Articles Posted in Criminal Law

by
Petitioner, an inmate in state custody, filed a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus. This was the thirteenth extraordinary writ petition or notice he had filed pertaining to a certain criminal case. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition and retained jurisdiction to pursue possible sanctions against him. In dismissing the petition, the court ruled that the petition raised claims that could have or should have been raised at trial and on direct appeal in his criminal case. Subsequent to the court’s issuance of an order to show cause, Petitioner filed eight pleadings raising the same arguments he raised in his previous petitions. The Supreme Court determined that Petitioner’s arguments were without merit and directed the clerk of court to reject any future pleadings or other requests submitted by Petitioner that pertained to his criminal case unless such filings were signed by a member in good standing of The Florida Bar. View "Fails v. Jones" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
The Supreme Court vacated Defendant’s sentence of death and remanded this case for a new penalty phase. After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of one count of first-degree premeditated murder. Following a penalty phase, the trial court found four aggravating circumstances and thirteen mitigating circumstances, and sentenced Defendant to death. The Supreme Court affirmed the convictions but vacated the death sentence, holding (1) the trial court did not err in dismissing Juror 105 for cause; (2) the trial court erred in permitting the State to introduce evidence of high capacity .22 and .223 caliber magazines recovered from Emmanuel Wallace’s residence, but the error was harmless; (3) there was competent, substantial evidence to sustain the conviction in this case; but (4) because the jury did not unanimously find the facts necessary to sentence Defendant to death and did not unanimously recommend the death sentence, Defendant’s death sentence was unconstitutional in light of Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016). View "Okafor v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

by
The Supreme Court granted Appellant’s motion for rehearing and substituted this revised opinion for its previous opinion issued October 22, 2015 in order to consider Appellant’s claim that he was entitled to a new penalty phase under Hurst v. Florida, 477 U.S. ___ (2016) and Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016). The court affirmed Appellant’s conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death, holding (1) the trial court erred in finding the avoid arrest aggravator and the cold, calculated and premeditated aggravator, but the errors were harmless; (2) Appellant’s death sentence was proportional; (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Appellant’s motion to continue the penalty phase to set the order of penalty phase witnesses; (4) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the defense funds to appoint a mitigation specialist; (5) the trial court appropriately performed the individualized sentencing required for death penalty cases; (6) the trial court did not err in denying Appellant’s motion to suppress his videotaped confession; (7) the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions; (8) the felony murder aggravator is constitutional; and (9) any Hurst error during Appellant’s penalty phase proceedings was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Middleton v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

by
Petitioner was convicted for the robbery of a convenience store and first-degree murder of the store clerk. Petitioner was sentenced to death for the murder. In 2015, the Supreme Court remanded Petitioner’s case because to the circuit court for a new intellectual disability hearing. Following the Supreme Court’s opinion in Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40, Petitioner filed a postconviction motion seeking relief under Hurst. Petitioner then filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that he was entitled to have his death sentence vacated pursuant to Hurst and that the determination of whether a defendant is intellectually disabled is a fact that must be found by the jury. The Supreme Court denied Petitioner’s petition, holding (1) Petitioner was not entitled to Hurst relief because Hurst does not apply retroactively to Petitioner's sentence, which became final in 1985; and (2) the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Hurst v. Florida, 136 S. Ct. 616 (2016), and this court’s decision in Hurst does not require that the jury, rather than the trial judge, determine intellectual disability. Further, Petitioner failed to demonstrate that Florida’s implementation of Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), as set forth in Fla. Stat. 921.137, is unconstitutional. View "Oats v. Jones" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

by
Petitioner pled guilty in 1994 to three charges of first-degree murder for the deaths of his wife and his two children. The jury recommended sentences of death for the murders of Petitioner’s wife and son, both by a vote of seven to five. The jury recommended a sentence of life imprisonment without parole for the murder of Petitioner’s daughter. The trial court overrode the jury’s recommendation on the third murder and sentenced Defendant to death for all three murders. The Supreme Court affirmed the three death sentences on direct appeal. In the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus, Petitioner claimed that his death sentences were unconstitutional under Hurst v. Florida, 136 S. Ct. 616 (2016) and Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (2016). The Supreme Court denied the petition for writ of habeas corpus, holding that because Petitioner’s sentences became final in 1999 and because Hurst does not apply retroactively to sentences of death that were final before the United States Supreme Court decided Ring, Petitioner was not entitled to Hurst relief. View "Zakrzewski v. Jones" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

by
The Supreme Court approved the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s ruling that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Petitioner’s request to “unstrike” a juror, or withdraw a previously exercised peremptory challenge, when Petitioner had exhausted his peremptory challenges and the state subsequently accepted the jury panel. The court, however, disapproved the Fourth District’s decision to the extent that it can be read as endorsing a blanket rule prohibiting the withdrawal of a peremptory challenge after a party as exhausted its peremptory challenges but before the jury is sworn. As McIntosh v. State, 743 So. 2d 155 (Fla. 3d DCA 1999), demonstrates, after a party has exhausted its peremptory challenges, the withdrawal of a peremptory challenge could be warranted by unusual or extenuating circumstances. View "McCray v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law