Wednesday, January 13, 2016

SCOTUS: Shut Up Florida

Supreme Court Strikes Down Florida Death Penalty Scheme 8-1:

Florida's death penalty sentencing process violates the constitutional rights of criminal defendants by granting judges powers that juries should wield, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, siding with a man convicted of murdering a fried-chicken restaurant manager.

The court's 8-1 decision means death row inmate Timothy Hurst, 37, could be re-sentenced for the 1998 murder of Cynthia Harrison in Pensacola, potentially avoiding capital punishment. The case will return to the Florida Supreme Court to determine whether Hurst's death sentence can be upheld on other grounds.

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing on behalf of the court, said the right to an impartial jury guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution's Sixth Amendment "required Florida to base Timothy Hurst's death sentence on a jury's verdict, not a judge's fact-finding."

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito was the sole dissenter.
That's right, Sam I Am Alito the only one. Not even Scalia or Thomas could join the loony dissent he issued, which basically argued that the "horrendous nature" of the crime should trump due process, constitutionally approved statutes, and previous court decisions, including ones approved by the very court upon which he sits (or to use his own words, "even if there was a constitutional violation in this case"). 

I'm sure Alito will be calling for bringing back boiling in oil next, what with the price per barrel of oil being so low and all.

But lest you think SCOTUS has turned a corner, and there are now eight justices poised to undo capital punishment generally, think again. The Hurst decision is very narrow to Florida, and even narrower to the handful of inmates who were unconstitutionally sentenced to death by rogue judges, in clear violation of the 6th amendment and the Ring decision issued 14 years ago.

Don't worry, I'm sure, like Texas, Florida will be back soon with another harebrained grapefruit scheme to keep the machinery of death going down there in the sunshine state, no matter how far into the 21st century America and the rest of the world continue to move and evolve.

The case is Hurst v. Florida (2016)

UPDATE: And see? Just like that, a week later, we get an 8-1 decision in favor of Kansas and its death penalty protocols (with only Sotomayor dissenting):
The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled against three Kansas inmates whose death sentences had been vacated by the state’s Supreme Court.

The vote was 8 to 1, and Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion was notable for its extended account of the crimes committed by two of the inmates, the brothers Jonathan and Reginald Carr.

The decision concerned sentencing procedures and did not make a major contribution to the court’s death penalty jurisprudence. The decision by the justices returned the case to the Kansas Supreme Court, which may again vacate the death sentences.

Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had suggested in June that the death penalty may violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, joined Justice Scalia’s opinion without comment.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, saying there had been no reason to hear the case.
The outcome on this wasn't unexpected either. Despite the crime-porn Scalia gets off on in the majority opinion (and rightly called out by Sotomayor as "irrelevant" to the facts at hand), the case essentially turned on aggravating and mitigating factors, upholding Gregg v. Georgia (1976) from 40 years ago, as well as more recent decisions such as Kansas v. Marsh (2006).

Essentially, that's why three of the more liberal members joined the majority: sending the message that until the dp is thrown out completely, better to follow the court's own precedents (stare decisis, etc.).

The cases are lumped under Kansas v. Carr (2016)

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