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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

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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

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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 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

Posted in: Criminal 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

Posted in: Criminal 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

Posted in: Criminal 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

Posted in: Criminal 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

Posted in: Criminal 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

Posted in: Criminal Law