News from Florida Capital Resource Center

Stephen K. Harper Joins Florida Capital's Board of Directors!

Posted May 2, 2013

Stephen K. Harper, Esq.  Stephen K. Harper, Esq.

Florida Capital Resource Center is thrilled to announce that Stephen K. Harper has become the newest member of our Board of Directors!

Stephen Harper is clinical professor at Florida International University College of Law where he teaches a course on the death penalty and serves as the supervising attorney in the College of Law's new Death Penalty Clinic.

For 29 years, Mr. Harper worked at the Miami-Dade Public Defender Office, and for the last 17 he served as Co-coordinator of the Capital Litigation Unit.  He was primarily responsible for the gathering and presentation of mitigation evidence in capital cases.  From 1989 -1995, he served as the Chief of the Juvenile Division.  In 2002, he took a two year leave of absence to coordinate the Juvenile Death Penalty Initiative, a project ending with his oversight of the drafting and filing of amicus briefs inRoper v Simmons.

Click here to read more about Stephen!

Update: Maryland Officially Abolishes Death Penalty!

Posted March 15, 2013

Earlier today, the Maryland House of Delegates passed a bill to repeal the death penalty by a vote of 82-56.  The Maryland Senate passed the measure last week, and now it just awaits the signature of Gov. Martin O'Malley - who proposed the legislation - to make it official.  Maryland will become the 18th state to abolish the death penalty, and the sixth in just the last six years (joining New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Illinois, and Connecticut).

Click here to read more

***UPDATE*** May 2, 2013:  Maryland has officially abolished the death penalty!  As reported back in March, the Maryland legislature has passed a bill to repeal the state's death penalty.  Earlier today, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley signed that bill into law, officially making Maryland the sixth state in as many years to abolish the death penalty!

Click here to read more

Florida Capital joins NACDL and FACDL as Amici Curiae in Support of Evans Cert. Petition

Posted April 19, 2013

Florida Capital Resource Center has again partnered with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (FACDL) as Amici Curiae in the Evans v. Secretary petition to the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

As first reported in June 2011, Federal Judge Jose Martinez determined in Evans v. McNeil (Case No. 08-14402-CIV-MARTINEZ) that Florida's capital sentencing statute violates the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002).  In his Order of June 20, 2011, Judge Martinez found that section 921.141, Florida Statutes, is problematic for several reasons, but primarily because it provides for the judge - and not the jury - to make findings of fact as to the existence of aggravating circumstances. 

That Order was appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which eventually reversed Judge Martinez' decision, holding that while there does appear to be a conflict between Ring v. Arizona and Hildwin v. Florida, 490 U.S. 638 (1989), the case that the Florida Supreme Court holds currently governs Florida law, the courts must leave it to the United States Supreme Court to overrule its own precedent.   Mr. Evans is seeking that resolution now in his petition, and Florida Capital Resource Center is proud to join NACDL and FACDL as amici curiae in support, presenting an amici brief to the Supreme Court in support of Mr. Evans' petition. The Court will likely decide on whether to grant the petition sometime in May or June, but until then, you can catch up on everything right here:

 

***UPDATE*** May 20, 2013: Certiorari Denied.  Unfortunately, early this morning, the Supreme Court announced that it had decided to deny Mr. Evans' Petition for Certiorari.  While this battle may have been lost, the fight to reform Florida's capital justice scheme will continue...

 

Florida Capital Resource Center Files Latest Amicus Brief in First District Court Of Appeal

Posted Dec. 21, 2012

On Dec. 17, 2012, Florida Capital Resource Center filed its latest amicus curiae brief in support of two cert. petitions filed in the First District Court of Appeal.  The petitioners, attorneys W. Charles Fletcher and Julie A. Schlax, are challenging the amount of attorney's fees awarded for their representation of capital defendant Billy Sheppard in Jacksonville, FL.  Despite finding the case required "extraordinary and unusual efforts" and that the statutory fee's would be confiscatory, Chief Judge Donald R. Moran, Jr. drastically reduced their requested fees, asserting that the reduced fees would be "more appropriate given the totality of the circumstances," citing a memorandum attached to the orders discussing the new amendments to §27.5304 and the Fourth Circuits inability to withstand any more budget cuts.  

The new amendments require that after a special appropriation of state revenues allocated for conflict-counsel attorney's fees in excess of the statutory limitations has been exhausted, any additional excess fee awards will come from funds appropriated to the state courts system.  Understanding the implications on the Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel a policy that ties attorney's fees to the court's budget can have for indigent capital defendants, Florida Capital Resource Center filed an amicus curiae brief to ensure the First DCA fully understood those implications and the recent statutory amendments that may have prompted Chief Judge Moran to reduce those fees in the first place.

If you are interested in reading our latest amicus brief, please click here to visit the FCRC Amicus Brief Bank

***UPDATE*** April 4, 2013: Petitions for certiorari GRANTED!!  The First DCA has granted the petitions for certiorari and has ordered the Chief Judge of the Fourth Circuit to conduct new fee hearings.  In the Fletcher v. JAC opinion, the First DCA spent some time discussing the recent amendments to §27.5304 outlined in Florida Capital's amicus brief, acknowledging that a problematic conflict arises when a judge has to choose between adequately paying an indigent defendant's counsel and preserving the court's own financial resources.  Click here to read the Fletcher order

Florida's 24th Death Row Exoneration

Posted Dec. 24, 2012

Thirteen years after being sentenced to death, Seth Penalver has been acquitted of the three murders that originally sent him to death row.  Penalver was first charged with the triple-murder in 1994, accused of killing Casimir "Butch Casey" Sucharski, Sharon Anderson, and Marie Rogers at Sucharski's home early one July morning in 1994.  His first trial, in which he was tried with codefendant Pablo Ibar, resulted in a hung jury.  The second trial, which lasted six months, resulted in his conviction and death sentence.  However, that conviction was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 after the Court found problems with some of the evidence, prompting the Court to order a new trial.

Now, after a five-month trial and ten days of deliberations, Mr. Penalver's third jury has acquitted him of all three murders, and 18 years after he was first charged, he is once again a free man.  Mr. Penalver will become the 142nd man to be included on the Death Penalty Information Center's list of death row exonerees, and 24th from Florida - far more than any other state.  As noted by Mark Elliott, Executive Director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Florida can now claim "one exoneration for every three executions."

Click here to read more about Seth Penalver's acquittal

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