Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the postconviction court’s order denying Robert Peterson post-conviction relief as to the guilt phase of Peterson’s criminal trial and denied Peterson’s separate habeas petition. The court, however, concluded that Peterson was entitled to a new penalty phase under Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016). Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder and evidence tampering and was sentenced to death. The jury recommended death by a vote of seven to five. Peterson appealed the denial of his postconviction motion. The Supreme Court held (1) Peterson was not entitled to relief as to his ineffective assistance of guilt phase counsel claim; but (2) the Hurst error during Peterson’s penalty phase was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, warranting a new penalty phase proceeding. View "Peterson v. State" on Justia Law

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The indigent care provision of the special law applicable only to Sarasota County does not constitute an unconstitutional privilege because it applies equally to all hospitals in Sarasota County, whether public or private. Certain private hospitals sought a declaration establishing their right to reimbursement from Sarasota County for providing indigent care under the indigent care provision of the special law. The County asserted that such reimbursement would provide an unconstitutional privilege to private corporations in violation of Fla. Const. art. III, section 11(a)(12). The trial court entered summary judgment for the County. The Second District Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that the indigent care provision constitutes an unconstitutional privilege because it provides for reimbursement to the public and private hospitals only in Sarasota County rather than in the entire state. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the indigent care provision of the special law does not grant a privilege to a private corporation within the plain meaning of article III, section 11(a)(12) because it applies to all hospitals in Sarasota County. View "Venice HMA, LLC v. Sarasota County" on Justia Law

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The trial court granted Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence found on his cell phone by arresting officers pursuant to a search incident to arrest, relying on the holding in Smallwood v. State, 113 Wo. 3d 724 (Fla. 2013) that warrantless cell phone searches are unconstitutional. The First District Court of Appeal reversed, relying on Davis v. United States 564 U.S. 229 (2011) to conclude that because the officers relied in good faith on the holding in Smallwood v. State, 61 So. 3d 448 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011), the appellate precedent at the time of the search, the evidence was not subject to the exclusionary rule based on the good-faith exception. The Supreme Court disapproved the First District’s decision and held that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule did not apply to the officers’ warrantless search of Defendant’s cell phone because the officers were not relying on the type of longstanding, thirty-year appellate precedent at issue in Davis, but rather, on a non-final, pipeline case still under active review in the Supreme Court at the time of the search. View "Carpenter v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the postconviction court’s order denying Appellant’s claims raised in his motion to vacate his conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death, with the exception of Appellant’s ineffective assistance of penalty phase counsel claim, which the court did not address because Appellant was entitled to a new penalty phase in light of Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016). The court vacated Appellant’s sentence of death and remanded for a new penalty phase, holding (1) regarding the non-unanimous jury recommendation to impose a sentence of death in this case, it cannot be said that the failure to require a unanimous verdict was harmless; (2) Appellant did not qualify as intellectually disabled under Florida law, and therefore, the postconviction court did not err when it denied Appellant’s claim that he was intellectually disabled; and (3) Appellant failed to establish that Fla. Stat. 27.7081 and Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851 are unconstitutional either facially or as applied. View "Williams v. State" on Justia Law

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For purposes of applying the municipal or public purposes tax exemption contained in Fla. Const. art. VII, section 3(a), a public marina owned and operated by a municipality is a traditional municipal function that carries a presumption of tax-exempt status. The owners of a private marina in Fort Pierce filed a complaint challenging the tax-exempt status of the Fort Pierce City Marina and the Fisherman’s Wharf Marina. Plaintiffs’ amended complaint sought declaratory and injunctive relief on the basis that the property appraiser unconstitutionally granted ad valorem tax exemptions to the two marina properties owned and operated by the City of Fort Pierce and the Fort Pierce Redevelopment Agency (the City). The trial court ruled in favor of Plaintiffs, determining that neither of the City marinas qualified for the constitutional tax exemption. The Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that municipal marinas are traditionally considered exempt from taxation. The Supreme Court approved the decision below, holding that Plaintiffs failed to meet their burden to rebut the presumption that the municipally-owned properties that were used exclusively by the City to provide traditional municipal functions were constitutionally exempt from ad valorem taxation. View "Treasure Coast Marina, LC v. City of Fort Pierce" on Justia Law

