The Phoenix Flyer

FL Supreme Court updates rules to make it easier for trial courts to hand down death sentences

By: - January 14, 2021 12:29 pm

The Florida Supreme Court. Photo by Colin Hackley.

The Florida Supreme Court has formally amended the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure to comport with its ruling in late October making it easier for trial courts to hand down death sentences.

The move on Thursday enshrines the new precedent in the guide that attorneys and courts must follow in litigating murder cases.

Henceforth, courts will be barred from conducting “proportionality review” — meaning they no longer may consider whether executions are ordered in circumstances that diverge from the overall trend, to determine whether the sentences are excessive.

The votes for the new rule roughly align with the court’s Oct. 29 ruling in Lawrence v. State — Chief Justice Charles Canady and justices Ricky Polston, Alan Lawson, Carlos Muñiz, John Muriel, and Jamie Grosshans were for it (although Grosshans, a new arrival on the court at the time, didn’t vote in the case).

Justice Jorge Labarga, who dissented from the October ruling, voted no to the rule change.

The October ruling was the fourth time last year that Supreme Court, reconfigured along more conservative lines by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, reversed one of its own precedents in a death penalty case.

Jonathan Huey Lawrence was sentenced in the grisly 1998 first-degree murder of Jennifer Robinson in Santa Rosa County. He’d been linked to one attempted and two actual murders over a matter of weeks. His attorneys contended that he is seriously mentally ill.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.