News from Florida Capital Resource Center

Spared From Death: Jonathan LeBaron Sentenced to LIFE!!

Posted August 13, 2013

On May 10th of this year, Jonathan Leo LeBaron's trial for the February 2009 murder of Cape Coral resident Richard Gardner concluded with the jury recommending he be sentenced to death by a vote of 11-1.  However, on Monday, August 12, 2013, Judge Mark H. Jones of the Sixteenth Circuit Court in Monroe County exercised his power to override the jury's decision and imposed life without the possibility of parole instead.  

At LeBaron's Spencer hearing, Defense attorneys Kellie Peterson, Rene Palomino, and Jack Blumenfeld argued that, despite the jury's recommendation, the facts of the case did not warrant the death penalty.  The defense team also presented additional mitigation evidence to the court that was never presented to the jury.  LeBaron's sentencing took place Monday, and after emphasizing the gravity of LeBaron's actions, Judge Jones concluded that as "horrible and inexcusable" as this crime was, it cannot be considered "of the same magnitude of wickedness and evil" as those the Florida Supreme Court has found to be deserving of the death penalty.  In his sentencing order, Judge Jones concluded that, in this case, "the mitigating cirumstances outweigh the aggravating circumstances and the law mandates a sentence of life in prison." 

LeBaron's sentence is the second death-to-life override of 2013.  Duval County Circuit Judge James Daniel imposed a life sentence for DeShawn Leon Green back in May after a jury recommended he be put to death by a vote of 7-5.

Click here to read Judge Mark H. Jones' Sentencing Order

And Then There Were Four: John Errol Ferguson Executed August 5, 2013

Posted August 6, 2013

John Errol Ferguson's execution went forward as scheduled last night, and he was pronounced dead at 6:17pm. The United States Supreme Court denied a motion for a last minute stay and petition for certiorari seeking clarification on the legal standard for competency to be executed.  Ferguson had a long history of severe mental illness, most notably holding the belief that he was the "Prince of God."  The case raises serious questions about when someone is mentally competent "enough" to be executed, but the High Court left those questions to be answered another day.  

With Ferguson's execution, the State of Florida has now executed four people in 2013 - the most in a given year since 2006.  There are two more active death warrants right now, though Paul Augustus Howell's execution has been stayed while his case is reviewed by the Eleventh Circuit.  If his execution moves forward, Howell will be the first man in Florida's history to be executed without first having federal habeas review.  Meanwhile, Marshal Lee Gore's stay has been lifted, but no execution date is currently set.  Ferguson is the ninth execution to take place under Governor Rick Scott, but with his recent signing of the Timely Justice Act of 2013 (see story below), the number of executions in Florida is expected to increase to unprecedented levels in the near future.

Click here for the Miami Herald's covereage of the Ferguson execution

Are You Ready For Daubert??

Posted July 22, 2013

Effective July 1, 2013, Florida is finally making the switch from the Frye to Daubert evidentiary standard when it comes to the admission of scientific evidence.  Based on the 1923 case Frye v. United States, the Frye standard has long been the rule in Florida, focusing on whether the methods/tests on which evidence is based are generally accepted in the scientific community.  One of the big problems with this standard is that such a rule does not allow for new developments in science or technology - no matter how reliable or accurate they may be.

That is one of the reasons why the United States Supreme Court abandoned the Frye standard in 1993 in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., in which the Court announced a new standard that focuses on the reliability of the scientific principles and methods used to produce the evidence.  This standard was codified in Federal Rule of Evidence 702 when it was amended in 2000, and even though Florida's subsequently adopted provision is modeled after Federal Rule 702, for some reason the Florida Supreme Court held that the Frye standard had survived the adoption of section 90.702, Florida Statutes, and continued to apply that rule ever since.  

The Florida Legislature has finally rectified the situation with SB 7015, which amended Fla. Stat. §§ 90.702 and 90.704, aligning Florida with the vast majority of states that have abandoned Frye and adopted Daubert as the evidentiary standard governing the admissibility of scientific evidence (leaving just nine states that continue to retain the Frye standard).  

Here's some information to help you with the transition:

If you have more information that you think would be beneficial to others as we transition to the Daubert standard, please submit them here so we can post them on the website for everyone to see!

Gov. Scott Signs Timely Justice Act Into Law - Executions Likely To Increase

Posted June 17, 2013

Just before flying off to France for the week on a trade mission this past Friday, Governor Rick Scott signed the Timely Justice Act into law, ending any prior hopes that he would instead choose to exercise his veto power on the bill.  Among other things, HB 7083 is expected to speed up executions in the State of Florida to an unprecedented level.  