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Harrel Franklin Braddy was convicted of first-degree murder and other crimes. After a penalty phase, the jury recommended the death penalty by a vote of eleven to one. The trial court sentenced Braddy to death. The Supreme Court affirmed. Braddy then filed a motion for postconviction relief, asserting eight claims. The postconviction court denied Braddy’s claims. Braddy appealed the denial of postconviction relief and filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The Supreme Court affirmed the postconviction court’s denial of relief for a new guilt phase and denied the claims in Braddy’s habeas petition with the exception of his claim for relief under Hurst v. Florida, 577 U.S. __ (2016), holding that Braddy was entitled to a new penalty phase in light of the nonunanimous jury recommendation to impose a death sentence and the fact that it could not be said that the failure to require a unanimous verdict was harmless. View "Braddy v. State" on Justia Law

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Michael Duane Zack, III was found guilty of the sexual assault, robbery, and first-degree murder of Ravonne Smith. After a penalty phase hearing, the jury recommended a sentence of death by a vote of eleven to one. The trial court followed the jury’s recommendation. This appeal concerned Zack’s second successive postconviction motion in which he raised a claim of intellectual disability based on Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. __ (2014). The trial court summarily denied the motion. Zack appealed the denial of postconviction relief and also petitioned for habeas corpus relief. The Supreme Court held (1) with regard to Zack’s postconviction motion, the trial court did not err in summarily denying Zack an evidentiary hearing on his intellectual disability claim and in determining that Defendant did not satisfy the subaverage intellectual functioning prong; and (2) Zack was not entitled to relief under Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016) because Hurst does not apply retroactively to cases, such as Zack’s, that were final before the Supreme Court decided Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 582 (2002). View "Zack v. State" on Justia Law

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Donte Jermaine Hall was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Anthony Blunt. The jury voted eight to four in favor of a death sentence for the murder of Blunt. The trial court followed the jury’s recommendation. Hall filed a motion for postconviction relief under Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851. He appealed the denial of that motion and also petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus. The Supreme Court affirmed the denial of Hall’s postconviction guilt phase claims, denied the habeas guilt phase claims, but vacated his death sentence and remanded for a new penalty phase, holding (1) the trial court did not err in denying Hall’s ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim; (2) the trial court did not err in denying Hall’s ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim; and (3) Hall’s death sentence violated Hurst v. Florida, 577 U.S. __ (2016), and the Hurst error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Hall v. State" on Justia Law

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Thomas Bevel was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. The jury recommended the death penalty by a vote of eight to four as to the murder of Garrick Springfield and by a unanimous vote of twelve to zero as to the murder of Phillip Sims. The trial court followed the jury’s recommendations. Bevel later filed a motion for postconviction relief pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851, raising ten claims. The postconviction court denied relief, including Bevel’s ineffective assistance of penalty phase counsel claim. Bevel appealed and filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, claiming ineffective assistance of appellate counsel and arguing that he was entitled to relief under Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016). The Supreme Court denied Bevel’s habeas petition but reversed the denial of postconviction relief, vacated Bevel’s death sentences, and remanded for a new penalty phase proceeding, holding (1) Bevel was entitled to Hurst relief for his death sentence for the murder of Springfield; (2) penalty phase counsel conducted an unreasonable mitigation investigation, and because Bevel met the prejudice prong under Strickland, his death sentence for the murder of Sims must be vacated; and (3) Bevel’s remaining claims of error were unavailing. View "Bevel v. State" on Justia Law

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The caps on personal injury noneconomic damages in medical negligence actions provided in Fla. Stat. 766.118 violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution. This case arose after complications from surgery left Appellee severely injured. After trial, Appellee’s noneconomic damages were capped by Fla. Stat. 766.118(2) and (3). The Fourth District Court of Appeal directed the trial court to reinstate the total damages award as found by the jury, concluding that section 766.118 was invalid. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the caps on noneconomic damages in sections 766.118(2) and (3) arbitrarily reduce damage awards for plaintiffs who suffer drastic injuries; and (2) there is no rational relationship between the personal injury noneconomic damage caps in section 766.118 and alleviating a purported medical malpractice insurance criss. View "North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan" on Justia Law