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Florida Supreme Court allows governor to reassign death penalty cases

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Florida [official website] on Thursday denied [opinion, PDF] a petition by State Attorney Aramis Ayala [official website] challenging Governor Rick Scott's [official website] power to reassign her death penalty eligible cases. Ayala announced in March of this year that she would no longer be seeking the death penalty [JURIST report] in cases handled by her office. In response, Scott issued numerous executive orders assigning Ayala's ability to prosecute such cases to State Attorney for Florida's Fifth Judicial Circuit Brad King [official website]. Scott argued that the Florida Constitution [text] empowered him to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." The court concluded that the power to reassign death penalty eligible cases to another state attorney was well within Scott's constitutional and statutory powers. The court added, "Ayala's blanket refusal to seek the death penalty in any eligible case ... does not reflect an exercise of prosecutorial discretion; it embodies, at best, a misunderstanding of Florida law." Local news sources have reported [Miami Herald report] that Ayala respects the decision of the court and will begin working with fellow state attorneys to resume evaluating first-degree murder cases in her jurisdiction.

The death penalty has become an increasingly controversial issue in recent years. In June a federal appeals court reversed [JURIST report] a lower court decision and found Ohio's execution protocol to be constitutional. In that same week a federal judge ordered [JURIST report] major changes to Arizona death penalty procedures due to prisoner complaints. Earlier in June the US Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that psychiatric assistance must be provided for indigent defendants sentenced to the death penalty. In May the Delaware House of Representatives passed a bill [JURIST report] that would reinstate the death penalty. Florida's new bill [JURIST report] declaring that the death penalty may only be imposed by a judge upon unanimous recommendation from the jury was signed into law in March. In January the US Supreme Court refused [JURIST report] to consider a challenge to Alabama's death penalty system.

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