Orlando, Florida, Chief Prosecutor Aramis Ayala, announced on Thursday that her office will no longer seek the death penalty in Osceola and Orange counties, prompting Florida Governor Rick Scott [official website] to issue an executive order [text, PDF] removing her from a case involving the killing of Orlando police lieutenant Debra Clayton. Ayala cited various factors [NYT report] that weighed in her decision, including the length of time between sentencing and execution, which often exceeds a decade, the costs of capital cases to the state, and the failure of the death penalty as an effective deterrent in protecting law enforcement officers. She added: “Punishment is most effective when it happens consistently and swiftly. Neither describe the death penalty in this state.” As to the governor’s executive order removing her from the Clayton case, Ayala stated that the governor has refused to hear her out but that she will comply with “any lawful order” he issues. Her decision has been met with mixed reactions—while death penalty critics and rights groups praised her decision, other law enforcement officers including Orlando’s police chief, Ayala’s own colleagues, the governor and Florida’s attorney general were angered by it. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi [official website] stated that Ayala’s actions represented a “blatant neglect of duty.” Howard Simon, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida [advocacy website], on the other hand, criticized the governor’s decision to remove her, stating he has engaged in a “very shortsighted abuse of authority … The only reason he is using to remove the prosecutor is that he disagrees with the prosecutor’s judgment.” Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [advocacy website], welcomed Ayala’s decision stating, “Ending use of the death penalty in Orange County is a step toward restoring a measure of trust and integrity in our criminal justice system.”
This decision has come within three days of Florida’s governor signing a new bill [JURIST report] declaring that the death penalty may only be imposed by a judge upon unanimous recommendation from the jury. The death penalty has been a pressing issue across the country. Two weeks ago the Arkansas Supreme Court issued an order [JURIST report] stating there is no stay in place preventing the execution of eight inmates schedule for next month. Last month the Mississippi House approved a bill [JURIST report] allowing firing squad executions. In January the US Supreme Court [official website] refused [JURIST report] to consider a challenge to Alabama’s death penalty system. In December a report by the Death Penalty Information Center found that the use of capital punishment in the US is at a 20-year low [JURIST report].