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Right v. Usurpation: State Defends Shifting Death Cases From State Attorney In Seminal Case of Authority

| April 27, 2017

scott ayala authority

Does he have the right? (c FlaglerLive)

Lawyers for the state maintain that Gov. Rick Scott had the power to reassign 23 death-penalty cases to a different prosecutor after Central Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced she would not seek capital punishment for defendants charged with capital crimes.

Scott’s lawyers made the arguments Wednesday in response to a lawsuit filed by Ayala, who accuses the governor of usurping the Orange-Osceola prosecutor’s authority by stripping her of the cases, including a high-profile case involving accused cop-killer Markeith Loyd. Scott reassigned the cases to Ocala-area State Attorney Brad King, also a defendant in Ayala’s lawsuit.

Ayala, who unseated former State Attorney Jeff Ashton last year, argued that she based her decision on research that shows the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime, is discriminatory, is costly, leaves the families of victims in limbo for too long, and is imposed on innocent people too often.

Ayala and her lawyers — along with civil rights groups, ex-prosecutors and former justices from across the state and the country — maintain that prosecutors have broad discretion in charging decisions, including whether to seek capital punishment.

But, in a 65-page joint response filed in the Florida Supreme Court late Wednesday, lawyers for Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi argued that Ayala’s “proclaimed policy” of never seeking the death penalty during her time in office “does not embody a traditional exercise in prosecutorial discretion.”

Instead, “it is a promise not to exercise discretion — i.e., a commitment never to undertake a case-specific analysis to determine whether any particular set of facts and circumstances calls for application of a legislatively authorized punishment,” Scott and Bondi’s lawyers wrote.

In her petition, Ayala’s lawyers asserted that she was “not categorically refusing to apply the death penalty” regardless of the circumstances, the state’s lawyers noted.

“The relevant practical question, however, is whether the governor reasonably could have believed that Ayala was not open to applying the state’s existing death penalty statute to the 23 currently pending capital cases at issue here,” they wrote.

The “practical effect” of Ayala’s policy decision “is to effectively nullify state law providing for the death penalty in the Ninth Judicial Circuit,” the lawyers argued.

Lawyers for Scott and Bondi asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the case, pointing to thousands of other instances in which governors have reassigned cases from one state attorney to another — with the court’s blessing.

More than a half-dozen groups — including ex-prosecutors, former Supreme Court justices and civil rights groups — have filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting Ayala, the state’s first black elected state attorney.

The briefs came after the Florida House of Representatives, the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association and other families of victims notified the court they intend to also file briefs in the case backing Scott.

Scott’s handling of Ayala sparked outrage from her backers and heightened racial tensions over the administration of the death penalty. Meanwhile, Ayala’s refusal to seek capital punishment for Loyd — accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and the execution-style killing of Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton — infuriated some GOP House members from Central Florida, prompting them to demand that Scott remove the prosecutor from office.

In Thursday’s filing, the state’s lawyers also rejected Ayala’s argument that the separation of powers guaranteed by the state Constitution must preclude the governor from second-guessing an elected prosecutor’s decisions.

Under Florida law, the governor may assign a case if, for “any … good and sufficient reason,” he “determines that the ends of justice would be best served” by such a transfer, the state’s lawyers argued.

Barring the governor from transferring cases would mean “that locally elected prosecutors — many of whom may not have policy views with which petitioner and her amici agree — enjoy sole, absolute, and constitutionally preclusive discretion to make certain policy-related decisions that touch on criminal prosecutions within their jurisdictions,” the state’s lawyers argued.

But, backing Ayala, ex-prosecutors, former Supreme Court justices and families of homicide victims from across the country argued that the independence of the judicial system is at stake.

“The correct decision in this case may be an unpopular one in some political circles. Yet, if the criminal justice system in Florida is to remain a fair, equitable and decentralized system, as envisioned by the Florida Constitution, it is up to this court to support and protect it,” lawyers for the former prosecutors, justices and others wrote in an amicus brief filed Friday

–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida

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8 Responses for “Right v. Usurpation: State Defends Shifting Death Cases From State Attorney In Seminal Case of Authority”

  1. Lazaruis says:

    I think the state was right in this instance.
    I think she was betraying our trust in a fair verdict.

  2. Palm Coast Resident says:

    She is an employee of the State, and like any employee who refuses to do what she is told, she should be fired! She should consider herself lucky she still has a job. Let her have her day in court, and if the courts decide she was wrong…….Fire her and make her pay for all legal fees that the state is paying to defend her.

  3. Richard Smith says:

    It is about time that the constitution is upheld in this country and state. Too many left sided liberal fascism people think that THEIR way is the ONLY way. It’s time to take back our country, our state and OUR constitution.

  4. steadfast&loyal says:

    She never would have been elected had she stated this opinion prior. Now it appears she believes she’s can stand in the way of what the people voted for…the death penalty!! Fire her..

  5. W.Ryan says:

    The death penalty is unconstitutional Smith! Too many people are convicted and are innocent of the crimes alleged. There are innocent people on death row now! Also law enforcement and the legal system is too flawed in the disparaging treatment of US citizens that there is systemic inconsistencies. Unfortunately this bunch of self righteousness is expected from close minded people. She is an elected official same as Scott. He is not a king! Trump is not a king. It’s shameful that the crooks you’ll are following are the ones that’s ripping off our tax dollars and writing the laws to benefit their pockets. They are the ones you believe in. Keep believing this garbage that’s spewed by your politician and continue the downfall of the US from the progress that has been made.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Any State Attorney who doesn’t prosecute a known crime without an exception should be removed from office! crime is a crime and it doesn’t matter if it is murder or not. State Attorney’s have an obligation to those who they serve—deciding which crimes to prosecute or to what degree should not be an option! If death is legal in the state, the punishment should stand–no exceptions.

  7. Richard Smith says:

    Yup, just another Liberal Fascist Left crying because their candidate lost as she had nothing to offer the citizens of this country. Plus they keep spouting all of this crap that THEY think is going to happen but even after the first 100 days we have yet to see any of it come true.

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