied relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Appellant's claims were procedurally barred, and even without the procedural bar, this Court's recent decision in State v. Poole, 45 Fla. L. Weekly S41 (Fla. Jan. 23, 2020), foreclosed relief. View "Boyd v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court approved the court of appeal's decision to uphold Defendant's sentence and disapproved of several recent court decisions to the extent they held that resentencing is required for all juvenile offenders serving a sentence longer than twenty years without the opportunity for early release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation, holding that Defendant in this case did not establish a violation of Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). Defendant was charged with the first-degree murder of her mother committed when she was age seventeen. Defendant pled guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a forty-year sentence. Defendant later challenged her sentence as cruel and unusual punishment under Miller. The trial court denied Defendant's petition. The court of appeal affirmed but certified conflict with several decisions of other district courts. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Defendant did not establish that her sentence was a life sentence or the functional equivalent of a life sentence Defendant failed to establish that her sentence violated the Eighth Amendment, Miller, or its equivalent on a juvenile homicide offender whose youth has not been taken into account at sentencing. View "Pedroza v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed an order denying in part and dismissing in part Hector Sanchez-Torres's third amended motion filed under Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851 to vacate judgments of conviction and sentence of death and denied Appellant's petition for habeas relief, holding that Sanchez-Torres was not entitled to relief on any of his claims. Sanchez-Torres pled guilty to armed robbery and first-degree murder. The trial court sentenced Sanchez-Torres to death. The Supreme Court affirmed. Sanchez-Torres then filed a motion to vacate his judgments of conviction and sentence. The postconviction court denied some of his claims and dismissed the others. Sanchez-Torres appealed and petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus. The Supreme Court denied relief, holding (1) the postconviction court did not err in denying Sanchez-Torres's claims; and (2) Sanchez-Torres's claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel and appellate counsel did not warrant habeas corpus relief. View "Sanchez-Torres v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court approved the First District Court of Appeal's decision affirming Defendant's felony conviction for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, an automobile, and rejecting Defendant's argument that his jury should have been instructed on reckless driving as a lesser-included offense, holding that Defendant was not entitled to his requested jury instruction on the permissive lesser-included offense of reckless driving where the charging instrument failed expressly to allege the element of driving. The First District affirmed Defendant's conviction and sentence on the ground that reckless driving is not a permissive lesser-included offense of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, an automobile unless the charging instrument alleged that the defendant was driving at the time of the offense. On appeal, Defendant argued that the information alleged use of an automobile to commit the offense and that it was undisputed that he was driving at the time of the offense, entitling him to a jury instruction on the charge of reckless driving as a permissive lesser-included offense. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that an element of an offense cannot be established in a charging document by inference, and the charging instrument in this case failed expressly to allege the element of driving. View "Anderson v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the post conviction court denying Appellant's motion for postconviction relief filed under Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851, holding that the postconviction court properly denied all claims argued in this appeal. In his postconviction motion Defendant raised several ineffective assistance of counsel claims, as well as a claim alleging retroactive application of Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373 (2014). The postconviction court entered an amended order denying relief on all claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the alleged failures on the part of defense counsel did not rise to the level of ineffective assistance of counsel; and (2) Defendant's claim that he was entitled to a new trial under Riley was procedurally barred because Defendant failed to raise this claim on direct appeal. View "Smith v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the post conviction court summarily denying Defendant's eighth successive motion to vacate his judgment of conviction and sentence, holding that all of Defendant's postconviction claims were legally insufficient or based on allegations that were conclusively refuted by the record. Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court affirmed. This case concerned Defendant's eighth successive motion to vacate the judgment of conviction and sentence. Along with his eighth successive motion Defendant filed a motion to compel discovery documents from the Office of the State Attorney. The postconviction court summarily denied Defendant's eighth successive postconviction motion and denied his motion to compel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing on a newly discovered evidence claim alleging spoliation of evidence and a Brady violation; (2) Defendant was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing on his ineffective assistance of counsel claims; (3) the trial court did not err in summarily denying a standalone actual innocence claim; and (4) because Defendant failed to demonstrate his entitlement to the requested records the postconviction court correctly denied his motion to compel. View "Sweet v. State" on Justia Law

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In this advisory opinion, the Supreme Court approved for placement on the ballot a proposed amendment entitled "Voter Approval of Constitutional Amendments," holding that the proposed amendment complies with the single-subject requirement of Fla. Const. art. XI, 3 and that the ballot title and summary comply with Fla. Stat. 101.161(1). The proposed amendment would amend sections 5 and 7 of article XI of the Florida Constitution. The Attorney General petitioned the Supreme Court for an opinion on whether the proposed amendment was valid. The Supreme approved the proposed amendment for placement on the ballot, determining (1) the proposed amendment meets the single-subject requirement; and (2) the ballot title and summary comply with section 101.161(1). View "Advisory Opinion to the Attorney General re Voter Approval of Constitutional Amendments" on Justia Law