Supreme Court Stops Death Penalty Case
The Florida Supreme Court on Friday stopped a Clearwater judge from proceeding with a death penalty case, signaling that courts might not be able to move forward with capital trials until the Legislature changes a law that justices earlier this month struck down as unconstitutional.
In the tersely worded, 5-2 decision Friday, the court granted a request by lawyers for convicted murderer Patrick Albert Evans to stop Judge Joseph Bulone from moving forward with a trial slated to begin Monday. Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston dissented without comment.
Friday's ruling is the strongest indicator yet that Florida's death penalty remains in flux in the aftermath of a pair of opinions issued by state's high court on Oct. 14. Those decisions found that a statute passed in March in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Hurst v. Florida was unconstitutional "because it requires that only 10 jurors recommend death as opposed to the constitutionally required unanimous, 12-member jury."
The majority in the decision in one of the cases, involving Death Row inmate Larry Darnell Perry, found that the law was unconstitutional because it did not require unanimous jury recommendations and "cannot be applied to pending prosecutions."
Attorney General Pam Bondi last week asked the Supreme Court to "clarify" their rulings in the Perry and Hurst cases, maintaining that trials already underway should be allowed to move forward.
In Evans' case, Bulone issued an order Wednesday saying he would begin to empanel a death-qualified jury on Monday and, if Evans is found guilty of first-degree murder, "proceed to a penalty phase consistent with" the Oct. 14 Supreme Court decisions.