Pursuant to the new law, once an inmate has exhausted his or her appeals, the Florida Supreme Court is required to notify the Governor's office.  Then, after declaring that clemency proceedings have also concluded, the new law will require the Governor to sign a death warrant within 30 days requiring the execution to be carried out within the following 180 days.  Though it has been a struggle to determine how many of Florida's 405 death row inmates fall into this category already (Gov. Scott refuses to release his list to the public), estimates provided by legislators during the legislative session range between 13 and 18 people.  If these numbers are accurate, Gov. Scott will soon be signing as many warrants, and Florida will be on track to execute more people in any single year since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

There has been a flurry of criticism over the bill throughout the legislative process, and many of the bill's more controversial provisions were removed by the time the final version was presented to the governor.  For example, earlier versions created new time limitations on appellate motions which would have sped up the entire post-conviction appellate process.  However, those provisions - as well as others designed to remove rule-making authority in death penalty cases from the Florida Supreme Court - were stripped from the bill when the Florida Supreme Court agreed to establish a Capital Postconviction Proceedings Subcommittee of the Criminal Court Steering Committee to review postconviction proceedings and make recommendations on improving the "efficiency" of the capital postconviction process.

Still, there is plenty of criticism to be found surrounding the provisions of the bill that did make it in the final version.  Many find troubling the notion that the state with the most death row exhonerations - 24 - is the state now attempting to speed up executions.  And though the law reestablishes CCRC North, an office funded by the State responsible for representing indigent defendants in postconviction collateral proceedings, critics argue that the bill leaves that office severely underfunded to take on the level of representation required.  

It is also worth noting that while this bill made it through both houses, another bill that would require a jury to be unanimous before it could recommend the death penalty (the rule in all but one other death penalty state) did not receive so much as a single vote in any committee meeting in either house.  

It is likely these criticisms that led Gov. Scott to feel he had to defend the bill in his letter to Secretary of State Kenneth W. Detzner declaring his decision to sign it.  While the full repercussions of the bill will not be felt until it goes into effect July 1, 2013, one thing appears certain: Governor Scott intends to put Florida's execution chamber to a lot more use.

Click here to read the text of HB 7083

Click here to read Florida Capital's "Cliff Notes" version of the bill

Click here to read Gov. Scott's Letter to Secretary Kenneth W. Detzner

***UPDATE*** July 5, 2013: Death Row Inmates Mount Challenge to Timely Justice Act!  Attorneys from Capital Collateral Regional Counsel (CCRC) - the State agencies responsible for representing capital defendants in post-conviction proceedings - have filed a challenge to the Timely Justice Act on behalf of more than 150 death row inmates.  Neal A. Dupree from CCRC South and John W. Jennings from CCRC Middle, along with private attorneys Martin J. McClain, Linda McDermott, and Terri L. Backhus, filed the emergency petition before the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday, June 26, 2013, requesting the court invoke its "All Writs Jurisdiction," issue a temporary injunction against enforcement of the act (which became effective July 1, 2013), and declare certain provisions of the Act unconstitutional.  

The Florida Supreme Court has designated the case High Profile "because of significant public and media interest" in its outcome. You can keep up with the case (Dane P. Abdool, et al. v. Pam Bondi, Etc., et al, Case Number SC13-1123) on the Florida Supreme Court's Docket Page and the Briefs and Other Documents Page for the case.

Click here to read the Emergency Petition challenging the Timely Justice Act 

Florida Capital Resource Center Presents Advanced Mitigation Seminar

Posted June 10, 2013

Following the success of our first mitigation seminar, Florida Capital Resource Center is pleased to announce the second course in our mitigation series, Advanced Mitigation: Tehniques and Strategies for Capital Cases. Advanced Mitigation will build upon the skills taught during the first seminar, with two distinct segments:

  • I: The Client Relationship - During this segment, discussions will focus on the importance of building a strong relationship with the client.  Attendees will learn techniques for building that relationship, how best to introduce the client to the "team approach" of mitigation, including cooperation with the mitigation specialist, and how to approach discussions about plea deals with the client in ways that encourage him/her to give such life-saving opportunities serious consideration. 
  • II: Preparing & Presenting Mitigation Packages - This segment will feature discussions about how to prepare and present mitigation, with a special focus on preparing a "mitigation package" or "waiver package" designed to persuade the prosecution to waive the death penalty.  Attendees will learn how to develop mitigation theories and themes, how to prepare a mitigation package (including the strategic decision of how much information to disclose), how to approach the prosecution with the mitigation package, and how to put that mitigation to use as you move forward toward trial should the prosecutor decline to waive death.  This segment will also discuss techniques to educate prosecutors and judges on the needs of defense teams in capital cases and how to preserve the record if and when those needs are not met.


Featured Speaker:  Advanced Mitigation will be taught by Attorney Stephen Harper, current Director of the Death Penalty Clinic at Florida International University College of Law and former Co-head of the Capital Unit at the Miami-Dade Public Defender's Office.  

Sessions are currently scheduled to take place in Broward on July 11 (Thu) and Tampa on July 26 (Fri), with additional dates to be announced soon.

Click here for more information or to RSVP

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