Articles Posted in Constitutional 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

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The Supreme Court approved the holding of the First District Court of Appeal in City of Jacksonville v. Smith, 159 So. 3d 888 (Fla. 1st CA 2015), that the Bert J. Harris Jr., Private Property Protection Act (Act) does not apply to claims from government action that regulates property adjacent to the claimant’s property and disapproved the Second District Court of Appeal’s contrary decision in FINR II, Inc. v. Hardee County, 164 So. 3d 1260 (Fla. 2d DCA 2015). Hardee County granted FINR, Inc., which operated a neurological rehabilitation center on a parcel adjacent to property owned by a phosphate mining company, a setback on the phosphate mining company’s adjacent property. Hardee County subsequently decreased the quarter-mile setback to as little as 150 feet. FINR brought a claim under the Act seeking $38 million in damages for devaluation of its property. The trial court concluded that the Act did not apply to FINR because the quarter-mile setback change did not directly restrict or limit FINR’s property. The Second District reversed and certified conflict with Smith. The Supreme Court disapproved the decision below, holding that the setback in this case was not a property right for which FINR may state a claim under the Act. View "Hardee County v. FINR II, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted John Lee Hampton’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, vacated Hampton’s sentence of death, and ordered that Hampton receive a new penalty phase proceeding in light of Hurst v. State. In addition, the Court affirmed the postconviction court’s order denying Hampton’s motion to vacate his conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death to the extent it denied Hampton relief based upon his claim of ineffective assistance of guilt phase counsel and further affirmed the determination that Hampton was not intellectually disabled. The Court declined to address the remaining issues in Hampton’s appeal of the postconviction court’s order, which relate to penalty phase issues, due to its holding that the Hurst error during Hampton’s penalty phase proceedings was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Hampton v. State" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder. The jury recommended the death penalty by a vote of nine to three. The Supreme Court followed the recommendation and sentenced Defendant to death. Defendant filed a motion to vacate his conviction and sentence under Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851. The circuit court denied the motion. Defendant appealed this denial and petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus. The Supreme Court vacated the death sentence and remanded for a new penalty phase, holding (1) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant’s ineffective assistance of trial counsel and appellate counsel claims; and (2) Defendant’s death sentence violated Hurst v. State, and the Hurst error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Altersberger v. State" on Justia Law

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Appellant was convicted and sentenced to death on two counts for the first-degree premeditated murders of two police officers. The Supreme Court affirmed the convictions and sentences, holding (1) the trial court did not err in denying Appellant’s motion to strike the jury panel based on statements made by a prospective juror during jury selection; (2) the trial court did not err in admitting a redacted statement statement while he was under observation in jail, and any error in preventing the defense from presenting evidence regarding Appellant’s mental state at the time he made the statement was harmless; (3) the trial court did not err in allowing law enforcement officers to give opinions identifying Appellant’s voice and image from a dash cam videotape; (4) the trial court did not err in admitting a witness’s prior consistent statements; (5) the trial court did not err in denying Appellant’s motion for mistrial; and (6) competent, substantial evidence supported Appellant’s convictions. View "Morris v. State" on Justia Law